1996, Arsène Wenger’s arrival in England and the Premier League (or Premiership, as it was then called for sponsorship reasons) was famously greeted with the headline “Arsene Who?” in London’s Evening Standard. But very quickly, “Le Professeur” – who has released his autobiography, My Life In Red And White – revolutionised everything about the British game. From introducing the use of athlete data to what his players ate and drank on training and game days, all variables were carefully monitored and fed through ‘The Gaffa’s’ office, giving the manager total control over every aspect of what went on at Arsenal Football Club. Well, almost every aspect.
During his 22-years at the club, the Frenchman became the most decorated manager in the history of the FA Cup, claiming the trophy seven times. He also saw his 2003-2004 “Invincibles” squad go an entire season undefeated – something not achieved in top-tier English football in the previous 115 years, or since. He’s also known for his laser focused approach to the game, Wenger became embroiled in ongoing battles of wits and wills with a series of adversaries: most notably Sir Alex Ferguson, then José Mourinho. But perhaps his most persistent bee in his bonnet was the “f-ing zip on his f-ing parka coat.” At 6ft 3in, Wenger isn’t a short man. Yet, his managerial coat – which, like everything at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s north London home since 2006, was designed expressly for him – always looked at least two sizes too big. To the point where it engulfed him, like a sleeping bag with a hole at the bottom for his legs to poke out from.
Throughout his career, Wenger had actually cast rather a well-groomed shadow over the league. Whilst his peers wore tracksuits, Arsène patrolled the touchline in well-fitted tailored suits, usually in a sober navy, often with a waistcoat or V-neck sweater, and more often than not with a tie in that season’s shade of red. This inspired the well known Pep Guardiola in his touchline apparel choices, but the way he dressed also set a template for the former Barcelona manager to follow. However, it was the jackets supplied by the team’s kit sponsors, first Nike, then Puma, that came to represent his later years at Arsenal.
From around the 2010-2011 season, when his angular frame was first seen in a full-length, five-partition Nike Storm Fit winter coat that came down to his knees, Wenger’s image became locked to his choice of outerwear. Oversized down jackets are of course a more common sight today, and perhaps, as with his interest in small gains and nutrition the best part of two decades earlier, he was here again ahead of the curve. But that’s not how it felt at the time apparently. As with the coat, there were questions as to how low his team could sink and how much cheap padding there was in the squad. But mostly, why didn’t it work? Because, aside from its sheer volume, Arsèn’s inability to master the jacket’s zipping seemed to capture the mood at the ground, with a team that didn’t function as it should. It didn’t help that in it, he often appeared a lone.
“They are too long and sometimes the zip didn’t work,” the manager later told beIN Sports, in reference to the coats. “I struggled a lot with that. But, in the end, because people were showing it, I was conscious that I was under scrutiny when doing it.” In the psychological warfare of football, commentators often talk about the ability to turn up to the big matches. But when you’re losing mind games to clothing, you have problems. Sorry Arsène.