Inevitably defeat against Blackburn Rovers polarised opinion about the manager’s future. Feelings were made clear at the final whistle following a poor performance. Yesterday saw the call for protests in the eighth minute of the first and second half of Tuesday’s match against Bayern, a more counter-productive, deliberately divisive and media attention-seeking action is hard to envisage. But before any forced change of manager should be contemplated, the question is who makes it? Ultimately, the sanction comes from Stan Kroenke, majority shareholder; nothing happens without his approval. Then again, when he does signal his consent, nothing happens.
And in any case, is replacing the manager the right answer to the questions being asked? Or maybe it should read, is replacing the manager right now the right answer? Should the board be the ones to retire first?
Arsenal’s board is ageing, here is no question about it. Beyond Ivan, they are all in the twilight of their lives. In itself, that is not a problem with experience necessary in any organisation; Messrs Hill-Wood and Friar certainly have that and should be elevated to ceremonial status but also available to offer advice if needed. The truth of the matter is that Arsenal have to change the board to allow for an orderly succession to take place in the manager’s office.
When Arsène decides to leave, the club will endure a seismic change. It is the end of an era, an unparalleled reign in the club’s history. At the same time, assuming that on the pitch fortunes do not change dramatically in the space of twelve months, players will come and go. The last thing the club needs is to be replacing the board immediately after that, to find the successors cannot work alongside the manager (and vice versa) or some personality clash emerges. What Arsenal need is an orderly change at all levels and stability at the top feeds downwards.
Equally, there is a chance that Wenger himself might find new bosses re-invigorating; that is by no means guaranteed but potential conflicts are easier to manage knowing whom the main protaganist at the club is rather than waiting for the change to occur. In some respects, having Wenger’s input into the process would be desirable from a footballing perspective but not necessarily in the best interests of the club. There are certain things which should not change, the infrastructure in place for the players for example but the club need a break with the past to reinvent itself without the shadow of Wenger.
Crucially though Arsenal cannot afford to have directors and owners who are in awe of a manager, they must have the strength of character to manage him through respect and not sating their own ego. To have timidity in the boardroom does not provide a challenging environment for the manager to work in. Whilst there is strength in the argument that Arsène should not have to prove himself, that respect ought to be immediately forthcoming, where there is no rigour in the interlocution, the same mistakes are repeated. To have someone persistently questioning his actions is not harmful unless there are no answers.
There are exceptions to every rule – and I’m thinking specifically Chelsea and Manchester City – most directors appoint managers on the basis that they will be successful and around for more than a year or two. Whether that comes to fruition depends largely on the patience of the board and the abilities of the manager in question. Even if the reality turns out to be different, I cannot see how any club can hope to develop with a short-termist policy which is probably the most persuasive argument of all; the current directors need to allow successors to bring in their own man in the same way that any other business would.
As we head into the last year and a half of Arsène’s contract, the club needs a shake-up. It needs the spark to return, if that is achievable most would like the manager to cock a snook at his detractors and resume his successes. The directors have presided over the move to the new stadium albeit relying heavily on the time and energy invested in the project by Danny Fiszman and Ken Friar. The change in the boardroom should have been made then, when The Emirates debut season ended, the perfect opportunity to start evolving into the new Arsenal. Gradual change is always preferable to its wholesale equivalent but it did not happen so now the owners are faced with a revolution that must start at the top. And it might not be a bad idea either.