Arsene Wenger can have a great second act by turning his Arsenal experience to good use elsewhere
It felt like the end of a particularly benevolent dictatorship, inevitable but surprising nonetheless: the post-Arsène Wenger era officially began around 9.45am and suddenly the world looked very different for English football, Arsenal, and one of the UK’s longest domiciled European Union nationals. The tributes came in as if Arsenal’s 68-year-old manager had expired in office, rather than just stepped down, and over the days that follow, as his opponents put aside his grievances Wenger will come to understand just how much he is admired in the English game. It is always that way when a giant of the game calls it a day and people are much more inclined to remember the Thierry Henry era rather than the Yaya Sanogo era. The likelihood is that the tributes will be so fulsome that they will at times read like a eulogy rather than the best wishes to a man in good health who has simply stepped down from his job after almost 22 years. With a daughter at university and a marriage that ended amicably, he has seldom looked like a man interested in a quiet life outside football management. As for pottering around in the garden, we know for a fact that he already has a full-time gardener, whom he was surprised to find himself sat next to at Chelsea during a touchline ban last season. Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell to Old Trafford in May 2013 after a 2-1 win over Swansea City, his penultimate game in charge, was a departure that would be the envy of any leader – political, civic, corporate or despotic. He was surrounded by a gang of grandchildren amid a flag-waving frenzy in the stands from fans who knew that things would never be the same. His players paraded the 13th Premier League trophy of his career and the melodies of “My Way” and “The Impossible Dream” blasted from the Tannoy. For Wenger it will not be quite the same, even if his team’s last act is to parade a Europa League trophy around the streets of Islington this May. The old boy has divided opinion for too long, and the reasons why require a book of their own, but it is what happens next to him that will differentiate him from the Ferguson. Wenger replacements It was February that Wenger reminded everyone that he was a manager who had options. “I am here [Arsenal] for 21 years,” he said. “I turned the whole world down to respect my contracts.” Of course he was right, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United – even the Football Association have, on more than one occasion, tried to bend his ear. It will be intriguing to see how the various voices within Arsenal decide upon a successor. Whether it is a safe-bet candidate like Carlo Ancelotti or Luis Enrique; a low-profile Leonardo Jardim; a gamble on youth like Julian Nagelsmann or Domenico Tedesco. But it is also about what Wenger does next, and whether he can show that there is a second act to a great life so far. Jupp Heynckes will be 73 next month and is in the Champions League semi-final next week Credit: REUTERS/Michaela Rehle At 72, and four years older than Wenger, Jupp Heynckes takes charge of a Bayern Munich team in a Champions League semi-final next week - his fourth and final caretaker-spell at the club. It is not hard to imagine Wenger as Bayern’s next go-to caretaker if the Niko Kovac era was to hit the rocks early. But then it does not have to be Bayern and there is normally one European giant that encounters an emergency by Christmas. Ferguson took up his seat in the United directors’ box after retirement and for a while it seemed that his immediate successor, David Moyes, could have done without that looming presence. Over the years, the legacy of the old Scot has become less onerous and Ferguson is, after all, the man that changed United’s history. Wenger did the same for Arsenal too but the nature of his last 13 years would mean his conspicuous presence at every home game would feel odd. Rather he has another job left in him, and having turned down the world before, now is the time for him to see if what he did at Arsenal – the good and the bad – can be turned to good use elsewhere.