Julian Bennetts: Arsene Wenger’s legacy secure at Arsenal and Monaco

FRENCH CONNECTION: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger listens as defender Per Mertesacker speaks to the media at Monaco Stadium. Picture: Lionel Cironneau

The first thing Arsenal’s players will see when they exit their dressing room at the Stade Louis II in Monaco tonight is a photo of Arsene Wenger emblazoned on the tunnel wall leading to the pitch.

Aged around 40 at the time it was taken, their manager is clad in a red Monaco tracksuit while taking a training session at the very stadium they are standing in.

Two steps further down the tunnel there is a picture of Thierry Henry, then just a teenager and with braids that dates the image quite superbly.

Then another of the team Wenger built back in the 1980s and early 1990s, full of stellar young names such as Lilian Thuram, David Trezeguet and George Weah.

As a glimpse back in time it is instructive. This is the house Arsene built, the venue where his methods were honed and practised.

He is back on the Cote d’Azur for the first time as a manager, well aware that his name will be intrinsically linked with Arsenal and Monaco above all other clubs.

It is an opportunity for nostalgia on behalf of a man who does not really like to look back, instead preferring to focus on the next challenge rather than the most recent victory or latest disappointment.

He answered one question on the subject in his media briefing last night but made it plain he was here for business.

His hosts had planned a presentation to him, but Arsenal’s late arrival meant there was only time for a photograph with Monaco’s Vice-President.

The less fuss about the past the better, as far as Wenger was concerned.

“For me, it is very special moment,” smiled the Frenchman as he faced the cameras inside the Stade Louis II’s media room, which also doubles as a fencing hall. I was a young coach here at Monaco, and stayed here for seven years. I have a lot of respect for Monaco and want to thank the whole club.

“Tomorrow will be a Champions League game, and the experience I gained can help me to make the right decision. I am able to separate the emotion of coming back and the importance of the game. I am here for work, my job is for my club to win.”

Winning was something he was brutally denied more of at Monaco. His seven-year spell from 1987 was marked by a French League success, a French Cup win and a Cup Winners Cup Final.

It was also tainted by the knowledge that Marseille, his side’s main rivals, were corrupt and rotten to the core.

Emmanuel Petit, who followed Wenger to Arsenal from Monaco, recalls being shown a video of a 3-0 defeat to their rivals and his manager asking him for his thoughts on the goals conceded.

Petit responded earnestly and Wenger replied, ‘several of us think our players have been bribed by Marseille’.

Wenger had clearly ruled Petit out from his enquiries. His suspicions were confirmed when Bernard Tapie, the Marseille president, was caught authorising bribes to be paid to players from Valenciennes.

Marseille were relegated and Tapie sentenced to two years in prison but Monaco – who twice finished second to Marseille under Wenger – were left wondering quite how many trophies they missed out on due their rivals’ deceit.

“It was the most difficult period of my life,” Wenger said back in 2013 when asked about the suspicions and then the final, dawning truth.

“When you’re in a job like mine, you worry about every detail. But then to go to work and know that it is all useless is a disaster.”

He has never spoken at length about the Tapie scandal, claiming he is saving the story for his book.

But his time in Monaco allowed Wenger to hone the revolutionary footballing vision that saw him hailed as a miracle-worker when he arrived at Arsenal following a spell with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

Future staples of Arsenal’s early success – the attention to diet, the rigidity of the time-keeping during training sessions, fines for tardiness – were implemented in Monaco by a coach who was just 38 when he arrived from Nancy.

Five wins in his first six league games and a league title in his maiden season underpinned his success at the club, but it ended sourly as he was sacked just months after Monaco refused to allow him to talk to Bayern Munich over their vacant managerial position.

The years have softened the memories, though, and he is now loved again by the Monaco locals, as you suspect he will be by Arsenal fans some years after he retired.

And while there is a photo of him in Monaco, there is already a bust of him at the Emirates.

No matter what happens tonight and over the next few months at Arsenal, his legacy is already secure at two clubs.


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