January 6 is the anniversary of the death in 1934 of Arsenal’s greatest manager, Herbert Chapman. If you doubt that he is Arsenal’s greatest, consider this: Herbert Chapman was far and away the best manager of his generation worldwide, without any shadow of doubt. He is in all probability the greatest ever, so far ahead of his time was he.
How can I say Chapman is the greatest ever? In a way the debate is similar to ‘Who is the greatest player ever?’ Is it Messi? In a sense he is the greatest because he is the best now (though C Ronaldo fans may disagree), when football is the most advanced we have known it. He is standing on the shoulders of those who developed and advanced the game before him. What influence has he had on football? What has he changed, apart from a few stats in books? Not much. Similarly Arsène Wenger and every modern manager know things that were unheard of in Herbert Chapman’s day (though many of them he worked out), because now a lot of it is common knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily make modern managers greater than Chapman. One day I’ll get round to writing a full blog post about this, but In summary: Messi – great; Pele – greater.
And similarly: Wenger – great; Chapman – greater. To prove the point, here are some more of the great(er) man’s words, from the book ‘Herbert Chapman on Football’.
“As to the question of residential qualification: it is good to see local players in a team but the view I take is that football today is a world’s entertainment, and that it is my responsibility as the showman I am supposed to be, to put on the best possible programme. Indeed, the game as it has grown and developed demands this, and I must look for my players, my stars, wherever they are to be obtained.”
This is from the 1930s, remember. Arsène Wenger was not the first to think of it.
“Too many players are introduced into English football for their ability in tackling and defensive play generally, so that they may stop the other fellows getting the goals. We should set a higher premium on ball play and the science that goes with it; we want less of the strong man business and more skill. English football suffers most of all at the present time owing to a lack of craftsmen.”
This was written at a time when the FA took measures against English managers who dared to get jobs in football abroad!
“There are two reasons why clubs strive to get the best players and are prepared to pay for them. The first is ambition and pride in doing well. The second is simply a practical business matter. They have a ground of high value. Thousands of pounds have been spent on it in erecting stands, making terraces, and providing all the comforts for the spectators that are possible. That is sound business, the commercialism of the showman if you like.
“If the policy is to be that of the Arsenal, what is the good of this ground if the rest of the equipment is third-rate? By this equipment I mean the team.”
There may be a lesson here . . .
“One of the best safeguards a club can take against the deterioration of form is to have keen competition among the players for places in the side. It is not good for a man to believe, no matter how accomplished he may be, that he is sure to be picked. In that case there is a danger of him becoming slack or, at any rate, not sufficiently keyed up to make the supreme effort which modern football demands in every match. In the days when clubs were very much better off in having first-class experienced players in reserve, it was not unusual for almost every position on the field to be most competently duplicated. A man who lost his place, even through accident, could never be sure he would get it back again, because his substitute might show even better form than he had done. If this were the case today, football all around would be the better for it.”
I cannot imagine Herb presiding over much of a decline in standards at his club. Sadly his premature death meant that Arsenal were robbed of the world’s greatest manager far too soon. The loss for English football is also incalculable.
More of Herb’s wise words another time. In fact I’ll keep returning to the subject until every Arsenal supporter acknowledges that he is without question the greatest manager we have ever had, or ever will.
Follow me on twitter: @AngryOfN5
49 thoughts on “Herbert Chapman Died, January 6, 1934. But Still The Greatest”
Is this about Chapman or Wenger? Is this about praising someone from a very distant but indeed glorious past or comparing two very different times and circumstances to criticise Wenger? I agree with you that Chapman is the greatest manager Arsenal has ever had, but sadly your blog post doesn’t seem to be about that at all.
It’s both. And I make no apology for that.
How can you make a distinction between the two? Both revolutionised the game and believed in similar philosophies. Wenger has won more trophies and whilst Chapman is credited for building the platform for which the club could grow, is that not what Wenger has done and is continuing to do for the club?
Unfortunetly i stopped reading at the end of the first paragraph when you said:
‘If Arsène is not the greatest of his generation, how can he be our greatest ever?’
