Arsene Wenger is a great man. In years to come, we will reflect upon him as one of the most influential figures in English football history. Wenger's impact has not been solely confined to the top of the Premier League, influencing the culture around English football unlike any other. Cynics may say it is a way of obscuring a lack of success, but Wenger has attempted to redefine what it means to be successful in football. He gave a superb interview to L'Equipe earlier this season, and has been translated on the arseblog website. Here is an excerpt on how Wenger sees himself:
I am only a guide. I enable others to express what they have within them. I didn’t create anything. I am a facilitator of what is beautiful in man. I define myself as an optimist. My never ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man. I can be described as naïve in that sense. But it allows me to believe, and I am often proven right.
This is a view of the world extremely discordant with the view of the world occupied by Claude, one of the many angry Arsenal fans who are interviewed on television after games, whom the internet have allowed become a figure of relative public importance. Claude has little interest in releasing what is beautiful in man, far more interested in releasing the irrational levels of anger he has stored away. Claude wants success and he want is fast, and Wenger is missing the ruthless winning streak required to feed the Premier League monster and to avoid the relentless scorn of Claude and social media.
As Arsenal's season plumbs new depths of mediocrity, Jamie Carragher has identified one of the critical mistakes Wenger has made in his Arsenal career: failing to sign Luis Suarez. Arsenal believed they had triggered Suarez £40 million release clause at Liverpool when they offered one pound above the asking price in 2013, but Liverpool rejected it. Had Arsenal done the ruthless thing, write off an extra few million and make to guarantee the signing of Suarez. Here are Carragher's words:
If you look back at Wenger’s 20 years in English football, there are so many highlights, but that day in July 2013, with the bid that enraged Liverpool, cannot be ignored. Not signing Suarez is the biggest mistake of Wenger’s reign.
He’s always been careful with money, only spending when he is sure he’ll get maximum value. It’s a sign of how stable Wenger is in his job that he can wait and wait. Look at what he did last summer, for instance, when signing goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea but no outfield players.
Wenger will never hurry to do a transfer and always thinks of the long term, but how do his squad feel when they see individuals who would help Arsenal win the biggest prizes ending up elsewhere? Players are selfish and never think about tomorrow. They want to win now.
Had Arsenal pushed the boundaries for Suarez, perhaps with an offer of £50m, I believe they would have won the Barclays Premier League in two of the last three seasons. That’s the thing about Suarez: whichever team he plays for, he drags them to a higher level.
Nobody has time to think about the long-term with a relentless news cycle to fill. Carragher admits that Wenger's time is coming to an end, writing that "The ideal scenario would be for him to say in August: ‘This is going to be my final 12 months.’ Doing that would get rid of all the uncertainty about his contract, it would hopefully prevent the atmosphere becoming toxic.
Weger is a great man partly because he is just about the only Premier League manager capable of giving that interview to L'Equipe. Sam Allardyce strikes you as a man who is thoroughly unconvinced that there is anything beautiful in man, and if there is, it's probably a recently eaten kebab.
But great leaders and great men are only revealed as being so in a crisis, when they have something to respond to. Wenger has bred such stability, this has become obscured. He is a man who has become a victim of his own circumstance.