At a time when it has once again been proved that just one day can be a long time in football, it is even more remarkable that it is now 20 years since Arsene Wenger was unveiled as the manager of Arsenal.
Bruce Rioch had been sacked a week before the start of the 1996-97 season and the popular favourites to replace the former Bolton Wanderers boss were Terry Venables (fresh from the success of Euro 96) and the great Johan Cruyff.
However, it was to be the virtually unknown “Arsene Who?”, as he was tagged by the London Evening Standard, who became the Gunners’ fifth manager since Terry Neill’s appointment 20 years earlier.
His first captain at Highbury, Tony Adams, later confirmed the doubts amongst the senior players: “At first, I thought, what does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher. He’s not going to be as good as George Graham. Does he even speak English properly?”
Traditionally, the north London club have been reluctant to dispense with the services of their man in charge but, of the Frenchman’s predecessors, only George Allison entered a second decade at the helm and even then, his stint of 13 years and three days straddled the Second World War (1934 to 1937).
Similarly, only one of the current 91 other Premier League and Football League managers have reached a second decade (Paul Tisdale completed ten years in charge of Exeter City in the summer).
Ron Atkinson, Jim Smith, Joe Royle and George Graham were amongst the other 19 Premier League managers at the time of his appointment.
Of those 19, only one is still employed as manager (Martin O’Neill, who led Leicester City to League Cup triumph in 1996-97) while only one is currently working in the Premier League (Gerry Francis, his first counterpart at Tottenham Hotspur and now first team coach at West Bromwich Albion).
Of course, the list of 19 includes one name that can rival the former AS Monaco and Nagoya Grampus Eight boss in terms of one-club longevity. Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United spanned 27 years. His haul of 22 domestic honours (13 Premier League titles, FA Cups and four League Cups) leaves the Wenger win-list of three Premier League titles and six FA Cups trailing in his wake.
However, for those who suspect that Arsene will have sights on the England job when his present Emirates contract ends in the summer, many more believe that he will extend his Gunners stint well beyond 21 years to go beyond other Fergie figures.
The great Scot was in charge at Old Trafford for a total of 1,500 games while, as at 1 October 2016, Arsene’s Arsenal total is 1,129 games. A closer goal is that of becoming the Premier League’s longest-serving manager. Sir Alex called time at 810 games. The 66 year-old currently stands on 758 so would go past his greatest adversary in the early part of 2018.
Of course, Arsene’s greatness lies more in the style of play he has encouraged, his innovations in player preparation and his achievement in building Arsenal into one of the world’s top superclubs, than in his longevity.
There is no doubt Arsenal hit the jack-pot when they recruited the relatively unknown Frenchman and David Dein paid tribute to this saying,
“Arsène’s a miracle worker. He’s revolutionised the club. He’s turned players into world-class players. Since he has been here, we have seen football from another planet.”
The round-rimmed glasses have gone and the hair has turned grey but, 20 years on, his ability to prove his doubters wrong appears to burn as bright as ever.