If Messi and Pele were both playing at the same time and Messi had achieved for us what he has for Barcelona, based on your ludicrous statement, Messi would not be our greatest ever player as he wasn’t the best of his generation according to you. The existence of Pele, despite playing for another side and potentially in another league, means that Messi wouldn’t be able to be Arsenal’s greatest player. What an absolute joke.
To call Mourinho, a manager who can’t last more then a few seasons at a club, better then the man who changed the face of English football is idiotic. I’d love to know how much about Chapman and the way you have knowledge off, other then a few random quotes that suggest he followed a similar philosophy to Arsene.
Yet again, what a terrible terrible piece.
Well one way to know more about Chapman is to read the rest of the post.
Arsene Wenger changed the face of English football, that’s true, but not nearly as much as Herbert Chapman did.
Were you there to witness it? Or are you just quoting his book to raise controversy?
Your entire entry contains no more then quotes that he made. I could give you a page of Harry Redknapp quotes that say similar things. Doesn’t make him better then Wenger you fool.
Don’t come on here calling me names, that just shows your immaturity. Show me something Harry Redknapp has said that is 80 years ahead of its time. “Yeah, he’s a good player, I tried to sign ‘im at Spurs.” You seem to be overlooking the really rather obvious point that Chapman said all this and much more over 80 years ago.
Just because someone said something 80 years ago, doesn’t make them a better manager then somebody else. How did you even draw that distinction?
He clearly understood the game well, but you seem to be putting him above Wenger and other managers simply based on the fact that he made some correct predictions 80 years ago?
Clearly you know nothing about Herbert Chapman. I suggest you stop reading blogs and go off and read some books.
No, clearly you don’t.
Unlike you, I won’t be comparing managers based on a book I read. I have seen what Wenger can and has done for this club and will always have the utmost respect for that. Unfortunetly Chapman was before my time, as he was yours, so I can’t judge what he has done. By all accounts he was a fantastic manager, but I am in no position and will be in no position after reading a book, to make such bold statements.
Cudareli, are you seriously suggesting that we can’t know anything about the past by reading about it? That history has no value as a subject? You shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the past simply because you don’t like what it’s telling you.
Phil quotes an excellent book on Chapman which you’d do well to read before you make up your mind on the subject (as usually an informed opinion will be better respected than an uninformed one). I can also recommend “Football Emperor” by Stephen Studd which is another good study of the man.
The one issue I’d quibble with Phil over is
I couldn’t read past the point where it said pele is greater than messi. The writer must be an idiot, messi plays in one of the best leagues in the world. Pele played in a rubbish league!! But yes Chapman revolutionised football. Changed it forever
Pele won three world cups. Doesn’t sound that rubbish to me.
Aghh the good old ‘lets judge someones quality on the trophies they have won’.
Based on that logic, would Paolo Maldini not be the greatest ever player? He has won an array of trophies and was captain for a lot of them?
Your previous comment says ‘Wenger has won more trophies’.
Exactly, which is what a manager should be judged on amongst other things, but not a player. Trophies are an indication amongst other things but saying Pele is better then Messi based on world cup victories is laughable. The landscape of international football has changed considerably since Pele’s time.
I am the one saying that the two shouldn’t be compared and pointing to some indicators that suggest Wenger is better, indicators that you have ignored in your post above.
Top top quality, and I for one thank you for such a fine post.
Herpes Army….there are so many errors and so much misdirection in your post it beggars the imagination but here goes:
1)¨despite having vast resources at his disposal¨….what vast resources are you referring to? Like those of City,United and Chelsea, Barca and Real, PSG and until recently ACMilan? Your first BS falsification.
2) ¨ extraordinary wages¨ …again the refuge of an ignoramus…pretending to be in the know about players’ wages but totally unable to tell us exactly what wage Diaby or for that matter ,any other player at AFC is earning! Second BS falsification.
3) What does Wenger’s wage have to do with the Chapman and Wenger comparison? Third BS misdirection.
4) ¨shown a little more bravery¨….This makes absolutely NO sense whatsoever, since there are, as usual, no details,facts or data to support your irrational conclusion. Fourth BS untenable generalization.
5) ¨asset-strips¨? Wenger has managed, under very difficult and rather frugal circumstances, to replace the so-called assets, despite his desire to hold onto to them. If he’d had the assets that Chelsea,United,City,Barca or Real had since 2005, we’d have been unstoppable. But your superior Football management expertise shown in the statement quoted above displays your real dearth of understanding and knowledge of Football and Arsenal, in general and in detail.
