Arsene Wenger found himself being discussed in the House of Commons on Tuesday, with a knighthood for the Frenchman being mentioned.
The Arsenal legend’s name surfaced after it had been revealed Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan had called for the Frenchman to receive the honour.
Wenger leaves the Gunners in the coming weeks after 22 years in charge of the north London club.
Should Wenger be anointed he would join a long list of football personalities to have been bestowed the honour, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Robson.
Here’s how the debate went down
I was contacted by “Good Morning Britain” and I understand that he is calling for an honorary knighthood for Arsène Wenger. That means that for the first time, I find myself in agreement with Piers Morgan.
Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. I cannot believe that I am here, witnessing and enjoying the debate. It is important that we recognise Arsène Wenger’s contribution, not just to Arsenal football club and football in this country, but to football around the world. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Arsène Wenger has been hugely successful not only in men’s football but in women’s football, and that Arsenal Ladies is the most successful women’s team in the land?
I want the Minister for Sport to be able to respond, so, on behalf of 100 million Arsenal football fans, millions more fans across the world and all those in this country who admire success, dignity, class and devotion to an institution, I thank Arsène Wenger for everything he has achieved and I wish him even more to come in the years ahead.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very warmly and I call the Tottenham supporting Minister for Sport.
It gives me enormous pleasure to respond to a debate that epitomises a man of strength, commitment and pure dedication; a man who has faced much adversity over time but has always come out of it stronger; a man who despite his often stoic appearance has an air of mischief about him that occasionally bubbles to the surface in the guise of a cheeky grin—but enough about my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman); we are here to talk about the legacy of Arsène Wenger.
In modern football, it is seen as a remarkable achievement for a manager to last longer than two or three seasons in a job, so the fact he led one of the most successful teams in the country for 22 seasons is an incredible feat. To give a sense of perspective, since Arsène Wenger took charge at Arsenal, Tottenham have had 11 different managers, Liverpool have had seven, Chelsea have had 12 and the current champions, Man City, have had 13.
For a Tottenham fan, the hon. Lady is providing good testimony on one of the country’s most successful and fantastic managers. She and the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) have not really talked about Arsène Wenger’s commitment to fair play. Who could forget that Arsène Wenger offered to replay the game against Sheffield United when Kanu deliberately knocked to ball into the goal, not knowing the rule about passing the ball back to the goalkeeper? Arsène Wenger’s commitment to fair play and to the values of the game, as an inspiration manager and mentor to so many people, are testament to the class of the man.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. I have coached and managed football teams, and I have also refereed young players, who behave how they see the legends behave. Fair play is a key part of what the FA is trying to deliver at the grassroots, and the likes of Arsène Wenger have been great advocates for that.
Arsène Wenger ensured that Arsenal qualified for the UEFA Champions League for an incredible 19 seasons in a row. Many of those years were during a time when club budgets needed to be balanced to finance the cost of the Emirates stadium, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle mentioned.
Arsène Wenger brought a number of previously unknown players from far and wide to play in England over the years and turned them into legends of the game, including the likes of Vieira, van Persie and Henry. He has for ever been a champion of youth academy football and of giving young players a chance, such as Ashley Cole, Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fàbregas and many more. He has pioneered a confidence in the young when other managers have not been as brave.
Arsène Wenger brought many other things to football, including an understanding of how a good player can become a great player by living healthier. When he arrived, he immediately set about improving the nutrition of his players and famously introduced broccoli to the team’s menu. If he ever revealed how he managed to do that, I am sure it would be a bestselling parenting manual in no time.
As the Leader of the Opposition has said, Arsène Wenger has been an incredible supporter of the excellent “Arsenal in the community” scheme, which delivers sport, health, social and education programmes to more than 5,000 individuals in the local area every week. He has spoken of the importance of the game giving back to people from all areas and backgrounds, and he has stressed how crucial it is that those in need in the local community are given an opportunity to engage and benefit from the community’s unique connection to a club like Arsenal.
This mirrors precisely the Government’s sports strategy and how we believe sport should be used as a powerful tool for individual and societal change. It turns out that Arsène Wenger, with his desire for healthier diets, his views on sensible spending and a history of orderly exits from Europe, is far more aligned with Government policy than we have ever given him credit for—a career in politics must surely beckon.
Credit: Mirror Sport