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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Wenger waits to join all-time greats

By Alan Hansen
BBC Sport football expert

Arsene Wenger confirmed his managerial brilliance after winning the Premiership for the third time - but he must wait to join the list of all-time greats.

You can measure Wenger's quality by the loyalty shown to him by world-class players

This is not to belittle or under-estimate Wenger's latest achievement. He is a fantastic manager whose team is a glowing testament to his managerial ability.

But to join the all-time greats he must now add a top European trophy, preferably the Champions League, to his c.v. and win back-to-back championships.

He hasn't done this yet with Arsenal, and it is a feat that was achieved by the greats like Bob Paisley and Sir Alex Ferguson, while Brian Clough won successive European Cups at Nottingham Forest.

And from what I know of Wenger, he will be thinking exactly the same as he shapes his plans for next season.

He is a fantastic operator, but we may have to wait five or 10 years before making the ultimate judgement.

Much has been said and written about a great Arsenal team, but there is no doubt that behind the outstanding team is an outstanding manager.

What Wenger has achieved at Arsenal is nothing short of remarkable when you consider how he has built a side from scratch, balanced the books, signed world-class players and won trophies.

He has done all this while assembling as good an attacking team as this country has ever seen.

Wenger has so many qualities, but above all the greatest seems to be his ability to spot talent early and bring it to Arsenal before anyone else has realised its potential.

There can be no better illustration of this priceless gift than in the shape of Arsenal's two shining stars, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.

Vieira was a youngster in AC Milan's reserves when Wenger brought him to Highbury.

And Henry was a remarkable coup, because when he came to prominence for France in the 1998 World Cup, he looked like a leggy lad with pace and nothing else.

It is normally highly unlikely that someone with that pace at the age of 20 or 21 will develop skill and ability, but Wenger clearly spotted something even after Henry had struggled at Juventus.

Wenger knew Henry had that ability and has nurtured it brilliantly at Arsenal.

Wenger spotted the potential of players such as Vieira and Henry before anyone else

And how right he was to make that assessment when we see the invention, creation and brilliance Henry brings to the game now.

Wenger is so shrewd in the market as well, and as examples we can recall how he signed Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit then sold them on for vast fortunes.

Anelka came for 500,000 and left for around 22m. That is a stunning piece of business.

Wenger should also be praised for the manner in which his team plays, with style, breathtaking pace and wonderful attacking invention. Even the most partisan fan could not deny their quality.

Another measure of Wenger's quality is the loyalty shown to him by world-class players such as Vieira, Henry and Robert Pires.

Vieira and Henry have constantly been linked with moves to places like Real Madrid, but they are still at Arsenal and always mention their debt to, and admiration for, their manager when they explain their loyalty.

There may be talk of Madrid, but they are well-rewarded at Arsenal, and play in a winning team for a manager they worship - what more could they want?

Well, they could want a Champions League winners' medal - and that is what Wenger will be setting his sights on.

He will want that Champions League. He will want back-to-back titles.

Arsenal have that unbeaten record but that means nothing without trophies.

They would swap a few defeats for back-to-back titles or the Champions League. I was in the Liverpool team they took that unbeaten record off, and it would have meant nothing without the silverware.

This is what Wenger will now turn his attention to - and what could move him into the ranks of the all-time great managers.






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