Tony Barton had one on his office shelf, so does Louis van Gaal, Rafa Benitez, Guus Hiddink and Roberto Di Matteo. Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jupp Heynckes are among those successful managers who have two. Meanwhile, Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti have three apiece. But for Arsene Wenger, 32 years into his colourful management career, the reality is that he might never retire with a European Cup on his disposal.
The question is that, can a manager of Wenger’s calibre and vintage still be called great despite being failed to found a way of winning the elite prize in European club football yet? Wenger has obviously excelled at so much in the three decades of his management career and yet Tuesday night saw, the Frenchman put on the brink of another second round exit from Champions League, this time at the hands of a rival manager 20 years his junior, with a Champions League title already to his accord.
Alongside the touchline, Arsene Wenger and Luis Enrique seemed like two executives representing conflicting generational views on the appropriate dress-up for a company jolly. Can you imagine, what Wenger was thinking when he considered Enrique’s career with ups and downs? Two previous league finishes with his name, the seventh position with Roma in 2012, ninth when in charge of Celta Vigo in 2014, and then famously handed the controls of the most successful club of the modern age.
How many times will Pep Guardiola, Ancelotti or Mourinho, catch the wave at the right moment in the regime of a super-club and add another Champions League title to the list? There is coaching and then there is also managing, and the victories peeping through the past; the kind that Wenger has desperately tried to achieve – are of a different aspect altogether.
If Enrique manages to win a second Champions League this term, does that really place him on the same level as Sir Alex Ferguson, the great legendary club-builder? Or maybe Brian Clough, the famous football figure who guided Nottingham Forest’s two-times European champions journey from the husk of second division strugglers? What if Zinedine Zidane wins his first as a coach with Real Madrid this season, does he then will be compared to Matt Busby?
The modern era of Champions League is certainly a huge battle among the super-club infrastructures, a war between the game’s old money and its newly emerged fossil fuel fortunes; of extremely powerful global scouting network and the dead hand of utmost professional technical directors who harvest talent continuously. Anybody will agree the coach is an important part but his long-term influence can hardly be found these days, and it is also a well-known fact that at every single one of these clubs, there remains a document detailing the hand full options for the day he is fired.
On nights like last Tuesday, it was again proved that Arsenal are quite different – for better, for worse. They are still the club of their loyal faithful manager, with all his strengths, his beliefs, his neuroses and his weaknesses. The tendency which dwells on the repeated mistakes, and the typical stubbornness, and there has been plenty of those instances in the recent past, but at the same time you have to understand that Arsene Wenger is the last man standing to represent an old order of managers whose influence and job spec has been an asset for English football.
He managed to reach the Champions league final in 2006 but his best chance to win the title with Arsenal came 12 years ago when they were considered as the leading side in Europe and but lost to Chelsea in the quarter-finals. Since then the Frenchman is chasing on the dream of Arsenal’s first triumph but if he really desired to win the European title, he must have chosen the option which most of the new generation trends these days – pick a new club to fulfil the ambition.
With his stock settled on high tempo and well aware of the future conditions under Arsenal’s financing programme, Wenger once regarded as the prize option for every new owner or president. In 2004 summer, Florentino Perez tried his best to appoint Arsene Wenger in his first spell as Real Madrid president. Not only that, in the summer of 2006, the Real Madrid presidential candidate, Juan Miguel Villar Mir had a meeting with Wenger yet again in order to persuade him to make a move for Spain, but that didn’t work as he failed to win the election.
Even long past the Gunner’s millennial trophy-winning prime time there was an open-door situation at the Qatari-era Paris Saint-Germain whose owners, the Al-Thani family, tried their luck with Wenger in November 2012. But the Frenchman stayed, and over the time, there were many theories which suggested it was Arsenal hierarchy who are doing him a favour and not the other way around.
The long-lasting debate over what was sacrificed to build the Emirates Stadium remains at the heart of the last ten years of Wenger’s controversial career. What nobody can deny is that the stadium was actually intended to secure Arsenal’s place among the elite for all eternity but, in reality, the changes that happened in European football during that time have meant that they have somehow fallen just a short.
There will be those Arsenal fans who will never forgive Wenger for his stubbornness of not to spend money on players at critical times, or they can point out that in recent past he has done so but to that had very little effect. Yet defeats like the one they suffered this week are obviously the consequence of a decade of Barcelona’s superiority over Arsenal – be it financial or sporting or in reputational terms.
Every other modern generation coach long since gave up carrying out the hopes of one club on their back and in the process becoming an individual brands-for-hire in an atomised game to some extent; it can be less of the long-term responsibility but also a mere chance to leave a permanent legacy somewhere.
And so Arsene Wenger seems destined never to taste the glory of a defining trophy of his profession, leaving him behind Emerich Jenei, Joe Fagan or even the Belgian Raymond Goethals, whose 1993 triumph actually came with the corrupted Marseille side who gave Wenger so much agony at Monaco. It is undoubtedly a missing part of Arsene Wenger’s career but there are also ways he can rationalise it.