I was 10 years old when Arsene Wenger was appointed Arsenal manager. This was before the days of the internet and smart phones and a play-by-play of every little thing that happens in the world discussed, scrutinised and dissected before it has even happened.
This was a simpler time.
I saw the news on teletext and accepted it for what it is; we have a new manager, his name is Arsene, so obviously, he is hands down the best man for the job. Also, being that I was 10, this was the most important news in my life.
I am fortunate that Wenger arrived during my entry to secondary school, were basically the performance of the team you support dictated your emotional environment. But beyond the football, his impact on the game, the wonderful fluid teams he produced, which the British football journalists have covered so wonderfully, it was his impact as a person that has had the most important influence on me.
You see, the thing is, in the competitive alpha-male world of football were the most important thing is winning, you would think it would be the last place to find someone who placed human qualities above all else. Someone who encouraged you to strive to be your best, not be defined by the result but by the journey, to try to be the best person you can be whilst acknowledging your own flaws and working on them.
With Arsene, we always had the moral high ground as a club, even when we may have been wrong. It was the class and dignity he carried himself with, the importance he placed on doing the right thing, on encouraging people, on the happiness you can deliver on someone, on accepting your responsibilities, but also, most importantly, the nobility in doing the right thing, whether that comes with reward or not.
When you are a kid, a kid who loves football, a kid who loves football and supports Arsenal, then Arsene Wenger becomes a father figure to you, like he was to so many of his players. I literally changed how I viewed and played football based on his ideals, I changed my notion of what bravery was, it was indeed braver to try and express yourself and risk failing then the crude notion of getting kicked without complaint. But more than that, it was his loyalty and compassion to his players and the club, although this was his undoing in a professional sense, it was what marked him out and made him the loved figure he is.
It will be strange seeing Arsenal without him, because it was almost as if I have become an Arsene FC fan as much as an Arsenal FC, I wanted HIM to succeed because of all he done for us, I felt the betrayal of players he had made, I felt the disgust at the vile treatment he received by some of our fan base.
Yet, his character, endurance, ability to still stick by doing what he feels is the right thing, carrying himself with dignity trying to do what he felt was best for everyone not just himself, is what shone through during his exit. I was so pleased to see he was able to enjoy the genuine warm feeling towards him.
Because, at the end of the day, football is so much more than just winning trophies. My dad raised me on videos of Brazil from the 70s and 80s, about the joy and escapism they offered him, but also how they realised it wasn’t just about the end result, not just about winning, but the joy of the journey, the how. He always said people don’t remember the winners, statisticians do, people remember how teams made them feel.
I will tell my son about Wengerball, the Invincibles, falling agonisingly short in Paris, but most of all, I will tell him about doing things the Arsenal way, or more specifically, the Arsene Way.
Written by JJabbal (@JJabbal)