It’s fashionable to knock Match of the Day, pundits opinions are regularly derided as proof of anti-Arsenal bias at the BBC. That supporters of every other Premier League club offer the same complaints seem to escape our attention. It’s nothing new either, people used to disagree vehemently with Jimmy Hill’s views when he was presenter. Indeed that used to make the back pages; it was considered news. Now it’s a default mode. One unpalatable truth for supporters of the Middlesex Village Team is that since the programme’s inception, they have never seen their captain or manager lift the trophy on any edition of Match of the Day. Yesterday was the opportunity to rectify that you would have thought, what with it being a decade since Bill Nicholson passed away. No, not all; the cameras panned to the screens around White Hart Lane just in time to catch Nicholson smiling with the League Cup in his hands. Well played, MOTD2.
Nicholson and Arthur Rowe are the only managers to take the League title back to White Hart Lane. He proved difficult to replace after his retirement and returned to the club when Keith Burkenshaw took over, in an ‘advisory’ role, effectively becoming one of the first to successfully take on the Director of Football role. Sir Matt Busby had moved to the United boardroom after he stepped down but his shadow was deemed by successors as looming large across the club. Perhaps that was down to the calibre of the men who followed but it seems that the appointment of Tommy Docherty finally solved whatever the problem was. That similar circumstances arose when Sir Alex Ferguson retired suggest that United have never come to grips with replacing successful managers.
That may not be peculiar to them, we will be finding out if Arsenal are any more adept at the manoeuvre when Arsène retires. Sir Chips may have taken a cheap shot at his peers at Old Trafford but let’s be honest, there is precious little reason to believe the current Arsenal board are going to handle the situation any better. Keswick’s answers at the AGM provide more grounds for concern than confidence that they will get it right.
Much of that will depend on Arsène’s own plans. Is he thinking of moving upstairs or moving on? There are strong reasons to believe both are plausible outcomes, good reasons for and against either outcome. Over-arching all of this is the type of manager who replaces him. Arguably the biggest mistake that United made was appointing a ‘mini-me’ of Ferguson when he retired. The trouble was that the aura around David Moyes quickly vanished and the notion of him being Ferguson-lite was quickly dispelled with the absence of success. He failed for a number of reasons; the squad, himself, the improvement of others. There can be no mistake that the seismic change around the club was poorly handled by the board. Whatever preparations they made were, from the outside looking in, badly handled. Perhaps they thought the closeness of their public personas meant the Moyes would slip into the role seamlessly. Whatever it was, they got it horribly wrong.
Sir Chips and co take note. Inertia, burying your head in the sand; they rarely work and in the size of the change at Arsenal which is coming, planning ahead is necessary. Not guaranteed to work, granted, but not planning is doomed to fail.
History suggests that Arsène will see out the remaining two and a half years of his contract. It’s hard to see what events would tip him over the edge of deciding to break the habits of a lifetime and I genuinely can’t imagine a situation where Kroenke or any of the directors would terminate his contract before its’ conclusion. Indeed so in awe is the majority shareholder and board that renewing the deal before it reaches its conclusion strikes me as the most plausible of outcomes. Given that Wenger admitted he was undecided about his future until after the FA Cup win over Hull City in May, it would be interesting to know what plans the board had made to replace him? Were candidates sounded out or was there confidence the manager’s self-doubts were misplaced? Or was that confidence just paralysis over the fear of change.
It is an altogether different argument over whether a manager should allow one trophy to hold so much sway in his decision.
Arsène has previously mentioned plans to return to France and enjoy his dotage. Maybe a phone call from the Fédération Française de Football would be more appealing at this time of his life. It seems unlikely that he would be appointed Head Coach but the very reason why not – age – offers the explanation why he might find the role most attractive. Is it any less intense than club football? A succession of England managers have suggested it is in terms of day-to-day involvement with players but I suspect the media coverage will be little different.
That presumes he leaves Arsenal. Just as the renewal of his contract split the support, appointing Arsène to a seat of the board may well do the same. In either outcome – director or departure – there are positives and negatives. You can argue with yourself for hours on the subject if you are so inclined.
As much as the man is the problem, so are the directors. If they, as Sir Chips observed, either keep quiet or back him to the hilt as a manager, how subservient will they be if he is a director? If Arsène, as a Director of Football or any other board role, disagreed with the manager – assume it is on a fundamental point – would his fellow directors have the stamina or the stomach for an argument with him? I am entirely unconvinced by their will or desire to do so. But this is a board who, let’s not forget, is inexperienced in football matters and a man of Arsène’s experience would enhance that no end. Then again, these are men who are able to galvanise people into supporting a return to the board of former directors, despite his obvious involvement in creating the current ownership scenario. Some things are seemingly willing to be overlooked by all sides. Perhaps the answer is the age-old football supporters response, “Sack The Board!“, repeated ad infinitum?
Perhaps Arsène’s biggest strength in the position of Director of Football is his weakness. We presume he has the contacts book that would open doors for us but his naturally conservative approach to player valuations is viewed as one of the reasons which led to the negotiations on transfers being passed to others. His re-involvement in this aspect would on the face of it be a retrograde step despite being a part of the tradition DoF role. Perhaps that needs to be re-invented at Arsenal?
In all of this, the impact on players has to be considered. The balance in the squad has changed from the Fabregas-era. Back then, too many were in awe of the manager, the relationship frequently spoken of in parental terms. It proved to be one hell of a dysfunctional family. Even so, Wenger’s departure from the managerial role may be best served by an ambassadorial role in the club, one where his presence is not seen on a daily basis around the environs of The Emirates, Colney or any other premises. You wonder if Ferguson’s shadow loomed over Moyes too much; I certainly can’t imagine Van Gaal tolerating any thing of the sort.
Who replaces Arsène? It’s probably too far in the future to say with any certainty. Some like Klopp remain in people’s minds for time, others such as Coyle, Martinez tend to be flavours of the month. I wonder which one Paul Clement will be for reports this weekend anointed the former Chelsea coach as Arsène’s chosen heir apparent. I can’t keep up with it all, the last time I read about anyone with that title, it was Dragan Stojkovic. Perhaps Clement’s nomination is just a way of Carlo Ancelotti being lined up for the role, bringing his assistant with him. Who knows, football politics offers refuge to the most implausible theories which can never be ruled out no matter how fantastic they may seem.