In the slew of “10 things which will happen when Arsène Wenger leaves Arsenal” articles which will appear over the next few months, can we please have agreement that each list begins with “1. Arsenal Football Club will continue to exist.”
And it will, no matter what you claim. In common with every other club, the floating fan will move on, replaced by others around the globe. It’s the natural cycle of life in a global football club in the modern era. We saw it happen after the Emirates was built, we’ll see it again. Who knows, things may get worse, they may get better, they may even stay the same. But Arsenal Football Club will still exist.
Arsène was the perfect manager for the club in the Premier League era but just as football changed from the mid-90s onwards, it has changed now; the natural cycle is at an end. He’s adamant that he will still manage next season and good luck to him. If it’s here, then I honestly don’t see anything other than an already bad situation off the pitch, getting worse. It’s too far gone, and neither he nor the board has the goodwill left to reunite the fanbase.
The wheels on the bus
Tim Stillman made a very good point in The Guardian; Ivan Gazidis threw Arsène under a bus in 2011 when he made the statement that it was the fans to whom the manager was accountable. There’s so much wrong with that concept but most importantly, it underlines the feeble leadership at the club. Fear of change, and the consequent erosion of fiefdoms, holds the club back.
Put a director of football in situ and the manager’s immediately accountable at board level. Incredibly, the most ‘European’ of managers refuses to work with one despite knowing that it is the accepted model in Europe. And successful too; all the Champions League winners in the past decade, bar Manchester United had/have one.
Some of them are very self-aware, knowing that what works at one club, doesn’t work in another. That’s what Arsenal Football Club has to do; find their way in a post-Wenger world. Changing the manager is the catalyst for an overhaul of the club; whether the will exists to do that is one thing but more importantly, are the directors capable of doing it? On the football side, a new manager will bring in new staff. Most of the coaches will leave with one – possibly Steve Bould – remaining as a conduit to the players, initially at least.
A new broom, changing everything, was the fundamental mistake David Moyes made at Old Trafford. A club already reeling from Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, had a complete overhaul from a manager whose PR had him as ‘Ferguson-lite’ when he’s proved to be anything but.
No Arsène Wenger 2, the first version of someone else
That’s the most important lesson to learn; you’re not going to find Arsène Wenger 2, just a manager who will work within the constraints placed on him from the outset. If it’s laid out clearly before you begin, there’s no reason it won’t find a level of success, however that is defined. The one certainty must be that it is a manager who knows the politics of ‘big clubs’. Oh, there will be heart-wrought pleas for English managers to be given a chance, I am sure. There are now with Eddie Howe’s cheerleaders in the back pages, but nationality isn’t a qualification for doing a particular job.
I’m well aware that Wenger wouldn’t have been appointed to the Arsenal job at the time if those criteria were laid down. The world has changed since then as well as the club and, more importantly, he didn’t come in and replace a manager whose reign was ending in its third decade. That’s the crucial point United – once again – missed. Just as when Matt Busby left, they made a pig’s ear of replacing Ferguson. Arsenal need to heed that warning.
Getting it right now would give a lasting platform for Arsenal Football Club to move to the next level, of becoming challengers. It’s a huge responsibility for the board to shoulder and so far, their performance is unconvincing. The contract offer was made last year; fine if Arsène wants to take time to decide but six months – if as he said yesterday he was waiting until March/April time – underlines their weakness; this is the decision which is best for Arsenal Football Club not Arsène Wenger. The two aren’t mutually inclusive.
Coincidentally, April is the time decisions will be made at other clubs, if not before, should Champions League exits occur.
Who says he’s leaving
He didn’t yesterday.
Reading anything of substance into his words at press conferences is a risky business. He’ll field a “normal” team on Monday, an answer which is open to interpretation. Is that a normal XI or one he normally fields in this competition?
Likewise his claims that he will still be a manager next season. The only answers he could give were the one he gave and “I’m retiring”, which is what the assembled hacks wanted to hear. Not because they don’t like him but it gives them a huge story to write. And the opportunity to spend a year in Paris, following Arsène’s career at their newspaper’s expense. “What about a series on Wenger post-Arsenal? I’d have to move to Paris, of course…”
But let’s not forget where we came in this morning. Rule #1: Arsenal Football Club will still exist.