Former Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards has confirmed that Arsene Wenger was the club’s first choice option to replace Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002.
The great Scot famously deliberated the prospect of retiring after 16 years at Old Trafford but was ultimately convinced to stay.
Wenger, meanwhile, was in the process of putting together the Invincibles and then, for some reason, building a new stadium and forging a new playing style that, for over a decade, has precluded Arsenal from challenging for the title.
And Edwards has confirmed that the club even held talks with Wenger over becoming Ferguson’s successor in 2002.
“Our first choice was Arsene,” he said. “Since joining Arsenal in 1996 Wenger had been greatly successful, especially in his first full season in charge when he won the Double.”
“And while it’s true to say he suffered hard times since, at the time we thought he was the best candidate to replace Alex. Certainly he was my number one choice.
“So we made our approach and Wenger did show a little bit of interest, enough to want to meet Peter Kenyon and me at his house in London to listen to what we had to say. In fact, we had a couple of meetings with him and for a while we thought there was a possibility of him joining us.
“But I think Wenger felt loyalty to David Dein. He was very close to David and that was the reason he gave us in the end for turning down United. He felt he had started something with Arsenal and that his attachment to the club was too great, he didn’t want to break the bond.”
How would have United fared if Wenger had taken over from Sir Alex back in 2002?
We have to remember that, back then, the Frenchman was a master of his trade, swiping aside opponents with an attacking philosophy that combined muscle in midfield and a fluid, passing style going forward. He would have taken the brawn and winning mentality pervading that United side and engendered a touch of classiness to their play. Wenger has always been a man of both art and science working in symbiosis, and for a while it was a sight to behold.
But then he would have failed to do what Sir Alex mastered: evolve.
The Scot ruthlessly reinvented the way in which he would attack opponents. He assessed the landscape ahead of him accordingly constructed a winning. The number of assistant managers he went through was telling. You simply cannot stand still at this level.
And that is exactly what Wenger would have done. His downfall over the last few years has stemmed from failing to stray from an ethos that was rendered outdated years ago. And United, unlike Arsenal, wouldn’t have stood for it.