Surely there’s no such thing as a guaranteed job is there!? Well for most there isn’t – be it football or any other industry. Most football clubs suffer from the “Revolving Door Syndrome” (I’ll take credit for that one, thank you very much!!) where managers are hired and fired more often then I shave! That said, there are exceptions even in the high-profile, performance-orientated industry that is the Premier League. So much has changed over the last decade but there are two familiar figures who have trudged up and down every technical area football has to offer, Sir Alex “Red Nose” Ferguson and OBE Arsene “I didn’t see it” Wenger.
Being an Arsenal fan, there’s no one I despise more the chewing gum munching, media striking, tantrum throwing, boot kicking Scot. Love him or loathe him, you have to respect him. You can’t ignore that he is a one-in-a-million manager, and 24 years as the Man Utd gaffer is testament to the fact. He has carried Man United from being dormant giants to being the envy of clubs the world over. His grooming of United’s golden generation was simply magnificent; David “Golden Balls” Beckham, Gary “Rat Face” Neville, Phillip “The other” Neville, Ryan “18 till I die” Giggs, Paul “The Ginger Demon” Scholes amongst others. They are what club academies are all about and have become the benchmark for every youth system. United have no ego hassles for the simple fact that the only ego that matters is Sir Alex’s. The man has more silverware than the Marwadi community. His tenure has seen some of the finest players ever to grace English soil play week in week out at the Theatre of Dreams. The iconic and controversial Eric Cantona was the first foreign superstar, and he paved the way for the then-unglamorous English League to attract genuine international stars. With 11 League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 9 Community Shields (planks of wood with silver stickers on them in my opinion but heck, they all count!), 2 Champions League titles and solitary World Club Championship and Cup Winners Cup trophies, United are the club to catch in England. They are the only English team to have managed the unprecedented Treble (Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup). Their fan following is second to none and it’s all down to Sir Alex. Tactically astute, disciplined and a winner (at any cost), what more can be said bout Fergie? He has everything in his locker. The only place you don’t want to be is at the wrong end of his notorious Hair Dryer Treatment. Don’t believe me? Just ask Becks! He has managed to attract some of the finest players the world has to offer to United. Personally, the theatrical yet sublime Cristiano Ronaldo really caught my eye. In the rough and tumble of the EPL he managed to pull off outrageous pieces of skill and trickery. His 42 goal haul in a single season is going to take some catching. The Portuguese flyer was eventually signed by Real Madrid for a whopping 80 million pounds, a fee that was unimaginable in the sport. It did take Fergie a good 7 years to nail down his 1st League title but there’s been no looking back since. The cry of “Glory Glory Man United” finally made sense.
It wasn’t till the arrival of Le Prof from Japan that Ferguson had a genuine rival. The polished Frenchman revolutionised the Premier League by not concentrating solely on pitch performances but by bringing with him the importance of a dietary regime, training methods, and a style that was to transform “Boring Boring Arsenal” into arguably the most suave passing team not just in England but in Europe. He hasn’t fared too badly in the trophy division either, claiming 3 Premier League Titles, 4 FA Cups and 3 Community Shields. He inherited the famous back 5 and a born leader in Tony Adams which was the base for future successes. He fired a warning shot with a respectable 3rd place finish in his first half-season with the Gunners and in his second, managed to wrestle the Premier League crown out of the firm clutches of Sir Alex. Wenger changed football in England for good with his foreign imports, a scouting network more comprehensive than MI6’s spy network and his belief in developing youth. He kept pulling rabbits out of a seemingly bottomless hat – Anelka, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Thierry Henry, Pires, Freddy Ljungberg and Sol Campbell are just a few who went on to carry the North London club into the realms of footballing fantasy and history. Under his stewardship Arsenal went an entire season unbeaten – the team that went on to be named “The Invincibles”. They had everything – power, pace, vision, flair and most of all, a never-say-die attitude. With an attack spearheaded by the turbocharged Thierry Henry, Arsenal played a brand of football never witnessed before. It’s unlikely that this feat will be achieved any time in the near future.