Get back to LeGrove with your anti-Wenger moaning and whining you scurvy mutt.
Just goes to show that comparisons are subjective , ya can’t win Phil !
Comparisons are fine when you have seen both, considered every factor and come to a conclusion with evidence that backs it up.
Reading a book about a manager, quoting what was said in the book and then saying he is the greatest as he made predictions 80 years ago that we correct, is not fine.
Yes, you’re right – books! Learning! What was I thinking? Studying the past and trying to learn from it? It’ll never catch on. Let’s stick to what we know from our own experience, I’m sure we’ll muddle through.
Lets read a book about Chapman, talking up Chapman and then compare him to someone who is managing in the game 80 years ago.
One book as opposed to watching Wenger for the past 15 years says it all. Reading one book doesn’t make you an expert, so unfortunetly whtat you consider ‘learning’ doesn’t quiet cut it.
Great article, with great references. I understand your viewpoint completely; Wenger places trust in the players in his team, and allows them the freedom to do what they want. This has backfired in recent years, as the youth that are now starting games believe that their place in the team is enough to lift their wage packets every month. There is no experience throughout for these youngsters to learn basic manners and respect. Wenger has very little competition to his starting XI, which makes players complacent, and less likely to look over their shoulder in fear of being dropped. Theo is a prime example. Good points in this article
What points? All he has done is copy and paste quotes?
Instead of criticising the author, who has put time and effort in giving fellow Arsenal fans something of historical relevance to read, why don’t you set up your own Blog and write a critique about what a great socialist Mr Wenger is. Nineteen points off the two Manchester’s last season, and already 18pts behind currently, how would you say that’s working out for the world’s 5th richest football club?
Sorry, are we judging him based on his last 2 seasons or based on what he has acheived over his entire tenure?
Quiet funny how ‘Herb’s Army’ is defending a horrible piece of writting on, suprise suprise, Herbert Chapman.
Some people have their head so far up in their asses that no matter what Arsene will achieve in next few upcoming years, they’ll never know how to show him respect.
This article is mostly about degrading Arsene and i’m surprised that people are still in the discussion of “greatest ever”. It’s like comparing TH14 and DB10. Both of them were fucking awesome, you can’t tell who was “greatest ever”.
An excellent blog, Phil, although I think it’s pure conjecture to speculate on what would and wouldn not have happened had Chapman not sadly died when he did. It is an imponderable and the same might have been said of Wenger in 2004 if, hypothetically, he had died at the height of his success.
Great post. Wenger doesn’t even compare. Actually, Wenger’s greatest effect had nothing to do with football, but more to do with diet. His teams were fitter and stronger and he prolonged the fitness of his best players, but soon everybody caught up. As a tactician, Wenger has always been piss poor. And the lower the standard of players, the more his tactics have been proved to be piss poor. Now Wenger looks sadly outdated as a tactician, he’s not even in the top 10 in the Premier League, let alone Europe.
Phil…..another opportunity to demean Wenger by comparing him to Chapman, quite unsuccessfully I might add! 80 years ago there were a number of great managers in a game that was very different than it is today ( Willie Maley of Celtic,Bela Guttman of Happoel and others). I am unable to judge who is greatest,not only because one book and its contents do not a fair comparison make BUT the real question would be, were Chapman alive and in charge of AFC from 1998 until today, could he have surpassed Wenger’s achievements and skills and vice-versa? the only truthful answer is that we’ll NEVER be able to compare tit for tat, as the gap in years, circumstances and Football situations is too distant and large.
I appreciate the question, it is a good one BUT knowing you as I do, it is also partially a cheap-shot at Wenger, who you do know, versus idolizing a man (albeit a great manager) who you never knew, like you can Wenger. Maybe an octogenarian who saw both AFC in the 30’s and now, might be ready to compare but men that old usually refrain from making comparisons.
But Weedonald, he read a book? Is that not enough for him to be able to draw conclusions that not even the experts are able to draw? He is also supported by Herb’s Army so surely everything he has written (or better still, copied and pasted) is spot on?
