CLOUGHIE AND THE WENGER YEARS
Those Classic Quotes
"He speaks better English than they do in Hartlepool"
Following the announcement that Arsene Wenger is stepping down after 22 years in charge of Arsenal, it's fitting to reflect on those great Clough quotes about the Frenchman.
In one of his last interviews, Cloughie was full of praise for Gunners boss Wenger and the type of football his team played. "When I watch them I drool - and not because I'm nearly 70," he said.
A few years earlier, in typical Clough fashion, he referred to the Frenchman as polite and charming and added: "He speaks better English than they do in Hartlepool."
The admiration was mutual. When visiting Nottingham Forest's City Ground for an FA Cup tie in January 2018, Wenger (pictured at the ground) said Clough had been "on another planet." He added: "I believe that above his achievement is his personality. He's a special person in English football.
"It's his personality that has left a huge imprint on the history of the game. So he will be remembered as one of the greatest ever, among three or four greatest in English football."
Back in September 2000, Clough had a joke at Wenger's expense, referring to the number of French players in the Arsenal side. "I bet their dressing room will smell of garlic rather than liniment over the next few months," said Clough in the BBC Match of the Day magazine.
Clough suggested that Wenger might as well move the club from north London to Paris, and then they could commute. "I'll lend them my Edith Piaf records," he joked.
But it was not always harmony. In 2002, Clough criticised the Arsenal manager and his team for their poor disciplinary record. The Gunners had racked-up ten red cards and 96 yellows in one season. Clough was famous for his brand of clean and decisive football, always showing respect to referees.
"Wenger comes across on TV as a polite, charming, kind and intelligent man with an accent we all fall for," said Clough. "He speaks better English than they do in Hartlepool." Clough added: "But he cannot justify the number of players Arsenal have had booked or sent off."
Two years later, Cloughie was full of praise for Wenger's 'Invincibles' who beat Brian's record of 42 unbeaten games with Forest. The Gunners made it 43 by defeating Blackburn. "All records are there to be beaten," he told BBC Five Live (August 26th, 2004).
“Arsenal are nothing short of incredible. I'm loathed to confess it, but they could have been nearly as good as us," he joked. "They are brilliant. And as a guy who's been in the game around fifty years, that comes as a real compliment."
Cloughie admitted he
was disappointed the record had been beaten, as he cherished that more than the
European Cup wins. "It sticks in the craw a little bit because it's
Arsenal. No-one likes Arsenal, only Arsenal fans like Arsenal. I was brought up
not liking them. Of course there's a Frenchmen in charge and not many English
people like Frenchmen. But he is a top, top manager."
Around the same time, Clough told The Sun that the Gunners were as close to perfection as any side he had seen. "When I watch them I drool - and not because
I'm nearly 70. It's because I see a team who have brought to football the art
of simplicity. High technical skills, rhythm, a joy to behold. And the killer
He added that their disciplinary record had vastly improved and
he described Wenger as brilliant. "It is no exaggeration to say Wenger has
become an idol of mine. And from somebody as conceited, biased, bigoted and
big-headed as me, that is a compliment."
In response, Wenger told The Sun: "Clough says he idolises me. May be that is too much, but it is good to get such a compliment from him. I rate highly what he did at Nottingham Forest. It's incomparable. And the fact he likes the way we play football makes me so very proud."
Wenger went on to say he hoped to match Cloughie's record of two European Cups. But he admitted that to achieve it with Forest's resources had been "totally surreal in today's terms."
It was fitting that, after Cloughie passed away, Wenger supported the fund-raising efforts for a statue of the Great Man in Nottingham. When the small team of volunteers wrote to Wenger, he sent a limited edition shirt signed by the Invincibles. The shirt was then framed and auctioned, helping the statue fund towards its goal of £70,000 in 18 months.
Wenger photo by Reuters