Should Wenger Bow Out After Victory?

Nine years ago there was a suspicion that Sir Alex would quit if he won the FA Cup; this year Philip Cornwall wonders whether Arsene Wenger is pondering the same question...

Last Updated: 16/05/14 at 11:50 Post Comment

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New readers join here: it is nine years since Arsenal last won a trophy.

The fact that no silverware has come the club's way since the end of their penultimate season at Highbury is too well known for the details of the 2005 FA Cup final to bear much repeating. But there is one off-the-pitch consideration that comes to mind as 64-year-old Arsene Wenger bids to end that run: Fleet Street prepared itself for the final against Manchester United to cover the eventuality that the then-63-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson might call it a day if his side won.

The logic, three years after the Scot had reversed course on his scheduled retirement, was that Roman Abramovich's expensively assembled toy soldiers had just won the league by 12 points from Arsenal with United six more in arrears. The Russian and José Mourinho seemed to have placed a seemingly insurmountable barrier between Ferguson and United's 16th title. In the Champions League, a season after Jose Mourinho's Porto had put United out in the last 16, Milan did the same, and a second European crown for Ferguson, a third for his club, seemed beyond reach in the immediate future. Therefore a man of pensionable age might want to bow out with glory; and he would also love causing a media meltdown with an unexpected announcement. So you had to expect, or at least anticipate, such an occurrence.

It took eight more years for Ferguson to retire, and eight months of actual football for his immediate legacy to be shaken by the dismissal of his nominated successor. United achieved so much between losing to Arsenal's ten men on penalties and Ferguson anointing David Moyes, with five more league titles and the 2008 European Cup the highlights, and it is certainly arguable that it was the ascent to the highest office of Ed Woodward at the same time that made for quite such a mess. Still, as has been argued here before, perhaps Ferguson went on too long and, when he did call it a day, it coincided with resurgences elsewhere.

Is it possible that Wenger, after so many more years of frustration than Ferguson endured, will bow out in victory? Crystal Pulis may be all the rage but Arsenal Wenger remains the daddy of manager-club match-ups - at least since Wolfsburg sacked Wolfgang Wolf. But were he to retire from managing now then he could remain an active part of the club he has done so much to build. Imagine Arsenal with a new manager next season - and a familiar French face as director of football, or similar.

Moyes proved as far out of his depth as some others predicted but anyone would have suffered in comparison to Ferguson. If Wenger goes upstairs then he will cast a shadow, albeit a lesser one, over any successor - but he will do so regardless when the time comes. Why not do so in a manner where you can be a help as well as a hindrance?

This could be seen as repeating the pattern United sought to avoid, that of the aftermath of Matt Busby's attempt to retire. But circumstances and personalities are never the same.

On the one hand, with United needing to rebuild and financial fair play putting a check on Manchester City and Chelsea, this is not a bad moment to carry on. However, this can also be seen as a propitious moment for a new manager to arrive, one who can operate with Wenger's help. The loss of David Dein is often cited as a reason why Wenger faltered in recent years; the Frenchman could make an ideal consigliere to a successor, greatly expanding the size of the senior football brains at the Emirates. It would take a confident man to accept the arrangement but the Emirates is an attractive destination.

My money is not on a Wembley retirement speech, should Arsenal overcome Hull. I believe that Wenger will sign a new contract; I also wonder whether he will have cause to regret doing so, when he finally calls it a day. But there's just a chance his coyness over a new contract has been concýealing what kind of deal he is thinking of signing.

Philip Cornwall

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