Wen it’s over

ALL things come to an end: empires, geological ages and the reigns of managers with blinkers, deaf ears and skin made of tungsten carbide. Breaking the habit of a lifetime, Arsene Wenger finally saw his coming.

The Frenchman had ignored the rumblings for years and barricaded himself into his own private "Bastille". Only when he spotted the guillotine in the boardroom did he act.

The phrase "I didn't see it" may still adorn his tombstone but in the nick of time he has ensured himself a decent sendoff. No matter that he'd overstayed by a decade, it was imperative for both his legacy and Arsenal's future that the mob were not seen to have the final say on one of the game's managerial giants.

Sunday's game against West Ham did not produce the unified bounce the club had hoped Friday's announcement would engender, but at least there was no booing and the empty seats were not counted in tens of thousands.

A 4-1 win was flattering but it lifts the mood for Thursday's Europa League clash with Atletico Madrid. That once-derided trophy is now something Arsenal could badly do with winning if they are to attract the kind of manager and players they want.

The ambivalence of the fans contrasted sharply with the unanimity of the media reaction that might have made the board think they'd killed Bambi. Except that they were no dissenting voices as to it being the right decision.

Death, they say, is the ultimate leveller but, in sport, resigning can be a handy substitute. Not only can it bring an immediate halt to criticism, it can turn it into gushing praise.

This is what happened with Wenger, who has often equated retiring from Arsenal to the arrival of the Grim Reaper, and the weekend eulogies amounted to a kind of requiem.

At a stroke, or more precisely, the 115 well-crafted words of his resignation statement, he has gone from being hung from the lampposts back to football's Mount Rushmore.

He was, of course, already there. He's been there for more than a decade after dragging English football out of the dark ages and having the audacity and wherewithal to take on and beat — albeit briefly — Alex Ferguson.

The tragedy was that he was chipping away at his own image on that granite outcrop he shared with the Washingtons, Jeffersons and Lincolns of British football – namely, the Shanklys, Cloughs and Fergusons.

Every failure was a chip that disfigured the sculpture, every trophy-less season turning that once-proud head into a gargoyle. And every dud he bought set off a mini-avalanche that threatened to bring down the whole edifice. Even for his critics, it was sad to see.

His first decade compares with any in football history and was more profound than most because of the sheer scale of the challenge and the seismic shift in the game that he brought about.

Convincing Tony Adams to eat broccoli was the first step in a dramatic leap for the English game: for its preparation, conditioning and most of all its thinking. He was ahead of his time which makes it so hard to understand that he then allowed himself to stand still.

He is one of the game's great Jekyll and Hydes: a visionary with blinkers, an out-of-the-box thinker yet stick-in-the-mud, an eminently reasonable man on other matters yet a hypocrite in the heat of battle.

He railed against the new money coming into the game yet refused to spend the not inconsiderable sums he had. He was still applying the economics he learned at Strasbourg University in a changed world of heady global finance. At times he was applying the economics of Mr Micawber.

When his one-eyed views on penalties saw him rage about a conspiracy against him and his team even the FA were shocked and some said he was losing the plot.

And when he said nothing about his own players blatantly diving, respect for him was seriously eroded. All managers do this but none had ever made such a fuss. It was also a sign the pressure was telling on him and the board saw it.

Chief executive officer Ivan Gazidis began preparing a succession plan. He brought in a chief scout and a football relations manager to relieve Wenger of the burden. He was the master of all he surveyed at Arsenal – from choosing the team to choosing the colour of the curtains in the players' lounge. He'd become too powerful for the club's and his own good.

Excluding him from transfer discussions was the signal that he was being eased out. It was a belated awakening by a board that had been content to make a profit for absentee owner Stan Kroenke.

But Arsenal's steady slide down the table and missing the gravy train of the Champions League was the final straw. Wenger's going ends an era that began in the most unlikely circumstances. Arsenal fan and Fever Pitch author Nick Hornby recalls the occasion.

"When Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names. Venables, Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsène Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan: 'I bet it's f***ing Arsène Wenger … trust Arsenal to appoint the one you haven't heard of."

Arsenal fans will have to trust the club once more with his successor. And thank the man whom they'd never heard of but will never forget. It's just a pity he stayed too long. Not even three FA Cups in the last five years can gloss over the drought elsewhere.

Jose Mourinho's "specialist in failure" jibe is a cruel and outrageous oversimplification, but in that time he certainly hasn't been a success. It really was a reign of two halves and we should all be grateful that he, too, could see it in the end.

** Bob's latest book, Living the Dream, is available at all major bookstores and Bob will be signing copies at the Be Bodog's Best Pundit event at The Dugout, Lot G-35, Oasis Village Retail Mall, Oasis Village, Jln PJU 1A/7A, Ara Damansara on Saturday evening, April 28.

Good, Bad, Ugly and Stupid

GOOD - Mo Salah

Congrats to Mo, the players' Player of the Season, leading scorer and talisman in Liverpool's resurgence. Kevin de Bruyne had been the front runner and came a worthy second, but in the end the sheer weight and quality of the Egyptian's goals won out. And some thought him overpriced at £36.5m!

BAD - Spurs

Alright, Spurs are not bad – they are a very good side in fact – but something is wrong with a team that loses eight cup semifinals in a row. They took the lead on Saturday but bottled it as they did last season against Chelsea. It was enough for Poch to blame himself. But it's his players – we just hope they don't all leave now.

UGLY & STUPID - VAR at halftime!

VAR reached a new level of stupidity last week when players were dragged back from the dressing room at halftime for a penalty. The VAR in the Mainz vs Freiburg game insisted on the kick being taken even though the halftime whistle had long gone. It was duly dispatched by Mainz midfielder Pablo di Blasis who said afterwards: "VAR is not football."