With Wenger’s financial prudence and success on the pitch, Arsenal were forced to build a new stadium to match the silk that was strewn across the Highbury pitch. The club had outgrown the historic venue that was Highbury and Wenger was the sole reason for that. The club that was among the three most-successful in English football, needed a stadium to match their ambition. This, though, forced the club to tighten their purse strings. Fans complain about the lack of silverware over the last 6 years, but The Gunners have qualified for the Champions League every year, even making the final on one occasion and have had consistent near-misses with the League and domestic Cup competitions too. They have developed a young team which is now ready to sustain their title surge. Show me another manager who could have guided his team to such glories under these circumstances, I honestly don’t think there is one. “Arsenal Wenger” is irreplaceable and anyone who doubts the man’s credentials is absolutely off his rocker. The Emirates stadium will be the legacy he leaves behind at Arsenal.
The venomous ripostes to and fro between the two titans of management have mellowed recently, and you could go as far as to say they’ve become the best of enemies, or dare I say it, “friends”. The mutual respect they now share is contrary to the initial verbal outbursts which were the main talking points splashed across back pages the world over. The two teams have had some titanic tussles marred by the occasional brawls, red cards aplenty, controversies, tunnel confrontations, and even food fights! There are some magical moments that stand out in fixtures between the two; Wiltord wrapping up the title at Old Trafford, Giggsy’s mazy run in the FA Cup semi that left viewers and the Arsenal defense alike dizzy, Thierry Henry’s audacious scoop and lob with his back to goal against Barthez, Ronaldo’s 40 yard piledriver of a freekick in the Champions League semis; Nistelrooy’s penalty miss to start the Gunners 49 match unbeaten run and Wayne Rooney’s spot kick to end it. Even today there’s something special when the two pensioners of the Premier League pit their wits against each other. An Arsenal vs Man Utd fixture is the biggest the league has to offer. Of course there are other stand out fixtures like Utd vs Liverpool, Arsenal/Man Utd vs Chelski and of course the North London Derby. But there’s a real edge to the game when these two giants clash. There’s a certain matter of pride and usually it’s a crunch game that decides where the Premier League trophy will call home for the next year.
A few questions I always ask myself; if Russian Mafia money and bottomless oil-drenched Arab pockets weren’t involved in football, would the League ever have gone anywhere else but these two destinations? Has Wenger’s purist vision of bringing youth through become outdated due to the sheer financial muscle, coupled with certain clubs trying to buy anything that moves? I love the ideals but is it viable to compete in modern day football without the backing of a large-hearted kazillionaire? For this reason, will there ever be another Golden Generation? I hope there is, and have full faith in the route Arsene Wenger’s has chosen to make it happen.
The two managers couldn’t be more different with regards to their ethos, attitude towards players, style of football, demeanour, nature and upbringing (a hard-nosed middle class Scotsman versus a French scholar). Yet they are driven by the same ends, they are individuals who love their respective clubs and have taken football to levels previously unmatched. Can any Red Devil imagine life without Fergie and any Gunner without Wenger?! Both have had tough periods but in my view they are the true UNSACKABLES. I dread to think what the Premier League will be like once these two giants retire. *Shudder!*
Thank you, kind sirs, for revolutionising football. You will live on in people’s hearts for eternity. I would also like to congratulate Mr. Wenger who has recently been voted “World Manger of the Decade” with Sir Alex finishing a close second. They will be presented with trophies at the World Football Gala later this year. That just encapsulates what these men are all about. We are proud of you, well done Le Prof, you deserve it.
I’m going to leave you with my dream teams for both the clubs under the current regimes, please do let me know if you think differently:
Gary Neville Jaap Stam Nemanja Vidic Patrice Evra
Cristiano Ronaldo Paul Scholes Roy Keane Ryan Giggs
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Robert Pires Patrick Vieira Cesc Fabregas Ljungberg
Ashley Cole Tony Adams Sol Campbell Sagna / Dixon
Some game that would be, eh!
Writing credits: RT