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Wenger: my reflections

“Vieira, Vieira, give it to Vieira” was the call from the most talented footballer in the year. It was late 1996 and a few months earlier we had started studying for our GCSEs but life wasn’t yet so serious that we couldn’t meet for an 8am kickabout in the school playground.

Fast forward 22 years and I was introducing my eldest to the Invincibles. He was silent for around 30 seconds and then asked simply: “who is that wearing number 4?”

And when you look back at it all, of course you remember the unbridled joy of Henry, of Bergkamp, of Pires but really if all you you’d ever seen of Arsene’s glory years was Vieira, well, you knew a fair amount of what you needed to know.

In latter years Arsene would talk about the handrake being on or off. But the young Vieira didn’t do handbrakes. It was raw, thrilling and at full throttle. He encapsulated it.

In May 2004 a few of us met for a drink before we beat Leeds 5-0. “Enjoy it because it will never be this good again” Richard said. He was saying that before Henry scored four. He was right.

But for me, the most glorious thing about today has been to witness any animus that was inside me drain away in an instant. As for any lingering hostility over the fact he carried on long after the curtain fell, it simply doesn’t exist.

In an instant, his glory, his achievements suffocated all negativity.

The first draft of history will record that his closing years were characterised by fan discontent. But later drafts will see that this was the most polite, the most respectful of revolutions. There were those who shouted loud and they were well within their rights to do so. But ultimately it was the silent majority that really killed things. It was the thousands of season ticket holders who had paid long ago for their seat but simply couldn’t bring themselves to witness the next home game.

The remarkable thing, I’ve long felt, was not the hostility towards him but in fact the lack of it to a man who I think the vast majority of people knew had had his day.

Thank you Arsene.


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