While Wenger’s last few years might be marked by lackluster performances and a growing appetite for change among the fans, the manager has undoubtedly left his mark on the footballing world.
Nowhere has the impact of Wenger been felt as much as in Africa. Afterall, Wenger is the manager who brought George Weah to Monaco, the player who would go on to be the first African footballer to win the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995 and, this year, become president of Liberia.
Wenger was a pioneer in bringing African players to the Premier League: Kanu, Lauren, Kolo Toure and Iwobi are just some of the 16 African players who featured in his teams.
The #WengerOut debacle has been as hotly debated in Africa as anywhere else, and now the French tactician is gone fans are taking stock of his reign.
Nigerian Arsenal superfan Kelechi Anyikude, 32, who know lives in London, is one of the club’s most ardent followers and “Unofficial Nigerian Ambassador,” as his Twitter declares, and was one of those giving his reaction on his YouTube fandom channel Kelechi Tube.
He spoke to CNN about his favorite Wenger memories, what he meant for the club and the future of Arsenal.
How do you feel about Wenger leaving after 22 years?
Kelechi Anyikude: It was emotional. It was the one that you grew up with. It’s someone who helped African football a lot. You are aware that a great president of Liberia (George Weah) – he was instrumental to it, if you ask me. It was very emotional. It was a sad one, but he’s made the decision so we have to respect that.
How did you react when you found out the news?
Kelechi Anyikude: I was devastated to be honest. I was not expecting it. There was no warning at all. I just woke up and just saw it and was really shocked. I had to do a lot of press briefings that day. It was shocking news but I can see reasons why he left as well. We just wish him the best.
What do you make of Arsenal’s new appointment, Emery?
Kelechi Anyikude: I am really excited about Unai Emery’s appointment. A manager with so much experience, with so many trophies. He’s just won the treble in France. He has won the Europe League three times in a row. He seems to be a calm manager. I’ve heard he’s a manager who’s attention to detail is just too great. He’s a tactical manager as well. I think he seems to be a manager who will unite the fanbase. I’m happy, we’re buzzing and we’re ready for it next season.
What do you think were Wenger’s greatest achievements at Arsenal?
Kelechi Anyikude: 49 unbeaten. Going a whole season unbeaten was his greatest achievement. He won the league at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford. These are things that will be remembered for life. People say his legacy is tainted. But when you go to the Emirates people chant: “49…49…undefeated!” He was the one who did all of this. His legacy just shines through. It’s beautiful.
And his biggest failing as manager?
Kelechi Anyikude: I don’t want to look at it as failing but I just want to look at it as the one who was stuck in his ways. He had a pattern of playing football and he stuck to it. He was sometimes too loyal if you ask me. There are a few things that he’s done which are part of his principles, which are also part of his undoing.
How did he influence African football?
Kelechi Anyikude: He signed George Weah who was the African footballer of the year. This made the other African footballers look up to George to say: “Okay, we can make it now.” He got (Nigerian player) Kanu as well. Despite Kanu’s heart condition he gave him a chance and he did well for growing Arsenal’s fanbase in West Africa and all over the World. These are the things that he’s done. He also signed other African greats like Kolo Toure, Eboue and Lauren. With these people playing in established leagues like the Premier League, the younger ones in Africa look up to them. I think he was instrumental to all of that.
He was a pioneer in signing African players. How do you think that inspired a younger generation of footballers in Africa?
Kelechi Anyikude: He gives you hope that you can make it in life. You know if you move to England you could be playing. He liked to promote younger players from the younger teams. He did it with so much class and grace. He played football the proper way with these African players. In turn, when they go to their national teams they would improve. Kanu might come to the national team with a training idea and people will copy it. The guy has really improved African football. Kanu flew from Nigeria for his last game at the Emirates. That shows you how important the manager is.