There’s something contrary about Arsène Wenger.
In Arsène Wenger, I witnessed a contrary legend.
I witnessed a manager that was from overseas define what it meant to play high-quality English football in the early 2000s.
I witnessed a man that championed the importance of eating well, yet secured a top four finish in 2006 thanks to food poisoning.
I witnessed a clearly intelligent man that – in his latter years at Arsenal – gave off the air of someone that had no idea what they were doing.
I witnessed a man that, in the same breath, was described as the man that brought success to Arsenal Football Club, and the man preventing the arrival of more.
More than just this, Arsène Wenger’s story, to this writer, was the entirety of a contrary legend.
In an age where we can see managerial careers fizzle away quickly, Wenger is one of the few staples of modern English football who not only enjoyed a lengthy managerial career, but had enjoyed one that I saw in full. As with the other contradictory elements of Arsène Wenger, this makes it hard to pinpoint how the man will be remembered.
Do we remember him as the innovative, bespectacled, dark-haired challenger from the 90s, the one that bloodied Manchester United’s nose in 1998 by winning a domestic double?
Or will we revere Wenger as the man that transformed Thierry Henry into a virtuoso, and created one of the finest sides to ever grace the Premier League in 2004, through his focus on speed, movement, and passing?
Or will we associate the Frenchman with the start of his fall – the move to the Emirates, the focus on cheaper, less developed purchases, the decade-long trophy drought, and the unfortunate habit of his fledglings to fly the nest once they hit their peak?
There is, of course, the temptation to remember Wenger for the #WengerOut era – an unfortunate time where a bad result would be considered less in the prism of what it would mean for the club, but more the reaction of fools on social media. The temptation is there to remember the white-haired grandfather figure who demonstrated a clear lack of defensive refinement in an age where the game changed.
But this would be a disservice.
Arsène Wenger is Arsenal, and will always be. As a child, this writer thought the club was named after the man. The club’s successes under his tenure were his successes, and he deserves to be remembered fondly as a result.
And, in an era where opinions are prominent, and damaging mistakes are made quickly, it’s possible that his resignation may be the start of even rockier times. Arsenal fans clamour for a fresh start, but change is not always good; what’s happening behind the scenes is not always clear to the fan, regardless of how passionate they may be, or how much they love the club.
But for now, we begin the long goodbye for one of the Premier League’s greatest managers on a day that’s as contrary as so many things about the man’s legacy; a day when a fan base cheer the start of a bright future while grieving the loss of their greatest servant.