Sunday 24 March 2019

'The Professor' still excelling in modern game

Wenger, known as 'The Professor' Photo: Getty
Wenger, known as 'The Professor' Photo: Getty

Jeremy Wilson

Can the old school of managers still cut it in the Premier League? There were two Premier League records set at Selhurst Park last night.

Not only did Arsene Wenger draw level with Alex Ferguson in the all-time list of games but he and old friend Roy Hodgson also set a different benchmark for longevity.

At a combined age of 138, never has there been two such elderly men in a Premier League dugout.

It was a sight to rather challenge the argument that a new breed of modern, more tactically-sophisticated coaches is rapidly ushering the old guard off the main stage.

Wenger, known as 'The Professor', is often described these days as analogue in a digital age but, in an especially deep-thinking interview to mark him soon surpassing Ferguson's 810 Premier League games, he identified other far more convincing changes.

Above all, it was what he regards as the switch from a vertical society, where the experts and leaders were once unquestioningly followed, and the horizontal world in which we live where men like him are relentlessly challenged.

Often that is a good thing and utterly justified, but Wenger's point is that much of the noise lacks any perspective and it has become a skill in itself to insulate your own thinking.

When he was asked about Hodgson and his experience managing England, it was noticeable that Wenger should say that the defeat against Iceland had no impact on his opinion of a coach he has known for more than 30 years.

Opinions, it seems, can be especially polarised when it comes to those managers at either end of the age spectrum.

Hodgson and Wenger certainly still make plenty of mistakes, but the evidence for their decline is far from convincing.

Arsenal's points tally and win percentage has actually remained remarkably stable throughout Wenger's tenure despite the long wait for a fourth league title.

Indeed, who would guess that any recent factual comparison between Wenger and two men in Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, who are certainly supposed to have usurped him, could be in the Frenchman's favour?

Yet, even amid all the turbulence, he has won more trophies and collected more points at Arsenal than either of those younger men since they were respectively appointed at Liverpool and Tottenham.

Like any job, football management is ultimately about competence and, in Hodgson - whose work at Crystal Palace has been impressive - and Wenger, two of the Premier League's most capable and proficient coaches are not ready to be pensioned off.

The moment that changed the game was Wenger's decision to go back to three central defenders.

His dalliance with 4-2-3-1 is fine in certain games, but Arsenal have been far more solid with 3-4-2-1 and the system gave his team a much better base from which to deal with Crystal Palace's attacking threat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Why Irish fans shouldn't lose faith and how Joe Schmidt can turn things around for the World Cup

In association with Aldi

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport