On May 26th, Arsene Wenger bared his soul to the world.
“I believe there’s a difference between being criticized and being treated in a way that human beings don’t deserve. The lack of respect from some has been a disgrace and I will never accept that. I will never forget it. The behavior of some people during the season, that is what hurts me most.”
For a person who had spoken a couple of years back of having learnt to dominate his devils before coming to Arsenal, you could sense them lurking nearby as he conveyed the pain of a person who had been condemned without trial in the court of public opinion.
It had been such a beautiful story. The legend of Arsene and his footballing philosophy had spread far and wide for two decades. The initial scepticism about the bespectacled Frenchman at Highbury had quickly turned to admiration and then love. He cast a spell with the finesse and beauty he brought to the football played at the club. There was perfect synergy between him and his masters, and he even learnt Economics 101 from David Dein to complete his footballing education. Everything was alright with the world. And then it all started unravelling.
The rumblings had already begun, but in the past year, the voices had gotten louder and more strident. They were from nameless faces initially, and Arsene haplessly endured the insults and the flying banners, without being able to comprehend where the attacks were coming from. He didn’t feel loved anymore, not by the fans or the players, and it showed in the football.
One day, after another Arsenal performance which had as much steel in it as Syrio Forel’s training sword, Ivan Gazidis found him sitting disconsolately in the boardroom he had locked himself in.
And now as he sat in the dressing room after winning the FA Cup final, the only positive in a miserable season, he wondered if what the CEO, Ivan had told him that day was true. That he had been betrayed by those within. The players he had always been loyal to, almost to a fault. The ex-players he had always welcomed back to the club, and whose careers he had made. And those in the media who had fawned over him and his philosophy for years.
Did Tony Adams have to say all those nasty things about him in his new book, after all that he had done for him? Did Ian Wright really believe that he didn’t want those who disagreed with him around the club?
Mesut Ozil caught his eye and immediately looked away. During his stint at Arsenal, Ozil had calculated that it would require 16 days of non-performance for someone to start asking questions. So, he had a chart at home that would tell him when he needed to put in a shift. Today was one of those days. As he looked down at his phone to send a celebratory tweet, he hoped his manager hadn’t caught on.
Wenger looked at Alexis Sanchez across the room. He was already on the phone with his agent trying to get a deal done with Bayern Munich. Whatever their differences, one couldn’t say that Sanchez had betrayed the cause. He had put his heart and soul into every performance.
Some of the other players though. Every second player he looked at in the room was a career veteran at being a promising talent. Surely, it couldn’t be a coincidence that their performances dipped when he was under public attack and it was widely speculated that he would leave. And improved when it became clear that this may not happen. They were only interested in themselves. His loyalty had been taken for granted, and Arsene found himself seething with anger.
It was payback time. He had already cancelled a book signing of Adam’s latest offering at the Emirates. And as Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey smiled and raised their beers to him from across the room, Arsene found himself thinking of ways to dump them across the English Channel.
The Count of Monte Cristo, an adventure novel by French author, Alexandre Dumas, was first published in serial form in 1844. It held people in its thrall and day after day, at breakfast or at work or on the street, people spoke of little else. It tells the story of Edmond Dantes, a young merchant sailor who is betrayed by those closest to him. The story deals with the themes of hope, justice, vengeance, mercy and forgiveness.
In the story, a character named Caderousse stays quiet when Dante is sentenced to prison, while knowing him to be innocent. After escaping from prison, Dante seeks revenge against those who betrayed him but before going ahead with his plans, he gives Caderousse a diamond that could be either a chance to redeem himself or a trap that would lead to his ruin.
Three days after that FA Cup win, and having absorbed Economics 201 from Ivan Gazidis in the previous months, Arsene Wenger gifted a diamond to Arsenal fans in the shape of a two-year contract extension.
A few days later, he signed Sead Kolasinac from Schalke on a free and put Kieran Gibbs on the market to be sold.
Disclaimer: This is a fictional account of what has transpired at Arsenal during this season. Arsene’s approach to the next two years, given how he feels about being treated by those he trusted, will make fascinating viewing. Revenge isn’t something that would cross Wenger’s mind. He has way too much class for that and I have a lot of admiration for the man, as conveyed in this blogpost. The stretched analogy in this article is the by-product of a lack of football to watch and a lull in transfer activity.