Or, despite having vast resources at his disposal, Mr Wenger seems caught between trying to singularly solve Africa’s hunger crisis and manage Arsenal Football Club. Who else would pay such extraordinary wages for the eternally injured, brittle-boned Abou Diaby? Who else wanted ‘free agent’ Marouane Chamakh? Only Sunderland, who aren’t exactly direct rivals. ‘Socialist’ Arsene Wenger is the highest paid employee at Arsenal Football Club, where else does that happen? On the subject of Africa, it is meant to be one of Wenger’s ‘specialist’ markets, but even there he can’t shop from the top-shelf. Had he done so and shown a little more bravery we may have been the first London club to win the European Cup, instead of passively sitting back watching Chelsea steal our thunder and over-take us. What did Edwin van der Sar say last week? We’re a selling club who nurture talent for other clubs to reap the benefits. So Wenger has taken us from being champions of England to a club desperately hoping to cling onto the coveted ‘4th place trophy and who sell any real quality we have to our direct rivals, and you see that as a cause to celebrate one of the highest-paid manager’s in world football as he asset-strips one of the world’s richest clubs to directly strengthen our rivals. With support like that it’s no wonder we are in decline.
@ Herb 4:58am
“So Wenger has taken us from being champions of England to a club desperately hoping to cling onto the coveted ’4th place trophy ”
You seem to be forgetting that it was Arsene who got us into the state of being Champions of England following the farsical end of Graham and the ridiculous tenure of Rioch.
The football landscape has changed significantly over the past 10 years. Clubs spend well beyond their means to build a squad of super stars to achieve above what their pre-existing club status would have allowed them to do. City would never have been able to sign ANY of their current first team squad without their rich owners. That is fact.
Arsene hasn’t had money to throw at the situation, until last summer when he spent pretty big and hopefully he will do so again. I know you hate Arsene Herb but see the folly in your words. Arsene is only one man in a game, but he looks to the future and he is trying to make us successful.
I cannot imagine who we could get in to replace him. Guardiola wouldn’t touch us with a bargepole and he is relatively inexperienced considering he has only managed one club with arguably three of the best players in the world in it. Mourinho wouldn’t because he wants ManYoo so where are we?
I didn’t say I read one book, I was just quoting from one to use Chapman’s words. I recommended you go and read books, plural.
Studying books has been the accepted way of gaining and passing on knowledge since writing was invented several thousand years ago. How would you suggest the human race should have progressed? Minstrels singing songs?
Chapman is the greatest manager that Arsenal have ever had, or will ever have, but not for the reasons that you have stated (which seem to be more about having a dig at Wenger than complimenting Chapman).
Chapman revolutionised football in England, and to some extent internationally, he turned Arsenal into the club we know (before him we were just another club without a trophy). To compare him to Wenger is unfair, as Wenger built on his legacy, and is the ONLY Arsenal manager to have done so.
The managers that followed Chapman, all the way up to George Graham did nothing out of the ordinary for a club of Arsenal’s stature. They won trophies – some expected, some not; some warranted, some not – but none of them changed the Arsenal in any dramatic form, substantially we were no different from the day Chapman died until the day Wenger took over.
Chapman took us from a humdrum English club into a big English club, Wenger took us from a big English club into a big international club (as bizarre as it seems, we have more international support than multiple European Cup winners AC Milan!).
Some fans would be happier to win the odd cup than remain consistent in the league, but that’s the wrong plan if you want this club to become truly great. Consistency is boring, but it is effective in the long term.
Trophies will come, they always do go to the consistent teams eventually, and far more than if we bounce up and down the league table as most clubs do…and as we have done since the 30’s.
What Wenger has done is make us consistent in our League, a feat not achieved by ANY other Arsenal manager since the 1930’s – currently the only team to have achieved that level of consistency without the help of a billionaire tossing money at the club is Man Utd. We have consistency, now we need the finances to push on another level, which we have coming.
When Arsenal get their sponsorship deals in place we will have the financial clout to add 1 or 2 top quality players to our squad each season without the need to sell, which we have been unable to do over the last few seasons.
We are treading water at the moment, but it’s been a necessity since we moved stadium, and probably will be for the next two seasons until the financial benefits truly kick in.
It took us 60 years to move on from the level that Chapman created. Wenger isn’t our greatest manager, but he is the greatest manager we have had since Chapman.
