The Wenger Philosophy: Themes through time. The lens of AS Monaco vs. Galatasaray 1989 Part 2

We continue our in-depth look at Arsène’s time with AS Monaco, after analysing the European Cup Quarter-final his side played against Galatasaray in 1989 earlier this week. That match ended in a 1-0 defeat, even with the firepower of George Weah and Glenn Hoddle on the pitch, in what was surely a formative experience for a much younger Wenger.

The image of a frustrated Arsène Wenger on the sidelines echoes through the years, and although the context is different, and football has changed, that bespectacled visage still betrays the passionate and obsessive personality today as was clear 22 years ago. Wenger often cuts a frustrated figure on the sidelines today, water bottle moments included, and the case is no different here. The enigmatic nature of the man is notorious; as Mark Hateley said (in Jasper Rees’ biography) of Wenger “You’ll never figure him out” ; this mysticism still persists.

During the second leg of AS Monaco’s European Cup Quarter-final in 1989 Wenger cuts a frustrated figure on the bench.

Wenger in those days was just as puritanical in his obsessions, according to friend Gerard Houllier he lived in a ‘barely furnished flat at Nancy and Monaco’, with just the ubiquitous video recorder for watching endless hours of football, a habit that continues to this day.

Wenger’s obsessive streak has always been renowned and it is a key attribute in his encyclopaedic knowledge of players, contributing to his amazing success in the transfer market. His knowledge of the French league has powered his ascent at both Monaco and Wenger. This was developed in the face of economic crises, as French football suffered gate receipt reductions of 50%, and is cited as a reason for appointing such an inexperienced manager. In fact the low attendances were sometimes shocking. Some league games in 1988/89 seeing as few as 2000 spectators in the Stade Louis II, and although Monaco never attracted the sell out crowds of some of the larger clubs, they were nevertheless the defending champions, and had acquired an array of talented players under Wenger.

In terms of transfer assets he combined brilliant creators, such as Touré and Ferratge with the attacking menace of Fofana, Hateley and Weah, developing a team collective with players able to take up various roles, rather like his later Arsenal teams, a truly flexible unit.

As we saw in the analysis of the 1989 Galatasaray game Fofana and Weah could both play out wide, or up front, and with a choice of Hoddle or Ferratge behind the striker the side did not lack creativity. Hateley was a manufacturer of goals, scoring 14 in the 1988 Championship winning season. Indeed, the signings of two Englishmen, Hoddle and Hateley were both coups which paid off, a pattern replicated throughout Wenger’s career, and first evidenced in his wranglings at troubled AS Nancy. Relegated or not, he performed minor miracles there on a shoestring budget.

Puel blossomed as Wenger’s midfield enforcer, covering ground left and right in midfield, and was one of the better performers in the 1989 game. Central defenders Vogel and Battiston were two other signings made to shore up the defence, and it is here that his in-depth knowledge acquired from all those hours watching videos comes into play. However, by the end of the 1989 season Sonor was playing in absence of Vogel as the partner for Battiston in central defence. This was the case for our Quarter final, but the partnership was shaky.

Wenger’s understanding of football was clear from his early days at Monaco, and he managed to pioneered a whole set of young players and imports such as Weah, Djourkaeff, Petit, and later a 16 year old Thierry Henry who would become the best player to ever don an Arsenal shirt.

Tactically speaking Arsène was still a proponent of fast and skilful football, playing with fast wingers, and full-backs pushing high up the pitch on the overlap, though generally this would take the form of a 4-4-2. Ajax are a running theme for Wenger, and the Dutch connection extends to the man he replaced at Monaco, Istvan Kovacs. The Galatasaray match highlights his use of their 4-3-3 system.

Galatasaray 1989 – The Return Leg

The second leg of the European Cup Quarter final (highlights) was played in Cologne due to events during the previous round’s tie between Galatasaray and Neuchâtel Xamax. The game was widely attended by local German Turks, and in some way this support helped recreate Turkey in the neutral ground.

Weah scores for Monaco in the second leg, but it is not enough.

Throughout the game Wenger’s side searched for the goal that would put them level with the Turks, but were undone by a magical freekick from specialist Prekazi in the 51st minute. A George Weah equaliser in the 65th minute was not enough to take them through, losing 2-1 on aggregate. Prekazi was a Galatasaray legend during the late 1980s and his goal led the Turkish side to triumph through adversity. Over the two legs they produced only four shots on target, compared to Monaco’s 15. Whilst Monaco’s increasing desperation is represented by the 21 shots they had from outside the penalty area.

The season ended with Monaco third placed in the League, five points behind the scourge of Wenger’s Monaco side, Marseilles. The side also reached the French Cup final in June, only to lose to Marseilles at the Parc des Princes.

Glenn Hoddle took 18 league goals from midfield, whilst Weah won the 1989 African Player of the Year award, in a campaign where Monaco had fought valiantly on all fronts, but to no avail.

The Wenger Philosophy through time

Wenger’s philosophy has bloomed into a unique brand of football at Arsenal, and one that is well respected. In the words of Phillipe Auclair,

“He is an inventor. He invented football at Monaco, which had never had a decent team.”

His ideas have been hailed as visionary for their transformative effect on English football since his arrival in 1996, but all these were in place from the early days, from when he famously tried to teach the wives of AS Nancy players how to cook, to his time at Monaco. Glenn Hoddle commented on these aspects at Monaco, “All the thinking was way ahead. At Tottenham, we had never even heard of a warm-down.”

The project Wenger attempted at Monaco was one with a running theme, of stability. The assistant manager Jean Petit later said,

“We had the best players in France. With such a squad, with such players, we wanted to keep the structure in place for years. We didn’t manage to do that.”

