Former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein recruited Arsene Wenger in 1996Manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to leave Arsenal feels like “a star has dropped out of the sky”, says former vice-chairman David Dein.
Frenchman Wenger, 68, said on Friday he will step down at the end of the season after almost 22 years in charge.
Dein recruited Wenger to become Arsenal manager in October 1996 before leaving his post as vice-chairman in 2007.
“He will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest Arsenal manager ever,” said Dein.
“His style of football, the way he has conducted himself, his honesty, integrity, the way he handles players, the way he is concerned with youth development – what he has done for the club is immeasurable.
“It’s not just for Arsenal. His legacy is for global football.”
Wenger won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, including the Double in 1997-98 and 2001-02.
The Gunners are sixth in the league and set to miss out on a top-four spot for the second straight season, with their hopes of reaching next year’s Champions League resting on winning the Europa League. They face Atletico Madrid in a two-legged semi-final on 26 April and 3 May.
Dein said the past two years have been “very difficult” for Wenger, who will depart a year before his contract was due to expire.
Some fans have turned on Wenger in recent years, holding up “Wenger out” signs at matches. Wenger said on Sunday that the lack of unity has been “hurtful” to the club.
“At the end of last season I was discussing with him: ‘Arsene, what do you want to do? Are you going to stay or leave?'” said Dein.
“He was a bit undecided. In the end, I told him that he loved the club too much.
“He made his own mind up and decided to stay. The last couple of weeks, it has been getting more difficult for him, particularly with the team’s results, so I felt it was unlikely on a personal level that he was going to stay after the end of this season.”
Arsenal beat West Ham 4-1 on Sunday in the first match since Arsene Wenger announced he will step downDein appointed the then little-known Wenger from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996 before they oversaw the move from Highbury to Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Dein said Arsenal “managed to get financing” for the Emirates on the back of the ‘Invincibles’ team that won the 2003-04 league title and ended the season unbeaten.
“When you go to the stadium today and you see that magnificent singing and dancing stadium, you have to say ‘thank you Arsene Wenger’, because we managed to get it through because of the team’s achievement,” Dein added.
“He has absolutely revolutionised the club. It was ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ at one stage. Now we’re playing pretty football.
“He is a football purist, so that is one of his legacies, and always year-on-year making a profit. He’s very astute; he can read a balance sheet.
“He is honourable, honest and an extremely reliable guy. The shareholders have probably tripled or quadrupled under Arsene Wenger and they should thank him.”
What next for Wenger and Arsenal?
Arsenal have said they will appoint Wenger’s successor “as soon as possible”.
Former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri and former Chelsea and Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti have been linked with the job, as well as former players Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Mikel Arteta.
Dein said he hoped the new manager would inherit Wenger’s “extraordinary” values for the club.
“He’s got to be successful and the only advice I can give him is get a winning team – everything flows from there,” Dein said.
Following Arsenal’s 4-1 league victory over West Ham on Sunday, Wenger said he was unsure whether he will retire, work elsewhere or take a director of football role, but Dein believes he will continue in the game.
“Over the last few years, I know for a fact that he has been approached by some of the biggest clubs in the world – Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain and even the England national team wanted him at one stage,” said Dein.
“There will be no shortage of offers. I personally had calls from people asking to speak to him.”