How do you replace Wenger?
If this is to be Arsène’s final season at the helm, and if the continued rumours are to be believed, the Frenchman’s reign will come to an end this summer, then where does the club go next? Hand on heart, very few Gooners had ever heard of the Nagoya Grampus Eight manager when he was ushered through the door twenty years ago (though subsequently, it’s incredible how many claim to have been charting his progress…) Casting your eye over the managers at Premier League clubs when Wenger took over shows just how forward thinking that move was:
Brian Little, Ray Harford, Ruud Gullit, Ron Atkinson, Jim Smith, Joe Royle, George Graham, Martin O’Neill, Roy Evans, Sir Alex Ferguson, Bryan Robson, Kevin Keegan, Frank Clark, David Pleat, Graeme Souness, Peter Reid, Gerry Francis, Harry Redknapp and Joe Kinnear.
The list reads like a who’s who of 1970s players, and managerial stalwarts of the 80s and 90s, with Gullit the only one from outside the British Isles. In the years since Wenger took over at Arsenal, the football landscape in this country has changed massively, and what went on at Highbury and then the Emirates has had a lot to do with that. In those 20 years, other Premier League clubs have gone through a staggering 232 managers, and gradually but definitively the tide has turned to foreign coaches. That is particularly the case with the bigger clubs, with marquee international managerial signings being as eagerly anticipated as those on the pitch.
So where do we go? Do we follow the trend, copy the likes of Manchester City, and (God forbid) Chelsea, or do we break the mould again, and go for “another Wenger?” There is no doubt it was a risk two decades ago. If that risk had failed though would we have had the balls to throw the dice a second time? Have we got them now to try it all again?
If he is to leave when his contract expires in the summer, it is hard to think that Wenger won’t have a say in his replacement, even if he doesn’t “go upstairs”. He will be handing over the reins at a crucial period, a similar one to when he took over himself. Online bookies BetStars currently has us 5th favourites to win the league, joint 5th favourites to win the FA Cup, and 8th favourites to win the Champions League. There are now 6 genuine contenders for the top 4, with another 3 or 4 chasing that pack hard. Whoever comes in is going to have to hit the ground running, which lends weight to the fact the board may well go for the safe option and go for a “name”. If Arsène does stay on at the club in some capacity however, it is unlikely an established manager would be happy taking the gig without complete freedom, i.e. without the Frenchman looking down and having a say in everything from transfers to playing style.
Wenger would prefer to bring someone in who he could mould in his own image, someone to carry on the philosophy that he has instilled into every aspect of the club. Whether that is the best way forward is debateable. Would a clean break be better? Whatever happens two things are for certain. Firstly Arsène Wenger’s legacy is intact, and secondly, it is going to be (another!) crucial and pivotal period in this great club’s history.
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