Huw Merriman MP: Arsène Wenger has been one of the pioneers of an enormous British export market in football
Conservative MP Huw Merriman writes about the contribution of Arsène Wenger to the profile and performance of English football ahead of his Adjournment debate later today.
Whilst it is true that Britain does not export as much to the world as we used to, there are some notable exceptions. The game of football is the fastest growing amongst them. In 2013/14, the Premier League and its clubs contributed £2.4bn in taxes to the exchequer, 100,000 jobs in the UK and £3.4bn to GDP. The Premier League’s appeal abroad is demonstrated not by the £3.2bn it will earn in the current TV revenue cycle but by the bids coming in for the next. In China, to take one example, the revenue is likely to increase 14 fold such is the growth in popularity in the game. I saw this myself last week whilst visiting the small African country of Djibouti with UNICEF to help promote the role of Soccer Aid. All around me were the shirts of the Premier League being adorned by young African boys and girls.
It is therefore fitting that Parliament finds time to pay tribute to one of the pioneers of this British success story; Arsène Wenger. After 22 years managing Arsenal in 1,235 games his work was completed this weekend. His record is extraordinary. In his first season, he rejuvenated a team with his new ideas. That team won the Premier League the following season. He repeated the feat again in 2001/02 before making history in 2003/04, as 'The Invincibles' went unbeaten throughout the entire league campaign on their way to sealing a third Premier League crown.
The Frenchman has also claimed seven FA Cups - the most of any manager. Whilst the European Champions League eluded him (Arsenal were beaten finalists in 2006), qualifying in the Champions League for 19 successive seasons is another British record.
Whilst Arsène Wenger’s record and longevity would be reason enough to mark his tenure in Parliament, it is his commitment to the core values of British sport which caused me to apply for this debate. Arsenal’s cathedral to football was built not from Petrodollars but by prudent borrowing, raising revenues and balancing the books. That Arsène Wenger simultaneously kept the team competitive despite the inflow of Russian and Gulf largesse washing around emerging rival clubs was remarkable and a nod to sound economics. He also opened up the thought-process of his players, infamously weaning them off unhealthy lifestyles and extending their careers in the process. A proud Frenchman from Alsace, his tenure is a shining example of how British culture and values can be preserved and enhanced when ideas from abroad deliver success. I was once asked, in a rather aggressive manner, what immigration has ever done for this country. My response: "Arsène Wenger".
Arsène Wenger has been one of the pioneers of an enormous British export market playing across billions of TV sets across the world. However, we of course now live in a country where the demands for continued success are never greater. Social media fuels a witch mob mentality which starves reasonableness and consideration of its oxygen. It is arguable that this great manager, and his many achievements, would not have endured 22 years were his tenure to be starting from today.
These are all matters which I hope to explore when leading a debate in the name of one of the great sporting pioneers of my lifetime.
Huw Merriman is the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle