I can already hear the objections to my next sentence. Twenty years is a long time in life. No, it isn't?
To those who have fallen over the deadly edge of life of 35-40, 20 years might seem like nothing because they remember moments like it was yesterday, well at least most of them, what do I know, I'm only 34...They may vehemently argue that I’m too young to understand, but let me tell you this: over 20 minutes, stop and think of what else has happened in 20 years. Quite a lot, hasn't it?
But if two decades are a long, long time in life then they are a lifetime in football: reputations are built and destroyed, history is paved, club identity is formed, and questions over legacy arise – none more evident than in the case of Wenger. He has gone through all the necessary ‘ticks’ to be a historic figure for Arsenal, and even the Premier League. But even he is not impervious to the pressures of a single negative result, and now doubts over his new contract have awoken long-forgotten gazes towards the future, and to the next man who can pull it off at Arsenal.
Whether it is Thierry Henry, Diego Simeone or another big name in football, it doesn’t matter to the point I want to make: that Wenger moving to a board position won’t work, not yet at least.
Out of years of trophy-less frustration, hunger has been growing in Arsenal circles for a drastic change. But if this hunger has been the reason for calls for Wenger’s head, on the opposite side another hunger pulls the opposite way–Wenger’s desire to continue managing, at least for four more years.
So what if he is given more power in the case that he moves upstairs?
Le Professor is famous for his obstinate ways of managing just as much as he is for his reluctance to give former players a piece of the managerial pie. Criticism for his meek approach to players, however, does in no way reflect his resilience in keeping and exercising all the power his managerial position gives him. Ask Steve Bould who, being a manly man, surprisingly often looks subdued sitting beside Wenger. So if Wenger was to move up a level, what would stop him from meddling with the everyday operations of any new manager?
Tuchel, Henry, Sampoali and Simeone are considered as potential candidates for the job.
From the vantage point of a board position, he can shove an elbow in on transfers, club ambitions and maybe even team selection. It is not like he lacks the hunger to keep on managing. On the contrary, his mid-week comments speak of an excess of it. The keyword here is ‘manage’, not ‘win’. Unfortunately compared with the fans’ ambitions of challenging for every trophy regularly, this slots somewhere right beside it, if not on top of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Wenger is trying to win trophies, but he is a bit too aligned with the board’s commercial appetites to make it work.
If Wenger is to step up, it would represent a victory for the status quo and will possibly ensure that new managers will face the unbearable situation of having to regularly defend their decisions from Wenger.
The reality is a new manager would require support from the board if the new raised ambition is to materialise. Pure managerial miracles such as Ranieri’s at Leicester only happen once or twice every 50 years. And please don’t tell me that 50 years is a short time because I might think you are 256 years old. Last time something like this happened, Blackburn won the Premier League in 1995, and it was in no small part because of Alan Shearer.
If Arsenal are to become an elite club challenging the likes of PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the board would have to harness every resource at their disposal–cough, cough..manov–an unlikely option for now as reports suggest the divide between the two biggest shareholders is too wide to cross.
Wenger’s inability to offer anything that could bridge that divide is the exact reason he shouldn’t become a director if a switch in club ambition is the main goal.
As it stands, Arsenal’s problems lay deeper than the manager, and no new motivational attitude can change the fact that financial matters will still rule.
Ambition and hunger are the keywords here. Look no further that Alex Ferguson and United for confirmation. While United has clearly taken a shift from a being trophy-oriented club to being a commercially oriented one, the contrast between their and Arsenal’s positions is that Ferguson quit when he felt burned out; Wenger though feels he’s got more to give. A switch to a bigger office, if he wishes it, will hardly change his ways.
And this is the reason he cannot move into the boardroom without first ