Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Arsenal boss Wenger superb at 60

Arsene Wenger will join one of football's elite clubs tomorrow when he turns 60.

It should be called the 60-is-the-new-40 club.

At least that is the way it appears in the Premier League as those managers eligible for their bus pass - and there are four of them - show the young guns the way in the world's most demanding league.

Granddaddy of them all, of course, is Sir Alex Ferguson, whose fire shows no sign of dimming two months away from his 68th birthday as his Manchester United side lead the hunt for what would be a 12th Premier League title.

Not far behind is 62-year-old Harry Redknapp, who has rejuvenated Tottenham during an inspirational 12 months in which he has taken the London club from relegation candidates to third place, all while playing some of the most attacking football in Britain.

Then there is Roy Hodgson, also 62 and many people's idea of the manager of the year last season at Fulham. This term Hodgson is taking the London club's fans on an odyssey around Europe in the Europa League.

The four have one important trait in common, a passion for the game which borders on obsession.

It is why Ferguson, after back-tracking on one proposed retirement, will not give up the reins at Old Trafford. Not when world-class players such as Wayne Rooney have yet to reach their peak and when he is building another team with a chance of winning the Champions League for a third time.

Passion is what drives on Redknapp too, and you only need to have attended one of his training sessions at Tottenham's Chigwell training headquarters to appreciate the feelgood factor he is capable of spreading throughout a football club.

Hodgson's longevity comes from a cerebral approach to the game in a career which has comprised 16 managerial posts, including leading Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Finland, as well as managing clubs as diverse as Bristol City and Inter Milan.

But it is Wenger at 60 who is the most intriguing.

When he is not watching matches live he still devours football videos. Forever seeking to learn. Always searching for perfection.

Last month he became the longest-serving Arsenal manager when he overtook the 4,748-day reign of George Allison in the 1930s and 1940s.

The next milestone for the man with three Premier League titles and four FA Cups?

It has to be the big one. To go down as one of the greats he must win the Champions League. He knows it.

The two biggest let-downs of his Arsenal career involve the competition. Losing 2-1 to Barcelona in the Champions League final of 2006 in Paris and being dismantled by Manchester United in the semi-final at the Emirates last season.

Wenger could not retire happily with those memories even if he has done more than any other manager in English football over the past decade to enhance the pleasing nature of the 'Beautiful Game.'

No teams have played prettier and more intricate patterns than Arsenal. No sides have embraced the notion of football as a thinking man's game more lovingly, culminating in the 2004 'Invincibles' who went through an entire league season unbeaten.

Unquestionably, Wenger is the most successful foreign manager to have plied his trade in English football. He is also the most articulate, the most astute, the most stubborn and some would say the most short-sighted, considering you could count on the fingers of one hand the times Wenger has admitted seeing the on-field indiscretions of his own side during 13 years in which 76 red cards have been handed out to Arsenal players.

Cold reality suggests that until Wenger is able and prepared to spend on the scale of United and Chelsea it is unlikely Arsenal fans will celebrate another league title anytime soon. The Champions League, however, is possible.

It is why there will be no let-up in energy or desire as Wenger joins the 60-is-the-new-40 club. His goal is clear. To carry on regardless. As the French say, football is his raison d'etre.

Six managers excelling over 60

Arsene Wenger is just about to enter his seventh decade, and there is no shortage of recent precedent for bosses holding down top jobs in their later years.

Here, we look at some of the coaches who are still flourishing after passing 60.

SIR ALEX FERGUSON

Now 67, Ferguson shows no signs of settling into his dotage and is chasing a third successive Premier League title. Having already performed one u-turn with his aborted retirement in 2002, he is as hungry for success as ever before and is widely revered as one of the world's most astute tacticians.

FABIO CAPELLO

The 63-year-old Italian is proving the advantages of experience with his methodical treatment of the England job. His virtually flawless effort in seeing England to the World Cup finals in South Africa were in stark contrast to Steve McClaren's laboured tenure. Capello also won the Primera Division title with Real Madrid after passing 60.

ROY HODGSON

Hodgson, 62, was already one of England's most experienced, well-travelled coaches before returning to the Premier League with Fulham. Since then he has steered the club away from an almost certain relegation before leading the Cottagers to Europe on a shoestring - a significantly more successful return than his stint with Blackburn a decade earlier.

GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI

At 70, the legendary Italian manager is a play-off away from one of his greatest achievements with the Republic of Ireland. After taking over a side in seemingly endless decline following Steve Staunton's reign, he has instilled confidence, fight and class in a team who provided the sternest of tests for world champions Italy and who can still book a place in South Africa next summer.

WALTER SMITH

Having reached 61, Smith looks unlikely to down tools in the fight for Old Firm supremacy any time soon. Smith enjoyed great success in his first spell in charge of Rangers and also took in a spell as Scotland boss. Now he is back at Ibrox and is currently just edging his battle with Celtic's Tony Mowbray.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Nightlife galleries

More

Latest Sport News

Stats Centre