A long-standing institution appointing a leader to widespread derision from press and pundits, accompanied by apocalyptic predictions of doom? It could never happen today.
But on the first day of October, 1996, a certain Arsene Wenger officially took charge as manager of Arsenal Football Club – and it didn’t go down well. Well, not at the southern end of the Seven Sisters Road anyway.
Arsenal were, at the time, in turmoil. Star players were injured, back-room unrest was rife, the personal problems of talisman Tony Adams and his wife were splashed across the tabloids. The club seemed to have entered a tailspin.
Just to compound the misery, the Gunners had also gone and appointed a little-known manager and tasked him with arresting the slump – an underwhelming appointment the London Evening Standard greeted with the headline ‘Arsene Who?’…
Wenger’s arrival from J-League side Nagoya Grampus Eight was greeted with incredulity by much of the UK media and public for the apparently sound reasons that, 1) they didn’t really know who he was, and, 2) he looked a bit scholarly for their liking.
Luckily for Arsenal fans, vice-chairman David Dein, who had publicly championed Wenger, instead chose to rely on outlandish concepts such as due diligence, research, logic and a forensic examination of Wenger’s coaching CV rather than the Frenchman’s celebrity and/or appearance.
Not for the first time the media experts and pub philosophers were proved to be totally out of touch as Wenger went on to be the most successful manager in the club’s history, almost single-handedly dragging English football out of its hiccuping, oafish dark ages in the process.