CONSIDERING only Herbert Chapman has perhaps had more influence on English football as Arsenal manager than Arsene Wenger there is a pleasing symmetry to tomorrow’s ‘au revoir’ to the Premier League coming in Huddersfield.
Leeds Road, where Chapman pioneered the role of manager in an era when directors were all powerful and footballing decisions invariably made by committee, may be long gone.
But the great man’s legacy is still keenly felt, be it the three stars that adorn Huddersfield’s team shirts in a nod to the trio of titles won during the Twenties or the bust of Chapman, a gift from Arsenal to mark Town’s centenary in 2008, that can be seen in the entrance to the John Smith’s Stadium.
Arsenal, of course, have even more reasons to be grateful to Chapman who, after leaving the West Riding in 1925, transformed the North London club beyond recognition. As, of course, Wenger did a little over 70 years later after first walking through the marble halls of Highbury as a relative unknown in this country.
‘Arsene Who?’ may have been the back-page headline that greeted the new Gunners manager during the autumn of 1996, but surely no one can be in doubt any more as to the impact the Frenchman made on his adopted country.
Diet, preparation, sports science, tapping into overseas markets, even how football was played in this country – all these and more changed forever thanks to the vision of one man who, like Chapman all those years before when at the helm of Huddersfield and Arsenal, was way ahead of his time.
One future manager granted an early insight into the thinking that would so revolutionise the Premier League was Phil Brown.
“Arsene single-handedly, changed English football for the better,” the 58-year-old told The Yorkshire Post this week.
“I was very fortunate, along with (then Bolton manager) Colin Todd, to have an hour with him very early on during his time at Arsenal.
“It was 1996 and we were staying at Sopwell House, a hotel in St Albans. Arsene had set up base there after arriving in England. Later Arsenal would train at London Colney, but back then his base was St Albans.
Our way of playing football was very different, but Arsene always appreciated it was impossible for the clubs I was at to try and match his style.Neil Warnock
“We were staying in the same hotel so we met up on the morning of the game. We all had an hour together – me, Toddy and Arsene.
“For someone just starting out in coaching like I was with Bolton it was an incredible hour. I soaked up everything he said. I was like a sponge.
“His ideas were fascinating. One thing he wanted to do was build a village for his footballers, so that when the lads signed from abroad they would all be staying where he could keep an eye on them.
“Arsene’s thinking on science was fascinating, too. He had all sorts of theories and I just lapped everything up. His knowledge was incredible. He inspired me in a way I would say he has probably inspired all young coaches over the past 20 years.”
Recent seasons may not have been so kind to Wenger, who faced a concerted campaign calling for him to go from a section of the Arsenal support.
But there can be little doubt that the enduring popularity of the Premier League around the globe is down, in no small part, to his work in the late Nineties and early 2000s.
Yorkshire football can look back on some Titanic tussles with the Frenchman as the curtain comes down on Wenger’s near 22-year stay at Arsenal.
From Leeds United, under David O’Leary, ruffling more than a few feathers at Highbury around the turn of the Millennium through to Hull City threatening to dash his dreams of lifting a first trophy in nine years by racing into a two-goal lead at Wembley in the FA Cup final, the White Rose county has been a willing and game combatant for the Frenchman.
“I had some great tussles with him over the years,” said Neil Warnock, whose Sheffield United side were beaten controversially by the Gunners in the 2003 FA Cup semi-final.
“A great football man who helped revolutionise football in this country when he first arrived. My favourite game against Arsenal was the one at Bramall Lane when (Phil) Jagielka went in goal. But the memory that sticks out most concerning Arsene is my first visit to the Emirates.
“It might have been my 1,000th game, I am not 100 per cent sure. Anyway Arsenal had only just moved and I was having a look around beforehand.
“I was in the centre circle with Arsene and I looked across to the dugouts and said how unusually far apart they were. There was something like 50 feet between them, which you don’t get at most grounds. So I said, ‘You won’t be able to hear me at that distance’.
“Arsene, who is a very tall man, leaned across, almost towering over me, and simply said, ‘I am sure you will find a way’. That is a side most don’t see.
“He is a real gentleman, too. I always went in his office after games. Not a lot of managers did, but I always wanted to. I enjoyed chatting to him.
“Our way of playing football was very different, but Arsene always appreciated it was impossible for the clubs I was at to try and match his style. We just didn’t have the players.”
Warnock, back among the elite following Cardiff City’s promotion, believes the Premier League will be a poorer place without Wenger next season.
“The Arsenal fans who have been after him for years have got a lot to answer for,” he added. “Arsene will be sorely missed.”