By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger believes the Arsenal board were, at best, brave and, at worst, crazy to hire him 13 years ago.
On Thursday the Frenchman becomes the longest-serving manager in the Club’s history, overtaking the record set by George Allison over 60 years ago.
Foreign coaches are common these days but back in 1996 they were rare – particularly unknown ones. Famously, the London Evening Standard exclaimed “Arsène Who?” when Wenger was set to be appointed. It was one of many barriers he had to break down.
“When you work abroad it is never easy because, frankly, they do not need you,” said the 59-year-old ahead of the Champions League tie with Olympiacos. “It is difficult to put into context today because now every foreign manager arrives on a red carpet. It was not like that when I arrived.
“There was a history and belief in England that the foreign manager could not be successful. Now you have a different feeling, you think only foreign managers can be successful. That is wrong as well!
“When I think retrospectively, it was a gamble by the Board and that is the biggest surprise to me,” he went on. “At that time, to do what Arsenal did, you needed to be a little bit crazy. Crazy in the sense that I had no name, I was foreign, there was no history. They needed to be, maybe not crazy, but certainly brave.
“However I believe I was lucky to find the support I found at Arsenal and that is always important for success.”
High-point of his Arsenal career
“To play a whole season unbeaten. No matter how much money any body else has invested, nobody else has done that.”
Low-point of his Arsenal career
“You always keep in your memory the closest thing to you. But losing the Semi-Final of the Champions League last year was the lowest point because we didn’t play at our level.”