Following Arsene Wenger’s departure, Rowan Janjuah discusses the potential candidates who could succeed him.
‘Arsène who?’ read a once pertinent Evening Standard headline n 1996, a question that will never again be asked in the Premier League. Such is the legacy that Arsène Wenger has left not only at Arsenal, but for English football in general. The way the game is played today, both in terms of professionalism and style, owes a lot to one man.
There is no doubt that boldness is exactly what Arsenal fans want from their new manager
Finding a successor to such a stalwart, then, was never going to be easy. Fortunately for us, Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s chief executive, recently gave an almost programmatic statement over what he wants for the next Arsenal manager, saying that the club will take their time and make a ‘bold’ appointment. There is no doubt that boldness is exactly what Arsenal fans want from their new manager, as it would only be natural to hire a manager with an intense and attractive style of play to build on the success of the Wenger era.
The problem arises, however, when we look at the dearth of readily available, ‘bold’ coaches. Thomas Tuchel, the former Borussia Dortmund manager, was arguably the ideal replacement for Wenger, bringing youth and pace to a talented but stagnant team. However PSG, unsurprisingly, were quick to the party, and saw the opportunity to hire him. It seems certain that he will be headed to Paris. We must survey, then, which options is left, but, as we shall see, it seems like that if Arsenal really want to be ‘bold’ they may well have to think outside the box.
The bookmakers’ favourite for the job is former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique. Enrique was approached by Chelsea also, and has spent the last year out of work, having allowed his Barcelona contract to run out in the summer. The Spaniard, 47, won the Treble in his first season at the Nou Camp, added another La Liga title and two more Copa del Reys to the trophy cabinet before leaving. He also has youth on his side, which would seem to be part of Arsenal’s policy for players and coaches alike. Despite his success, however, many remain sceptical of Enrique, and it is easy to see why. Despite his trophies, he did have a front three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez at his disposal. The way his teams play football, both at Roma and Barcelona, is very direct. At Barcelona, it was often simply a case of winning the ball and getting it into the front three. Whilst this can glean success with quality players (which Arsenal have), a problem that Enrique has had is that his style becomes very predictable very quickly. Moreover, it would seem incongruous for Arsenal and Wenger to spend 22 years building a club founded on footballing philosophy, but then hire a coach whose style of play is entirely different. For very similar reasons, we can discount Ancelotti, whose man-management is brilliant but his ideas are no longer innovative, and the outsiders’ pick of current Chelsea coach Antonio Conte.
In fact, the cognitive dissonance between the available, high-quality coaches and Arsenal’s desired brand of football is also an issue for the man a lot of fans want to take over, the Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri. Although he is young, has many years ahead of him, and already is very successful, he is an open proponent of ‘parking the bus’ to grind out results. He is a pragmatist first and foremost, albeit a successful one, and that is not what Arsenal seems to be looking for.
Julian Nagelsmann, the Hoffenheim manager, is perhaps the most optimistic but perfect candidate for the job.
Julian Nagelsmann, the Hoffenheim manager, is perhaps the most optimistic but perfect candidate for the job. He was the youngest manager in Bundesliga history at 28. When Nagelsmann took over the club in February 2016, Hoffenheim were 17th in the table. But somehow, he avoided relegation, finished in an improbable fourth the next season, and now, even after being raided by Bayern Munich in the transfer window, they still sit in fourth now. Moreover, Nagelsmann’s teams play with flair, typical Bundesliga energy, and flexibility: a near perfect fit for Arsenal. The only worry is that Nagelsmann is such a phenomena that he is already being watched by European giants such as Bayern Munich, who are inclined to give him a little more time at Hoffenheim before making their approach. For Arsenal to poach him, speed and luck are of the essence.
In a totally different vein, two former players are being talked about: Mikel Arteta (currently Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City) and Patrick Viera, the former club captain and current manager of New York City.
The latter has management experience and would automatically have the backing of the fans, but in order to prove your credentials in the MLS you would have to do outstandingly well, and Viera hasn’t really turned any heads. Arteta, who has been openly advocated for by Guardiola, will probably be the ideal coach for Arsenal, but only in a few years. As the current assistant to Guardiola at Man City, who Arsenal would snap up ahead of any other coach in the world right now if they had the chance, his brand of football is exactly what Arsenal want. But, not only is he under-qualified for a full management job, but he is totally inexperienced. Perhaps Arsenal could look to him in 5 years’ time, perhaps.
In a totally different vein, two former players are being talked about: Mikel Arteta and Patrick Viera
Viera was originally supposed to be the eventual Manchester City manager, but it would seem as if City’s go-to man in the event that Guardiola left would be the Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri. His brand of football is exciting, fast and noticeably brave. He is also one of the most underpaid managers in the football world, so a lucrative deal from London would be tempting. Also. his current contract has a meagre €8.5 million release clause. So, perhaps if Arsenal act quickly enough, they still have the players, the history and the culture to attract the very best in innovative football management.