There Are No Ideal Candidates To Succeed Wenger At Arsenal
Trends are often important in football. We see tactical systems, recruitment patterns and models for running clubs that are inspired from elsewhere. Success breeds imitation, or at least opens others up to new ways of thinking. Just ask Gareth Southgate where he got the idea for England’s formation against Germany.
Like so much else in recent footballing developments, much of the imitation has been inspired by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. An emphasis on possession, the cultivation of non-physical central midfielders and an insistence on 4-3-3 has filtered throughout world football. But, Guardiola’s time at Barcelona also convinced clubs that hiring from within could work. A club legend, who had spent some time coaching with the younger squads could be a success.
The problem, though, is that Guardiola is unique, and Barcelona were possibly the greatest team to ever play the game. Their ‘model’, is very hard to replicate. Manchester United, for a while, thought about trying it with Ryan Giggs, who took over as caretaker and later worked as Louis van Gaal’s assistant. Giggs left Old Trafford when Jose Mourinho arrived, ostensibly to forge a career as a manager. He remains jobless. Inter tried it with Andrea Stramaccioni, who impressed with their Primavera. He did okay, in the beginning, but ultimately failed to qualify the team for Europe for the first time in 15 seasons. Inter’s neighbours Milan also tried it with Pippo Inzaghi, who had success coaching the youth teams. He now manages Venezia in the third tier. There are other examples around and very few are heartening.
Now, with Arsene Wenger struggling at Arsenal, there is talk of another. Thierry Henry, a pundit with Sky Sports, formerly a coach of Arsenal’s youth teams and assistant manager with Belgium, has admitted he’d like to coach the club. Few players are as synonymous with the successful portion of the Wenger years as Henry, who remains both a true great of world football and a Gunners legend. When he comments on Arsenal, it is usually worth listening.
Speaking to French broadcaster Canal Plus about the possibility of taking the Arsenal job, he said “Yes, but it’s not up to me. There are things you have to respect. When I say I want to coach them … it’s the club of my heart, yes, but that doesn’t mean you have a right”. Clearly, Henry would take the job but, as an attentive person, he is aware of the difficulties involved and his own personal lack of experience. “I just try to gather information, a lot of information, to perhaps eventually be a good coach,” he added.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Henry will ever be a good coach and, further still, no guarantee that Wenger is going to leave Arsenal this summer. But, if he does, the club are left with some difficult choices. Henry would please many fans but he may not be a good manager, while few others seem to be a perfect fit. Thomas Tuchel has been sounded out but, though an impressive coach, he is yet to achieve anywhere close to the success that Jurgen Klopp had at Borussia Dortmund. Another is Diego Simeone, who, it has been suggested, only wants to leave Atletico for his old club Inter. Then there is Max Allegri, a fine manager who has developed Juventus further since Antonio Conte left and managed to eke one last title out of an ailing Milan side. But the problem with Allegri is his relative lack of experience of actually constructing a winning side. His speciality is taking on sides that have already had past success and fine-tuning them, introducing tactical improvements and clever transfers to take his team to an extra level.
Moulding this Arsenal side into title winners is unlikely to be a quick fix. Their state of disrepair, and evident lack of mental toughness, is one of the prime reasons why Wenger’s last few season have been so thoroughly criticised. Arsenal are considered ‘soft’, unwilling to really battle. Reworking that mentality takes longer than one pre-season. If Wenger leaves, the task for the next incumbent looks huge. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any seamless options, any ideal fits.