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Then Arsene was gone, a quiet man who made a loud impact

The Emirates stages its own Wengerfest as Arsenal fans salute a manager who joins the greats

11 May, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Arsene Wenger waves godbye to the Arsenal fans at the Emirates Stadium

HUMANS can be divided into two groups. First, there are people who carouse on their birthday without fail, delighting in their special day regardless of their age, possibly taking the day off work and revell­ing in the celebration.

Then there are those uneasy with the com­motion, the fuss directed at them, and, as they are no longer aged eight and motivated by cake and jelly, see it as just another day, another wrinkle, another worry line.

By the way he stepped through the guard of honour constructed for him on Sunday afternoon, it seems as if outgoing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger surely belongs to the latter.

As tribute after tribute was delivered to his face, he bore a slightly awkward look, as if he appreciated the sentiment but found it toe-curling to be told how great he was over and over again.

At this final home match for the Frenchman at the Emirates, a stadium he had a major role in bringing into existence, the sun had shone, the air was warm and Arsenal had provided a glimpse of what once was and, who knows, could be again by beating Burnley 5-0.

Fans who travelled from India with a message for Arsene Wenger

And then on the final whistle, the Wengerfest began with a giant mast displaying his face unfurled across the pitch. People had been employed to hold up letters spelling “Merci, Arsene” on the turf, while fans had been given free T-shirts to wear bearing his name.

Supporters held up posters saying they had come from all corners of the world to say goodbye, which may be slightly confusing for people from Islington who were unable to get a ticket. Even so, it’s clear he brought joy to so many people he will never know or meet. Fanatics chanted his name.

It would be enough to make anybody blush, but perhaps even more itchy for a man who gives the impression that he views the spotlight as a fatiguing but unavoidable part of management.

And that’s before you get to the slightly uneasy nature of his exit: a frustrating season and a vague hint here and there that he would have liked to have seen out his contract, which had been due to run until the end of next season.

Never mind that, here was a stadium full ready to salute him, regardless of the civil war which had split the AKBs (Arsene Knows Best) and the Wenger Outers in the stands. This was a moment of unity, a pause to remember the Invincibles, those three league titles, the Wengerball.

Mr Wenger accepts a bottle of wine from journalists and asks: ‘You want me to say I’ll miss you too?’

When a microphone was thrust into his hands, he kept things shortish. While staff at the club were wet around the eyes, as were some of the most hearty loyalists in the crowd, Wenger seemed calm. Typically, he deflected, talking of others. You could say his undwindling loyalty to the players has been a virtue and a blind spot.

“I would like to thank everyone at the club who makes it so special. I would invite you to support these players and the staff who remain behind, this group of players has a special quality,” he said. “Please support them next season because they deserve it.”

He added: “I would like to finish in one simple sentence: I will miss you. Thank you all for having been such an important part of my life, thank you all. Well done, bye bye.”

It was as emotional as it got from him, bye bye. While he waved to the stands on a final circuit of applause, and played along by handing his red tie to a boy in the crowd, you had the impression that everybody was enjoying it a little more than him; everybody a little more giddy than the man himself, who has always seemed addicted to working at this special club, one he redesigned.

In fact, you could not help wondering if he had really forgotten that some in the same quarters of the stadium had howled heckles earlier in the year.

He was equally reserved when the press room journalists gave him a bottle of wine and clapped him out. “You want me to say I’ll miss you too?” he joked, declining this unofficial invite to do so.

He was polite enough, but then he was gone. A quiet man, who had made a loud impact.


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