As for your Pele vs Messi argument, that is flawed in the extreme. What exactly did Pele do that makes him better?
For winning the World Cup 3 times? He wasn’t the best player for Brazil in 1958, he barely played in 1962 and, though he was an integral part of the 1970 side, he was just the most famous of a fabulous group of players. In 1962 and 1966, when he was the undoubted leading light of Brazilian football, he got kicked off the pitch and never proved anything – not his fault, but that’s irrelevant.
For his influence on the game? There is nothing that we see on a football pitch today that can be directly attributed to Pele. Compare that to the legacy of the Cruyff turn, or a number of skills that Maradona ‘invented’, all of which are seen every game.
Now compare Messi vs Pele; like Pele, Messi has not ‘given’ the football world anything to copy – there is no Messi flick, or turn – but Messi has taken skills created by others and refined them to a level that we have never seen in football. Cristiano Ronaldo is the current inheritor of Pele’s crown – a superb athlete allied to fantastic skill – but Messi is the inheritor of Maradona, a physically ‘inferior’ (and I use that in the sense that, if you were to design a perfect athlete, he wouldn’t be a borderline midget) player with ball control that we have never witnessed before.
To put it another way Pele played football that I could only ever dream of playing, but Messi plays football in a way I could never even imagine.
You make many good points and a few I don’t agree with.
Re Pele, Messi, etc, I think Pele is only about 5 foot 8, so hardly born with every advantage physically as an athlete, but he worked incredibly hard and had huge natural talent with the ball and huge imagination. I will come back to this subject.
Aw Herpes Army…..sorry if it hurts but that’s OK. Again, your misinformed and illogical statements astound any true Arsenal supporters.
1) So you’re saying that Szcesny, Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Podolski, Rosicky couldn’t make ANY other major Club’s starting 11! Yet they can play for their country and be captains in some cases.
2) What,in God’s name are you trying to say here: ¨ the safety-first, cautious hand-brake model that Arsenal use, it is a flawed logic.¨? If you mean that AFc don’t take excessive financial risks like the ¨big¨Clubs with unlimited resources do then I entirely agree, and say Thank God for that!
3) ¨good money being wasted¨???? What about Cazorla, Arteta, Giroud, Podolski, Walcott, Szcesny, and countless others…..you are so blinkered and biased against Wenger, despite your claims to the contrary, that you continuously contradict yourself! Are you trying to say that Wenger is the only top Club manager that occasionally gets it wrong? Wake up and stop whining about blaming him for all your ills and disappointments over AFC.
4) Socialist wage structure? You don’t even know what that structure is in actual fact! another bit of Bullshite from the king of BS….Herpes Army!
If you’re so unhappy with AFC and Wenger, go talk to Usmanov,Dein and the other heros you think will ¨rescue¨ Arsenal and stop bitching endlessly about Aw and the team.
Not a good article mate. You have written much better stuff before, this seems like a rant after yest disappointment of not having kept the lead and won the game. Both managers have grown Arsenal FC from what they started out with. Both are great managers in their own right and when you compare trophies and win % Arsene has been more successful. And Arsene has to be given credit for all the stuff he brought to English football and moreover to AFC. Pre and post emirates Arsene are totally 2 different managers, but he has done a good job with the resources he has been afforded. Like any other manager, he has signed a few duds;since you mentioned ferguson, didn’t he sign bebe, berbayoz for 30 mil and then sell him for 5,veron,etc. all managers do some dud signings. The ‘special one’ is getting pulped in la liga, wht about that?
Now that we have more money to spend, while I don’t think we will sign messi or ronaldo,there are positive signs all over. He is making room by desperately selling/loaning out players, obviously so that he can reduce the wage bill and sign someone else for those wages. Judge wenger for the entire 16 years period not just th last 2 seasons.
I’m not having a go at Wenger so much as those who say he is Arsenal’s greatest manager – he isn’t, and never will be. He is a great manager, but not the greatest.
Really weedonald??? Your name suits you with your propensity for childish playground name-calling, you really should’ve grown out of that by now.
Hi WG, hope all is good with you.
I don’t hate Mr Wenger, it’s just been a while since I’ve had anything positive to say in regard to his management of Arsenal.
