Arsène Wenger has done everything he can for Arsenal. He is a pillar at the club and forever the Arsenal will be grateful for his efforts. However, Gunners should fear the day after Wenger, who has been underachieving as a coach for too long. Arsenal, the team with highest priced tickets in the world, should already think and plan for the day after Wenger.
First, Arsenal need to think who can replace Wenger. The question is the same Manchester United has faced, and failed to answer, when Alex Ferguson left the club. For years, Ferguson was the sporting structure at the club, who now faces a crisis of identity.
The simple way to go about finding a replacement for Wenger is to understand that after the French manager, Arsenal will need two football men to replace him: a football/sporting director and a head coach.
Wenger is unique because he is a sporting director and a coach. He’s does not delegate like Ferguson used to do and, let’s face it already, his team is mostly reliant on individual magic the players he brought to England have to offer. Now, the difference between Wenger and a head coach is that a coach needs to worry about next game and focus all his energies on that. A sporting director should have a grander vision for the club.
Both should work together but some of their interests conflict, which, on some levels, is good for the dynamics of the club. One cannot do both jobs. You need the Yin and yang element for a good balance: The coach always wants to improve the squad; the sporting director offers brakes and a different opinion. The coach works for the present and the sporting director has an eye for the future. It’s part of the balance needed at every club/company.
As Jens Lehmann, Arsenal’s invincible goalkeeper, said it: “I think Arsene represents the club as no other. But I think, as well, sometimes the structure has to be not only on two shoulders or on one man; but sometimes you need to have a couple of people who define and control and monitor the progress of the club and the philosophy. Because particularly the clubs are always growing and the demands for a manager, they are growing. And if you have to do that always by yourself, I doubt that you can be successful”.
The fact is that even Wenger hasn’t won the title without his “football director”, David Dein. It’s safe to assume Wenger won’t win it again.
So, there are two answers to the question “Who can replace Wenger?”. A sporting director who will choose a head coach to work with him.
Liam Brady, for example, is an obvious candidate because of his experience and his Arsenal DNA. Ralf Rangnick, the German anglophile who is responsible for a revolution in German football (read Raphael Honigstein’s Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World) and today works for Red Bull at RB Leipzig should be a candidate. Thierry Henry has all the ingredients to become a great general manager.
There are plenty of other great team-builders out there. Juventus’ Fabio Paratici for example or Dortmund’s Michael Zorc, Napoli’s Riccardo Bigon and others. There are plenty of successful football men out there and Arsenal, with its financial muscle, should be able to tempt them.
Who can coach? There are a lot of great, offensive minded coaches out there: some young, some more experienced – that can work well with a sporting director, who will need to chose one. The point is Arsenal, as a professional football club, need to think about the day after Wenger, not fear it. It might seems like he’s going to stay forever, but his contract ends at 2017 and after this season, which will probably end in disappointment in the league and Champions League, it is clear that Wenger should not be awarded with a contract extension.
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