Even in 1984, when interviewed about his new role as manager of AS Nancy, Wenger stated that one of his key aims was to build stability:

“What I am expecting as well is a stability in the club, above all on the human side”

The quote reflects Arsène’s desire to build a unit, rather than a collection of players. This ideal has evolved and with development has manifested itself in the current generation of Arsenal players, grown together from a youth team squad into a first team; this is the pinnacle of Wenger’s ideas concerning stability, the fulcrum of his ideology.

A shrew transfer policy lights the ignition, but ultimately a unified squad is the aim. For all Wenger’s troubles at Monaco, he has managed to create the structures and longevity he so desired in France at Arsenal. The experiences of his early career undoubtedly influenced his cultured approach, and the running themes in his style are testament to the underlying purity of his philosophy.

Part of a series – Wenger: The Beginnings

7 thoughts on “The Wenger Philosophy: Themes through time. The lens of AS Monaco vs. Galatasaray 1989 Part 2

  1. andy p

    In a way I feel quite sorry for Mr Wenger. He had to sell his whole invincibles team save for one or 2 to fund the emirates stadium project and has never really had the budget to buy big again. I do think that gilberto silva was treated unfairly in a way, being played at centre back and not getting any game time in the holding role which ultimately left him frustrated and leaving, and unfortunate as it was that flamini left at pretty much the same time along with hleb and rosicky got a mysterious injury. I think that was a turning point for that squad and by the end of that season adebayor had set his sights on big money it seems and toure was constantly injured. We had all of a sudden lost 4 of our top players in the squad (save for fabregas and van persie ofcourse – with gallas not considered a top player but a very decent player in my eyes). Almunia suddenly replaces our top stopper Lehmann and that was the beginning of the end of his arsenal career.

    I dont think the squad has since been built up with enough quality. The bigger players left and we had a shoestring squad. Put fabregas, song, van persie, clichy, sagna, arshavin and nasri (and dare I include walcott, wilshere and chamakh ) aside and we have no big players in the team.

    It is a huge issue in my eyes that our squad is unbalanced in this way. we have tons of players like denilson, diaby, bendtner, vela and eboue who dont cut the mustard at the highest level. I think in 3 or 4 years time diaby, denilson, bendtner ,koscielny and Gibbs and possibly vela will blossom, but what we need is big players with big mentality right now, not in the future and unfortunately arsenal just doesnt have the financial clout to buy these players. I keep kicking myself that van der vaart wasnt considered in midfield when available on loan. he is one of the biggest players in the premier league. Also as far as holding midfielders, Song is fantastic, but denilson is a shadow of the player song is. As much as i like denilson he is not an animal like song. Song is a real monster of a midfielder and I absolutely adore him.

    We lack fighters apart from van persie, fabregas, nasri, sagna and song. our only true arrogant player is bendtner and he sometimes couldnt score in a brothel.

    wenger, surprise us and bring in a real top top player and a winner. Just one world class forward please. Yes you cant buy a messi or a villa or a ronaldo, but you can send bendtner and vela out on loan and bring in a proper striker – dzeko is quality and has ended up in man city. And please bring in a proper holding midfielder to support song and send denilson out on loan.
    And one world class defender. This way you will have a world class spine to your team and when barcelona come knocking on our door for blood, we will give them a fight to the end.

    1. Thanks for your points Andy.

      Interesting that you focus on the issue of Wenger having to sell the squad to finance the Emirates Stadium project. I can see what you’re saying – but I’m not sure if it’s as simple as that. The club and Wenger have laid down plans to develop the side over a long period of time. There was a restriction on some of the finances, but most of the Invincibles squad was sold off to rebuild the team. Arsenal still spend money every season strengthening the squad, and pay good wages, just this pales into insignificance when compared to the astronomical investment made in teams such as Man City.

      Stability is a key part of any team, and many of the players you mention are squad players who could not realistically be replaced with superstars – they would not be content with sitting on the bench. Removing them would simply leave the side lacking depth. Wenger’s style has never been to make these huge marquee signings, and in most cases they are not much more successful than the current model.

      Much is made of the transfer policy, but Arsenal still spend money, and still compete.

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  3. Carlton

    Excellent piece, kudos on the Wenger articles because it’s very hard to find any in-depth info on the web about his pre-Arsenal years. I love how 30 years on his philosophy still hasn’t changed, some would say he’s stubborn but I believe it’s more a case of him being ahead of his time. It’s incredibly difficult to instil such a footballing culture within an English-based club, what with the mentality and dare I say “backwardness” of this country’s footballing institution. To an extent I think that’s limited Wenger’s ability to create the 70s Dutch-style he hopes for even after 14 years at the club, although the emergence of players such as Jack Wilshere is perhaps a sign that his masterplan is finally coming to fruition.

    When people look back at his reign as Arsenal manager 50 years from now, he will be regarded as a revolutionary in the same way that Chapman is, or even more recently Cruijff.

    1. Yes, there is actually a surprising amount in books, though on the Internet the stories tend to be slightly garbled and there are an awfully large number of articles simply rehashing the stated facts. There hasn’t been that much actually looking at day to day playing style and transfer activity so this series will hopefully fill some of the gap.

      There is a clear development of thought throughout Wenger’s career, but I think much of what he does has been set in his mind since the 1970s. His current group of players definitely play their own brand of football, after all, every team is a collective of players, and every player is individually different – but the club as a whole is now simply Wenger – much like the way that Arsenal were the embodiment of Chapman in the 1930s.

      He is already being credited with awards like the IFHHS one, but the legacy will be even more long term. In the end though he is just one man, and not infallible – only highly intelligent and with a ‘football brain’.

      Thanks for your comment.

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