According to both Deloitte and Forbes, Arsenal are the 5th richest football club in the world, yet we have no players who would get into any other major club’s starting XI, and our on-field performances are well below the standard required.
No other club in world football operates the safety-first, cautious hand-brake model that Arsenal use, it is a flawed logic. They behave in a manner that suggests they are too scared to compete for the top prizes, too scared to speculate. Manchester United are one of the world’s biggest and most successful brands because they dare to dream, and they are fully aware of the rewards that go hand in hand with success on the park. That’s why they have RvP and we don’t.
Mr Wenger hasn’t made the best use of Arsenal’s resources, and for that he should be held accountable, if not by the BoD, at the very least to supporters who have to watch good money being wasted on the likes of Squillaci, Santos, Denilson, Diaby, Gervinho, Arshavin, Bendtner, Park, Chamakh and countless others who aren’t worthy of the Arsenal shirt. The socialist wage-structure continually rewards mediocrity, which is why our only remaining genuine world-class talent realised he’d be better off elsewhere.
Frankly, for a club of Arsenal’s stature it is patently nowhere near good enough.
wee donald, that octogenarian of whom you speak would have been at most 10 years old in 1934, hardly old enough to pass judgement on whether or not Herbert Chapman was Arsenal’s greatest-ever manager. But not to worry, help is at hand for I am the nonagenarian of whom you ought to have spoke. Even so, despite such vast experience, I can only pronounce with indisputable credibility, not on who is the best, but merely on the best I have seen. So, from someone who has watched everyone from David Jack to Dennis Bergkamp, from Lee Harvey Oswald to Lionel Messi, I can state with absolute certainty that bow-legged chain-smoking Alfredo di Stefano was the finest footballer on whom my eyes befell. As to the greater of Herb or Arsene, it has to be the latter – otherwise why did they name the Club after him?
My guess is that an 92 year old (would have been 12 in 1933) would remember seeing Champman’s team and Wenger’s teams in 2003 but would have trouble remembering who played when!
David Jack must have been well before your time mate. I completely agree that DiStefano was the finest footballer of his day. I refereed Pele once and he was one of the craftiest,dirtiest players I can remember officiating. He was also quite small compared to the average Footballer (he was 5’8¨) but he was so muscular that he didn’t need height.
Are you just Arsene around when you say they named the Club after Wenger? LOL
Herb bought David Jack at 29 years old and called him his ‘greatest-ever bargain’. Oh, and I almost forgot – Alfredo was 5ft 10.
For £10,654 – £24m in todys money.
You really refereed Pele, Donald? Tell us more.
If he was dirty then I think that probably developed through his career as a result of being brutally kicked around the pitch for years by lesser opponents in a way that would shame Joey Barton. The police would be involved these days if a player was targeted the way Pele was sometimes.
Phil….please use Don, as I don’t like my full name used. I officiated twice when Pele played, once as a linesman in Montreal and once in Toronto as the referee in an exhibition match. You are absolutely right about his opponents hacking him to death and if the referees let them get away with it, like they did in a WC match against Bulgaria, Pele came out injured and bitter. After i refereed his game, I spoke briefly to him at the end of the match and he told me, in reply to my question about his very ¨dirty¨play, that he learnt to avoid getting hacked by hacking first. He said that a gentle tap on the ankle or the back of the calf discouraged a would-be hacker from pursuing his plans.
I don’t think things have changed all that much in the EPL, after watching the Neville brothers do a hatchet job on Reyes a few years back and the abuse Song got from our ¨beloved¨ Joey Barton last season, as well as other horror tackles Arsenal in particular have been subjected to since 2003. Referees are stricter in Europe than in England from what I have seen and an ¨ordinary¨ foul in England is treated far more severely by European officials, particularly Germans. I officiated two years ago in Germany and their respect for the referee, their fear of being sent off, their adoration of law and order do compete with their natural aggressiveness and win at all costs mentality to make officiating their games interesting to say the least. All I had to do to calm things down was to tap my pocket (where my red and yellow cards were) and the belligerence disappeared like smoke in a hurricane.
Can we compare apples to apples here? Before I do that, let me state what should be obvious: Pointing out the achievements, influence and greatness — the first is quantifiable, the second and third are subjective — does nothing to diminish the other.
