It's amazing how easily people get things wrong. People get things wrong all the time - I've done it a couple times this morning already, and it's not even 11AM yet where I am. But it's hard to imagine getting something as spectacularly wrong as, well, England as a whole got the appointment of Arsene Wenger, who took charge 17 years ago today. The prevailing sentiment, as expressed in the Evening Standard when the appointment was announced, was "ARSENE WHO?"
Granted, there were a lot of non-soccer things at play there - closed-minded xenophobia, the English feeling they're better at things when they're really not, etc. - but either way, the appointment of Arsene Wenger was met with bewilderment at best and ignorance at worst.
The Guardian has a nice look back today at October 1, 1996, complete with some awesome quotes. My faves:
"I remember when Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names. It was Terry Venables, Johan Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsène Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan, I bet it's fucking Arsène Wenger, because I haven't heard of him and I've heard of the other two. Trust Arsenal to appoint the boring one that you haven't heard of."
Sir Alex Ferguson:
"They say he's an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages. I've got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages."
So yeah, a whole lot of people got the Wenger hiring a whole lot of wrong. I'm not here to dwell on that today, because I had the same reaction as Nick Hornby when I heard Wenger was the choice; I had no inkling of who he was, what he was capable of, or why it was a good thing he was hired.
Flash forward 17 years later, and what he's done is now common knowledge. He changed the game - not just for Arsenal, but in England as a whole, and the game worldwide is better for it. He changed training habits, he changed player dietary habits, he changed the whole mentality of the game for the better, and it worked so well that every team in the game does what he did, with varying degrees of success - his techniques are common now.
There are very few sporting people I actually admire on a personal level - elite-level sports as a whole is a messed up, jaded, cynical thing that doesn't deserve the level of idolatry it is given, for the most part, and athletes themselves are mostly dopes - but on that very, very short list resides Arsene Wenger, because he is Le Boss. A multi-lingual Frenchman with a degree in economics, coaching a soccer team? Sounds so crazy, it just might work.
He's the longest-serving manager in the Premier League, and if it were up to me, I'd give him 17 more years right now, without even thinking about it. Doubt him at your peril - he's the best manager Arsenal have had in the modern age, and someday when Arsenal build another new stadium (probably floating in space and requiring jet packs to get to), his bust will be there, in the marble halls, alongside Herbert Chapman as the most influential men in Arsenal's history.