Veteran Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger takes charge of his final game at the North London club this month, 22 years after his appointment.
When the then little-known Frenchman joined the Gunners from Japanese club Grampus Eight in October 1996, the move was met with ridicule by rival supporters.
But Wenger quickly transformed the club from top to bottom, installing a unique philosophy and tactical approach that ultimately transformed Arsenal into Premier League winners – and changed the face of English football.
As Wenger prepares to bid an emotional farewell to the Emirates Stadium in his final home game in charge this Sunday, we take a look at the five things retailers can learn from his Arsenal legacy.
Spend your money wisely
In a world where cost pressures are putting increasing stress on retailers’ bottom lines and outgoings are being tightly controlled, capital expenditure is at a premium.
Departments need to demonstrate a high return on investment in order for spending to be signed off in the boardroom.
“Morrisons is among the retailers that have taken Wenger’s capital-light approach to growth”
Wenger’s outlays in the transfer market have consistently delivered impressive returns. Arsenal often punched above its financial weight in the Premier League, particularly during the early years of his reign.
He signed stars such as Nicolas Anelka for just £500,000 – a striker who went on to score 28 goals in 91 games, before being sold for a tasty £23m profit.
Cesc Fabregas was recruited for a nominal fee as a youngster and progressed to become Arsenal’s captain during his eight years at the club, before returning to Barcelona in a £35m deal.
And Wenger paid Dutch club Feyenoord just £2.5m to secure the services of Robin van Persie, who bagged more than 100 goals in eight years – a record that prompted a £24m switch to Manchester United.
Morrisons is among the retailers that have taken Wenger’s capital-light approach to growth. The grocer is leveraging its vertically integrated model to build a £1bn supply business, having already struck deals with Amazon and McColl’s, while it is also rolling out petrol forecourt stores through a franchise partnership with Rontec.
Nurture young talent
Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has never shied away from giving youth an opportunity to flourish.
It is a trend he started during his time as manager of Monaco in the early 1990s, where he fast-tracked players such as Emmanuel Petit and Lilian Thuram into first team and handed debuts to David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry – all four of whom went on to win the World Cup with France.
At Arsenal, he regularly used the League Cup as a competition in which to blood his squad’s teenage talent, giving them vital first-team experience to aid their development.
Fabregas, Ashley Cole, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny were all given chances in cup competitions en route to more regular first-team appearances in the Premier League and on the European stage.
Retailers themselves are increasingly doing more to nurture, develop and retain young talent in the bid to adapt their businesses to the multichannel era.
Big names such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Aldi all have well-regarded graduate schemes, while Majestic Wine operates a ‘rising stars’ programme designed to help more junior members of staff progress beyond the shopfloor.
And Lidl installed the then 34-year-old Christian Härtnagel as its boss almost two years ago as businesses increasingly adopt Wenger’s dictum ‘if you are good enough, you are old enough’.
Build strength and depth in the management team
Wenger has taken plenty of plaudits for Arsenal’s success over the past two decades as he lifted three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, but his backroom staff have also played a crucial role.
The Frenchman worked alongside his former assistant Pat Rice for a number of years, and other close allies including long-serving first team coach Neil Banfield and his current right-hand man Steve Bould form part of a strong and dependable team.
But in addition to a core group of coaches, Wenger added a deeper knowledge and expertise to his staff than English football had been accustomed to, allowing him to focus on his strengths and rely on members of his team in other areas.
Arsenal-defender-turned-TV-pundit Martin Keown recently told the BBC: “He delegated well. There were lots of different messages from different professionals. There was a sports scientist talking about stretching, conditioning and training, a dietician doing blood tests, a doctor talking about the importance of vitamin C, iron and B12.”
Alex Baldock, the new boss at Dixons Carphone, has set about building a leadership team in a similar mould since taking the helm.
Baldock is overhauling his top team, scrapping the retailer’s separate UK and Ireland and group executive teams, replacing them with one leaner leadership team.
In the same way that Wenger created new roles in the management team at Arsenal, Baldock has hired Antreas Athanassopoulos as Dixons Carphone’s first chief customer officer to help change the way the business operates.
Look beyond Britain
It might be hard to believe now, but Wenger’s first starting line-up at Arsenal contained 10 British players. The only foreigner in the team was French midfielder Patrick Vieira, who had joined the club weeks previously.
Nine years later, Wenger became the first manager in Premier League history to name a starting 11 and substitutes made up entirely of non-British players – six Frenchmen, three Spaniards, two Dutchmen, a Brazilian, a German, a Cameroonian, an Ivorian and a Swiss.
“Wenger was quick to realise that foreign players were cheaper to acquire than home-grown talent”
After moving to England, Wenger was quick to realise that foreign players were cheaper to acquire than home-grown talent – and has long been of the opinion that ability is more important than nationality.
Retailers are increasingly adopting a similar mindset in a bid to bring fresh ideas to the fiercely competitive British market.
Debenhams looked to half-Spanish half-Swiss Sergio Bucher when replacing Michael Sharp as chief executive in 2016, B&Q drafted in Frenchman Christian Mazauric to replace Dane Michael Loeve as boss last year, and South African Rowan Gormley has led Majestic Wine since early 2015.
Adapt or fail
Wenger installed what was, at the time, a unique philosophy at Arsenal, leaning heavily on sports science, radically overhauling players’ diets and coaching a brand of passing football that was new to the Premier League.
His revolutionary approach brought results almost instantly. Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1997/98 – his first full season in charge – as Wenger became the first foreign manager to achieve that feat.
But Wenger’s rivals quickly adapted to the new breed of competition. Manchester United went one better the following season by winning the treble and, although Arsenal went unbeaten during their historic 2003/04 Premier League triumph, Wenger failed to build on that achievement and has not lifted a league title since.
In the same way Wenger brought fresh ideas to English football in 1996, younger coaches with new ideas and different playing styles entered the English game and outmanoeuvred the Frenchman.
During the past few seasons, managers such as Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino at bitter North London rivals Tottenham have all left Wenger in the shade with more modern styles of coaching and tactics.
Wenger simply refused to adapt his methods among that new generation – and Arsenal have paid the price.
Similarly, retailers such as BHS and Toys R Us failed to change their business models and strategies when faced with new competition – particularly online – and eventually fell by the wayside as retail evolved around them.