Arsene Wenger: The day he was appointed as Arsenal boss ‘all changed, changed utterly’
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With the news that Arsene Wenger has left the club, Arsenal reporter Layth Yousif recalls the day the Frenchman was announced as the North London giants manager in September 1996.
The 1996 Arsenal AGM was held in the first week of September 1996 in one of Highbury’s distinguished oak-panelled rooms.
Normally a placid affair interspersed with the rubber stamping of minor points of order, the meeting held that momentus year was one of the firest and most tempestuous anybody could recall up to that point.
Shareholders, the majority of them long-standing supporters of the club were up in arms over the was the previous manager, Bruce Rioch, had been relieved of his duties. They were also concerned at the lack of visible movement from the club on appointing a new manager.
The chairman, Old Etonian Peter Hill-Wood, the latest of three generations of his family to run the club, and a traditional City man to the core, was shocked by such open hostility.
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Ho told the many disaffected stakeholders, in words that would come to be seen as visionary and prophetic – yet seemed anything but on that day: “We have acted in the best interests of the club.
“WE have identified a replacement of considerable reputation who has agreed to join us. We cannot announce his appointment officially, as we have given an undertaking not to do so.”
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In a touch of farce, which eventually brought comic relief to the fraught proceedings, a voice from the floor asked innocently: “An undertaking to who, Mr Chairman?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the dignified custodian of The Arsenal, whose family connections to Arsenal stretched back to the early years of the 20th century, and whose idea of a crisis was when the half-time port ran dry, immediately replied: “An undertaking to Mr Wenger, of course.”
Cue much laughter, which almost drowned out what he said next, adding: “We expect him to be with us by the end of September, “adding ominously for the club’s rivals, but which was virtually ignored at the time: “We have also acquired two new players, Patrick Vieira [and Remi Garde].
“Our ambitions are to get the squad right and win another trophy or two.”
Mr Hill Wood’s words may have been offered as a placatory submission, but as the years went on they appeared more a clarion call in the first steps of reviving a great club that had lost its way, eventually turning it into a global superpower.
Arsene Wenger’s arrival at Arsenal – the worst kept secret in football, was confirmed on Monday, September 17, 1996. The same evening the rudderless club were due to take on Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in the Premier League.
Strictly speaking, Monsieur Wenger’s tenure was not to begin until September 30.
But the symbolic contrast between the opening 28 minutes of this game, and the remainder, given force by the appearance of Wenger’s first signing, Vieira at that juncture, was hugely emblematic of the sea change to occur at this grand old London institution, for so long derided as an unadventurous, conformist and cautious establishment.
In the words of the Irish poet YB Yeats: “All changed, changed utterly.”
The above is an excerpt from Layth’s Arsenal book Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29 for all the latest news on the club in the wake of Arsene Wenger’s departure.