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Wenger at 60

Clockwise from left: Arsene Wenger at Monaco, completing the 2003-04 Premier League season unbeaten, watching Cesc Fabregas in training and agonising over Arsenal's defeat by Manchester United in August 2009
Wenger is currently in his 25th season as a professional manager

By David Ornstein

It is a measure of Arsene Wenger's impact on global football that having arrived at Arsenal in 1996 to the headline "Arsene Who?", he could now waltz into almost any managerial post in the world.

Other leading clubs would long since have sacked a manager who failed to lift a single trophy in four years but, as Gerard Houllier told BBC Sport, "Why do Real Madrid still want him then?"

It is as if Wenger, who celebrates his 60th birthday on Thursday, has turned the conventions of management upside down, whereby top level success is not necessarily judged by the quantity of silverware you win.

By revolutionising a club and laying the foundations for a bright sporting and financial future, Wenger has effectively guaranteed himself a job for life.

"Arsene is the best trainer and manager in both Europe and the world," says Guy Roux, who has known Wenger since he was a 20-year-old centre-half at Mutzig in 1969.

In the process of becoming Arsenal's longest-serving manager, Wenger has guided the Gunners to two Premier League and FA Cup doubles, an unbeaten league season and a Champions League final.

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Construction of a new training complex and stadium were achieved while maintaining the challenge for honours with players, mainly developed from within or acquired cheaply, capable of producing an intoxicating style of play.

Under Wenger's stewardship Arsenal have been transformed into one of Europe's elite clubs and their turnover has soared from £21m in 1996 to over £313m in 2009.

Like Roux, in charge of Auxerre for 44 years, and Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger has illustrated what can be achieved if a club puts its long-term faith in one man.

"What makes Arsene so special is the vision he had for the club and the players," says Houllier, the former Liverpool manager and current technical director at the French football federation.

"He must have had a vision for where he wanted to take the club and in that sense he has been very, very successful."

Wenger will mark his birthday by preparing his side for Sunday's trip to West Ham, attending the club's AGM and then watching a couple of Europa League matches on television.

"In this job you will only succeed if you are 100% focused," said Houllier, who met Wenger at a Uefa pro licence course in 1983 and spent time with him at major international tournaments in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"You've got to follow up the trends, the movement of football, the evolution of the game and of the environment of football.

"Arsene is not only a very open minded person in terms of being alert to what's going on but he is also very interested in the environment of football."

Wenger has not only changed Arsenal - it is widely accepted that his approach to scouting, training, nutrition and statistical analysis encouraged English football to embrace the continental approach to management.

Wenger reflects on 13 years at Arsenal

But for Emmanuel Petit, coached by Wenger at Monaco and Arsenal, it is his former mentor's man management which makes him so special.

Petit still remembers Wenger resting him for an important away game in 1999 after he told the manager he was not in the right frame of mind to play because a girlfriend he was seeing at the time had lost their unborn child.

Wenger assured Petit that he should feel no guilt about not playing, that family came above football and that he would support him unconditionally.

"He is like a father figure, he makes you a better player and a better person," said Petit. "It makes you desperate to do your best for him. You want to give 150%."

But as Wenger enters his seventh decade, the subject on the lips of most Arsenal fans is where he goes from here.

The Frenchman's current contract expires in 2011 but it would be a huge surprise if he opted against signing an extension and there is little to suggest he will not continue as Arsenal boss for the foreseeable future.

Wenger had been heavily linked to taking over at Real Madrid this summer before Manuel Pellegrini was appointed, while Bayern Munich and the France national job have also been touted as next steps in his career.

But he said in August: "I built this team, I want to deliver with this team and I feel that if I left I would in some way have betrayed my beliefs."

While insisting there are no plans to retire, Wenger has conceded he may have to adapt his hands-on approach as the years go by.

"My four final years, from 63 to 67, were my best because I was so experienced," explains Roux. "I was a bit less vocal but I worked more with my head and Arsene will be the same.

"You also gain more respect from the players as you get older. When I was young they looked at me as a brother, after that as a big brother, then as a father and finally as a grandfather.

"Arsene will go on as long as his body allows him. After 68 I found it became hard to keep motivating myself but everyone is different."

Only Wenger will truly know when his time is up but Howard Wilkinson, chairman of the League Managers Association, believes the Frenchman remains "as fit as a butcher's dog".

Physical health is a key factor and Petit reveals that Wenger had a "very small heart problem six or seven years ago, it gave Arsene a little reminder".

Arsene Wenger
I can remember Sir Matt Busby sitting there with the European Cup at 59 and Bob Paisley doing the same at 62 - there is no reason why Arsene won't do the same

Howard Wilkinson

"As you grow older you have to listen to your body a bit more but Arsene has got a very organised life," says Houllier, whose reign as Liverpool manager was interrupted by a heart attack in 2001. "He probably goes to bed earlier than the majority of other managers."

Wenger joins Ferguson, Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson as current Premier League managers in their 60s and all four will be buoyed by the knowledge that Sir Bobby Robson was still able to lead training until he was sacked by Newcastle at the age of 71.

But as the years have passed it has been impossible to ignore the change in Wenger's touchline demeanour - the Zen-like figure who arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996 is a distant memory.

"When we were young we were bad losers," Houllier points out. "But now we are older we are awful losers. With age it becomes more and more difficult to recover from defeats."

Or perhaps Wenger is becoming increasingly conscious that at some stage his young side must turn their potential into silverware if they are to avoid further anguish.

There is also the added incentive of a European trophy, the main accolade missing from Wenger's CV.

A beaten finalist in the 1992 Cup Winners' Cup final, the 2000 Uefa Cup final and the 2006 Champions League final, those closest to Wenger suggest he will not rest until he has lifted the European Cup.

Since the competition was rebranded in 1992, only two men over 60, Ferguson and Raymond Goethals, have won the Champions League and Petit reckons Wenger will only be considered "a true managerial great" if he follows suit.

"Football is a job of experience and the coming years could be Arsene's finest," says Houllier. "If he can stay healthy and keeps this team together he has a good chance of winning the Champions League."

Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon warns that Arsenal's "Achilles heel" could be their irrepressible urge to flood forward whenever possible, which has resulted in the occasional neglect of defensive duties.

But Wenger, who won the French league in his first season at Monaco and took them to the 1992 Cup Winners' Cup final and 1994 Champions League semi-finals, will never tamper with his team's attacking instincts.

He wants to win trophies in style and if that ambition is fulfilled on the European stage it would cap a stunning managerial career.

"I don't think there's a ceiling in terms of how far Arsene can go," adds Wilkinson. "I can remember Sir Matt Busby sitting there with the European Cup at 59 and Bob Paisley doing the same at 62.

"There is no reason why Arsene won't do the same."


Listen to Emmanuel Petit, David Dein and Lee Dixon during a special programme, Arsene at 60, on BBC Radio 5 live at 2000 BST on Thursday .



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see also
Wenger 'needs to win silverware'
22 Oct 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger hungry for further success
02 Oct 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger's recipe for success
12 Aug 09 |  Arsenal
Property boosts Arsenal profits
28 Sep 09 |  Business
Wenger has 'no plans to retire'
24 Sep 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger demands respect from fans
22 May 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger pleads for fans' patience
15 May 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger signs new deal at Arsenal
07 Sep 07 |  Arsenal
Wenger waits to join all-time greats
15 May 04 |  Arsenal


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