Arsene Wenger might be the greatest thing that ever happened to Arsenal. But in order for the club to win championships, Wenger must give up his crown as the team coach
It’s quite ironic to make this claim in a year in which Arsenal, after a five-year drought, contends for the Premier League championship, but its manager, Arsene Wenger, is not a football coach. He is a football man.
The saying goes that not every good soldier can become a good general. the reason is that to become a good general one needs to have and obtain a different set of skills.
Using this in football terminology, it means that it is not enough to have a sweet dribble as a player in order to become a great manager. The position of a football manager requires also strategic thinking and motivational abilities, among other skills. It also works the other way: some of the great football managers in our time were average players.
When Jose Mourinho was asked to explain how he and other coaches with no playing experience like Rafa Benitez and Arrigo Sacchi are great managers, he
answered: “We had more time to learn.” Sacchi himself simply explained: ”You don’t need to be a horse in order to become a jockey.”
Barcelona’s coach Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff easily went through the process of becoming great coaches because already as players they were thinking like coaches, a skill that made them great players withoutÂ extraordinary physical advantage.
Arsene Charles Ernest Wenger is a great general. He was the leader behind the rebuilding of Arsenal into a huge football institute that it used to be, but he is not a football coach.
Let’s be clear about it: Wenger has made Arsenal one of the most consistent football clubs in Europe and put them on par in terms of
prestige and income with great European champions Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Liverpool. The financing of Arsenal’s rebuilding project came mainly from money that was generated by Wenger’s shrewd thinking.
That makes him Arsenal’s, and maybe the Premier League’s, greatest sporting director. Wenger excels in directing where a club should head with consideration to its resources and other objective measurement. However, a football coach needs to posses a different set of skills then a sporting director.
Wenger’s vision and understanding of economics doesn’t help Arsenal on the field. He won important tactical battles, but only when Arsenal’s roster was decorated with world-class leaders such as Denis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams. When they’ left the club, the squad was filled with talented young players. Their lack of experience led Arsenal to defeat in almost every important game in the last 6 years. Wenger could have fixed it early, but fixing it meant interruption with his vision.
Over the past five years Wenger has made countless tactical mistakes, mostly when it came to replace the right player in the right time. His tactical shortcomings during games are well documented in columns, fans’ blogs and even books, and they are all connected to the fact that like most visionaries, he was obsessed with his vision and failed to understand the wisdom of the crowds.
Arsenal apparent and desperate need for a goalkeeper, a commanding English style Centre Back, and a driving defensive midfielder, went unanswered by Wenger. Wenger’s stubbornness blinded him from the simple statistic according to which no club has ever won the English Championship without a British defender. He refused to acknowledge the fact that his team needs a more physical presence in matches against the StokesÂ and Boltons of the Premier League world.
Every year Arsenal is losing very important points in the championship race to lesser opposition because physical presence is not included in Wenger’s vision. The team might need a certain type of players, ones who know how to kill the game off, but these type of players can’t be found in Wenger’s vision. They might lead Arsenal to a championship, but they don’t go hand in hand with the club’s long term sporting and financial thinking.
A coach who only thinks about winning the next game, would have seen and act to solve these shortcomings. A coach would have even push the board to help him solve the problems. Arsenal needs this kind of coach. Without one, Arsenal will never play on par with Manchester United or Chelsea. Myles Palmer, author of “The Professor: biography of Arsene Wenger) wrote about it in his great blog, “a nice team that plays fluent football and scores goals but can’t win a trophy because they don’t have the bottle or organization to defend a lead and close a game out”.
Arsenal, a club with a pluralistic board, needs to separate its powers of sporting structure as well. After George Graham has left his post as Arsenal manager, the board
had decided that that no manager in the future would obtain so much power. But Wenger has morevpower now than Graham has ever had. It had worked well during the
pre-Mourinho era and the board could have trusted Wenger not to take bungs or have under the table deals like his predecessor, but for it to become a great team again, Arsenal needs a coach, someone who will workÂ together with Wenger along the lines Wenger’s vision, but also one who will do whatvneeds to be done in order to win games. Even if the win doesn’t match what the general had in his vision.