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Arsene Wenger: Invincible - Film Documentary

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Tim is a freelance sports journalist who has written for FourFourTwo, Cricket365 and Football365.

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Wenger Leaves Arsenal by Back Door

When Jurgen Klopp became Liverpool manager in 2015, he mused: “It's not important what people think when you come in, it's much more important what people think when you leave.”

It’s a snappy line with truth at its heart. In this new documentary of his career in football, Arsene Wenger feels a little bit more cynical about the process of the long goodbye. The Frenchman’s reference point on his departure after 22 years at the helm of Arsenal was one of funereal black rather than eternal love: “On the day, everybody was nice with you” he narrates coldly. Despite the loyal vanguard of past players to clap him into the sunset, his "I will miss you" to the crowd appears devoid of kinetic emotion.

Patrick Vieira, one of the key members of the 2003/4 Invincibles, the team that went undefeated for a whole season during Wenger's prime years, said his ex-boss had to leave by the back window. Despite the sad payoff, the documentary gives due respect to its subject and title. That unequalled 38-match run is a culmination of a side at its peak. Wenger looks up at the highlights, smiling in pleasant wonder. Perhaps he knew, as he hints here, it was the beginning of the end.

Wenger Changes Culture at Arsenal

Director Gabriel Clarke has been trying to get his man for 25 years and he does it very well here. The real strength of this take is how Wenger was received into the very British model of pre-multimedia football culture. There’s a fantastic comedy cameo of Ian Wright on his new “university lecturer” boss. Wright recounts a bumbling Inspector Clouseau-syle figure. Cue some Peter Sellers clips. The anecdote brings the one true belly laugh from the monastic 72-year-old whose bible was driven by an upbringing of strict Catholic values but soon became football, football and more football. Clarke paints the picture with empathy so that you can see the human behind the lonely process of total commitment to the cause.

Wenger Merges Continental Skill with British Soul

The film explores the reaction to this internationalist that changed the Premier League. Within weeks of Wenger being installed, the presiding king, Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson, claims his new rival would know nothing of the physical nature of the game. This view of the outsider is rather cleverly encapsulated by revisiting the slanderous stirrings by the British press over the Frenchman’s private life early in the peace. Talking heads speak fondly of their former boss. Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Robert Pires clearly felt at home in the new cosmopolitan London. New Britain was gradually opening its eyes to the globe under the early Blair years.

Wenger loved the different parts of the multi-cultural team he created, a team of winners, fighters and flair players, all swimming in the same direction. There is genuine poignancy in his regret at outstaying his time. For a deep-thinking itinerant, it is an oddity that he did so and that's one issue that remains unsolved by the 90-minute film. The necessary move from the close-knit Highbury to a branded expensive stadium (he called the Emirates "my suffering") signalled a loss of spending power and a steady trickle-down exodus of key players. We find out that the other losses of his life are his own family who were relegated during his days and nights studying the form.

Wenger admits that competitiveness in his own field could sometimes make him seem “inhuman”. It is that will to not stand down that ultimately cost him a more longing glance back to the club where he will always be remembered for changing people’s perceptions of what football could bring. Ultimately, the piece depicts a romanticist whose dream came true but died a little bit in a new world.


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