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A Tale of Two Managers – Fergie and Wenger Meet at the Crossroads:

August 28th, 2011.  A day that will live in infamy…..for Arsenal fans at least.  But more importantly, a day where two long time rivals met at the crossroads of their careers do establish their paths for the future.

 “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” as the song goes, truly is an apt title for what took place at Old Trafford this fateful day.  Two fierce and proud rivals collided, and by the end of the day only, one was left standing while the other literally had to be picked up piece-by-piece and placed in a series of body bags after a slaughter that forced me to think of Old Trafford as the second coming of other hallowed grounds such as Hastings, Agincourt and dare I say it, Waterloo.

Emphatic

So dominant was Manchester United’s mastery of the once proud and talented Arsenal that one now has to look closely to understand how the two greatest teams of the Premiership era could possibly be as far apart and going in such opposite directions? In order to do this one has to go beyond the organizations involved and instead focus on the two managers and how these giants of the game seem to have reinvented themselves.  One for the better, and one for the worse.

Simply put, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson met at the crossroads on this Sunday with  a battle at hand. For one it was the beginning of yet a new era and generation of spectacular football and potential silverware. For the other it was simply their Waterloo and most crushing and demoralizing defeat. The crowning moment for Ferguson in his fifteen-year rivalry with Wenger and the moment when the Frenchman mimicked another famous French leader and legend that would lose so badly that banishment and exile were his only consolation.  Can we say now that the “Voyeur” is soon to follow Nappy to St Helena, or worse West Ham or Blackburn?

This game was a defining moment for two legendary managers going in opposite directions. For the seventy year old Ferguson, it was yet another drop from the Fountain of Youth where the game seems to be giving new life to him and where he seems to be rejuvenated by the sheer youth and energy of the side he has slowly but meticulously rebuilt since the departure of Ronaldo and the recent retirements of Sirs Neville, van der Sar and Scholes.

Unlike Fergie, Wenger has chosen poorly. He was at the same crossroads that Fergie was at four or five years ago. Fergie chose one direction and Wenger the other.  Both relished the chance to work with youth. Both had limitations and problems brought on but ownership. Wenger on the other hand obsessed about youth and basically turned his club into a youth academy albeit a talented one.  Bringing up babies like Fabregas, Walcott, Nasri and van Persie it looked as if his youth formula may indeed be building a team that would contend for years.

Up north Fergie worked youth in with a slower pace but unlike many of his critics, he showed great patience with them and did not throw them into the fire too often and at risk to the club while always securing their success with established veterans.  And yet, five years have passed and on this given Sunday, Manchester United fielded a team that was actually younger than Arsenal’s.

The difference of course is that United’s youth were better seasoned, more mature and properly prepared for the match and upcoming season where Arsenal’s youth seemed out of whack and totally intimidated and confused. While our lads played with pace, passion, grit, confidence and determination, Wenger’s boys played with fear, lack of motivation and apathy. A collective group looking like a lone deer frozen stiff on a highway at night looking at oncoming headlights.

Humiliation

What followed was one of the single greatest and most humiliating defeats in Arsenal Football Club history and a moment that has truly defined the careers and futures of both managers. For Fergie the future is bright, Hell it’s positively glowing. The game often passes over legends as they reach an age where they somehow lose the dressing room and the attention of the players. Well apparently this malady has not hit Fergie.  Instead the new blood and enthusiasm of his kiddie corps have revitalized him and breathed new life into him after a few seasons of caution and over pragmatic football seemed to be beckoning his retirement. He now seems to have found his mojo again and has found that old school playbook that used to define United’s mantra and style of football which consisted of pace, skill, attack and killer instinct.

Now what for Monsieur Wenger?

A man who I thought looked thoroughly beaten and disheartened on the sideline. Of late the once calm and calculating professor now reminds me more of the temperamental and often panicky Rafa Benitez. And we all know what happened to him.  Wenger looks to have lost the plot and I cannot help but wonder if this 8-2 thrashing was not the end of his tenure with Arsenal?  If not his end, the defining moment when the Arsenal board and the fans all collectively agreed that enough is enough.

Sad thing is, although Wenger can take some of the blame for his team’s recent collapse and fall from grace, I still feel there is a lot more to it and others to blame.  Fact is the construction of the Emirates Stadium has had way more to do with Arsenal’s decline than Wenger’s youth only policy.  It has actually been the reason for him taking to the policy because the lack of transfer funds made available to him were reduced so much due to the debt of building the stadium that Wenger had no other choice than to buy youth cheap and by the bushel.

Where he is 100% to blame in all this is his arrogance and stubbornness to not make changes when changes were needed. To suffer from denial when all around him told him that his squad was not good enough and that he needed better quality in his back four, at defensive midfield positions, players with character and pride and especially a better goalkeeper. How long do you go with a Manuel Almunia in goal before you realize he isn’t good enough? And how long do you think your stars will want to be part of a ship sinking before greed and their own selfish needs force them to hand in their transfer notice?  And now after losing his two best players in Fabregas and Nasri because of those reasons, he has left himself with such a poor and uninspiring team that rebuilding it will become very difficult because the money is not really there and the will and desire of star players to sign for this club is not what it once was. Arsenal is proving right now that pedigree can easily be destroyed.

Both men met at the crossroads today and unfortunately for Wenger, he formed himself into a defensive square and defended to the last man until he was truly beaten and destroyed.  But unlike Napoleon, he never had proud, stubborn and tough Grognard’s (the name he gave his proud Old Guard) to fight to the last man. What’s next for him and Arsenal?  I think the best thing for both parties is a parting of the ways.  Both need a fresh new start and so I feel today was the beginning of the end of the Wenger era for Arsenal Football Club. And as for Manchester United and Sir Alex, well the beat just goes on and now it’s got a young hip-hop sound to it that’s full of life and energy. Just what the Boss ordered.

Van


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