It is no longer news that Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, will step down as Gunners’ boss and longest serving manager in the Premier League era at the end of the current campaign.
Legit.ng therefore outline some of Wenger’s contributions to African football during his time at Arsenal, as well as appreciate his inputs to the overall development of the round leather game in the African continent.
Africans who played under Wenger at Arsenal
Player Country Season(s)
1. Jehad Muntasser Libya 1997/98
2. Nwankwo Kanu Nigeria 1998/99
3. Kaba Diawara Guinean 1998/99
4. Christopher Wreh Liberia 1999/20
5. Laurén Cameroon 2000/01
6. Kolo Toure Cote d’Ivoire 2001/02
7. Carlin Itonga DR Congo 2001/2002
8. Emmanuel Eboué Cote d’Ivoire 2004/05
9. Emmanuel Adebayor Togo 2005/06
10. Alex Song Cameroon 2005/06
11. Fabrice Muamba DR Congo 2005/06
12. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie Ghana 2005/06
13. Armand Traore Senegal 2006/07
14. Marouane Chamakh Morocco 2010/11
15. Gervinho Cote d’Ivoire 2011/12
16. Emmanuel Frimpong Ghana 2013/14
17. Mohamed Elneny Egypt 2015/16
18. Alex Iwobi Nigeria 2015/16
19. P. Aubameyang Gabon 2017/18
A lot has already been said about the Frenchman, who is in his 22nd year as Arsenal manager, and has given enormous opportunities’ to 19 African youngsters to parade their God’s given talents at a bigger stage.
At the last count, the 19 players who cut across nine African countries had the rare privilege of passing through the tutelage of ‘The Professor’ as Wenger is fondly called by fans and admirers.
The number (19) above however, is not exclusive as it does not include another pool of youngsters of African descent nurtured by Wenger at Arsenal and later rose to stardom while representing other European countries.
Interestingly, during Wenger’s reign at the helms of affairs at Arsenal, many of the African youngsters under his guidance in no distance time, enjoyed vast popularity globally.
Today, most Wenger’s faithful are of the opinion that Arsenal’s popularity as a global brand, dates back to the arrival of African talents at the North London club as soon as Wenger was named manager by Arsenal board.
Two main battles
During Wenger’s two decades stay at Arsenal, the 68-year-old faced a lot of ‘battles’ and ‘obstacles’ before the success stories came pouring.
Back in the days, not many football managers had the confidence to stick with an African youngster who is considered ‘raw’ and ‘naive’ in the modern game.
However, after excelling with the likes of Nigeria’s Kanu Nwankwo, Cote d’Ivoire’s Kolo Toure, and Cameroon’s Lauren, in the Arsenal’s historic 2004 “Invincible” team, ‘The Professor’ was able to able to prove to doubters that indeed something ‘good’ can come out of Africa that was often taunted as the ‘Dark Continent’.
Going forward, it was not an easy task for Wenger to continually scout more African best legs over the years as the timing of the ‘biennial’ African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament, became a major topic of concern during contract negotiations.
The issue which centered mainly on clubs unwillingness to release their ‘best legs’ between the months of January and February when top European leagues are in the middle of the campaign, did not go down well with most foreign club mangers.
However, Wenger kept the fate with Africans as he was ever ready to bring on more African youngsters to Arsenal and offer them a platform to blossom.
Why Wenger is a fan of African players
In September 2016, Arsene Wenger paid tribute to the host of African footballers who helped him to become the most celebrated manager in Arsenal’s history.
He told Arsenal.com: "African players had a massive impact on my career because I always managed them right from the moment I started in the top league in France.
"I had African players at Monaco and I like the fact that they were creative and they are usually attacking players with imagination. They have pace and power as well, and they usually combine strength and agility well. That’s very difficult to find.
"Africans are hugely passionate people and there is a big passion in Africa for the game. They are happy on the football pitch and that’s something which has been fantastic for us.
"Kanu had a massive impact here, Kolo Toure too, I had George Weah too… so all these players had a massive impact."
Kanu and George Weah are the two most successful African footballers who played under Wenger
Among the few African greats who were listed among Wenger’s prized son is George Weah, the current Liberian president and former World Footballer of the Year.
Since the Liberian joined the French tactician at AS Monaco in 1988, from Cameroon’s Tonnerre Yaoundé, Weah always attributed his success story to the outgoing Arsenal boss whose invitation and scouting prowess prepared him for the journey to stardom.
The highpoint of Weah’s career came seven years after his first meeting with Wenger as he was crowned the best football player on the planet.
He also carted away the UEFA Champions League Top Scorer award, Coupe de France, Ligue1, Coupe de la Ligue, Serie A title, English FA Cup among others awards.
“When I started playing football, I never thought I would ever win the Ballon d’Or and emerge as the best player in the world.
“I just had a passion for the game and I worked hard. Every day, I would rather train than eat or sleep.
“When I moved to Monte Carlo [to play for Monaco from the Cameroonian club Tonnerre Yaoundé in 1988] I didn’t play for the first six months. But I was determined to showcase my talent, to prove to those back home, who thought that my coming to Europe was a waste of time, that I was a good player.
“He (Wenger) was a father figure and regarded me as his son. This was a man, when racism was at its peak, who showed me love. He wanted me to be on the pitch for him every day.
“One day, I was quite tired of training and told him that I was having a headache.
“He said to me: ‘George, I know it’s tough but you need to work hard. I believe that with your talent, you can become one of the best players in the world.
“So I listened and kept going on. Besides God, I think that without Arsène, there was no way I would have made it in Europe,” Weah told the Guardian UK in a recent interview.
Nigeria’s Kanu is another ‘Wenger Boy’ who is not afraid to tell anyone who cares that he still appreciates the confidence the football tactician had on him during his spell at Arsenal.
The former African Football of the Year owes most of his successes to Wenger’s backing.
The reasons were obvious after many expressing concern over a long-term career over Kanu, who two years ago went under the knife in a major heart surgery in 1999, but Wenger convinced Arsenal to cough out €6.25m for the Japan ’93 FIFA U-17 World Cup winner and Atlanta ‘96 Olympic gold medalists.
The ex-Super Eagles captain went on to claim four major titles during a five year stay at the North London outfit and was one of the three African exports that includes Cote d’Ivoire’s Kolo Toure and Cameroon’s Lauren, that entered the record books with Arsenal’s historic 2004 “Invincibles” squad.
Interestingly, even in retirement, ‘Papillo’ as Kanu is fondly called by fans and admirers emerged 13th in Gunners’ 50 greatest players’ polls conducted recently by club fans.
Aside from helping African national teams in nurturing their players while at Arsenal, Wenger also give expert advice to Federations in need of a manager to head their technical crew.
A vivid example was when eggheads of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), led by the body’s president, Amaju Pinnick consulted Wenger when Nigeria needed a new handler for the Eagles.
“It has been a tortuous journey. Remember we did not qualify for the last two (African) Nations Cup,” Pinnick began while giving an insight into how Nigeria qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“First thing we did was getting a coach…. We all remember the name of the first coach Paul Le Guen. To us it was a blessing in disguise because when we decided again that we wanted a coach, and everybody know that I am an Arsenal supporter, we tried to reach out to Arsene Wenger for a consultation on a coach. We tried to reach out to Gerard Houllier (former Liverpool and France coach). I reached out to so many coaches and technical experts, and one name came to their fore and that was Gernot Rohr,” Pinnick told the NFF’s official website.
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