Let’s look at where the club was when each man took over. Chapman took over a club that had once been decent, but had never won a major trophy, and was now (1925) at the edge of a relegation zone. Think Aston Villa today, if the Villa honours of 1981 and ’82 had not happened. He built them into a team that won 5 League titles and 2 FA Cups in a span of 7 years, and may have been the best club in Europe in the 1930s. Wenger (1996) took over a club that had plenty of good players and had recently won some trophies, but was falling well short of expectations. Think Chelsea 10 years ago, right before Abramovich took over. He built them into a team that won 3 League titles and 4 FA Cups in a span of 8 years. He also made them a team that reached the Champions League every season for 15 straight seasons (so far) — an achievement which, of course, was not even available to Chapman, but Arsenal had 8 top 4 finishes between 1926 and 1938.
Chapman took the club as far as it was then allowed to go; Wenger took it farther than that, but NOT as far as it COULD have gone. Who has the edge in this category? I think it’s a judgement call: Chapman made them inarguably England’s best team, arguably Europe’s best, but there was no way to tell; Wenger made them definitively a force to be reckoned with in Europe, but not a perennial European Cup challenger.
Influence? Chapman’s WM formation became the English standard for a quarter of a century, until Hungary foreshadowed Dutch “Total Football” at Wembley in 1953, and dragged England kicking and screaming into the modern world. He also brought in players from all over Britain, such as Scotland’s Alex James and Wales’ Bob John. I don’t know what other managers were trying that at the time, so I can’t say that this was an innovation. But did it ever occur to Chapman to offer big bank to Inter for Giuseppe Meazza, to Austria Wien for Matthias Sindelar, or to Racing Club Paris for Alexandre Villaplane? (The latter 2 later killed by the Nazis for their resistance.) If so, would the continental clubs have taken the money? Wenger, as stated changed fitness, and changed scouting, and, along with Alex Ferguson, smashed forever the notion that an English team MUST be a team of British Isles players. Also, while Chapman turned Highbury into a stadium befitting the best team in England, Wenger led to the building of the best stadium of any club team in the world — although that wasn’t his doing nearly as much as Highbury’s refit was Chapman’s. Again, the edge is a judgement call.
Greatness? Chapman died just as his program was really getting rolling. That it became greater without him both supports and undercuts his candidacy. Wenger reached the top much faster, but he also had a decline, something Chapman never had. On the other hand, Wenger has never finished lower than 4th, while Chapman had finishes of 14th, 11th, 10th and 9th. True, that was on the way up. But even after the first League title, before WW2 shut things down, there were finishes of 6th and 5th — though that was after his death. And Wenger won the Double twice (1998 & 2002), almost three times (a near-miss in 2003), while the closest Chapman came was as a runner-up in both competitions (1932).
How about this: Was Chapman able to do more with the players bought by his predecessor, Leslie Knighton, than Knighton could? Clearly, and they did nothing under him. Wenger Outers claim that Wenger only won what he won because he inherited the Back Five of Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams. Which is baloney: Those guys not only won more under Wenger than they did under George Graham (who probably never had to face this kind of comparison, as his last year was 1995 just as the Internet really got rolling), but when each got old, he was replaced very well by Wenger: Lehmann, Lauren, Cole, Campbell and Toure.
Chapman took a club that was something of a joke, and made it the most respected club in his country. Wenger took a club that had a great past and a sketchy present, and made it one of the most admired clubs in the entire world. Which was the greater achievement?
Thanks for all that Mike, great comment. Wish I had time to reply to all of it.
I believe Chapman did try to sign foreign players and was blocked by the xenophobic FA – the UK nations had even pulled out of FIFA at the time, and if I recall correctly didn’t rejoin until after WW2, and I believe this hampered Chapman in his ambitions.
On the Back 4 (or 5) that AW inherited, they may have won more trophies under AW than GG (or BR), but their job was to stop the other team scoring, not ‘win’ anything, as a win means you have to score and that was someone else’s job. It was up front and in particular midfield that GG lost his way, and AW is far better at spotting talent there than in defence. And AW is clearly not a talented defensive coach, whatever other attributes he as. So I don’t think your trophy point is relevant in this case.
But as I say, you make some very good points. I might even put them into a new post if you don’t object – giving you full credit of course.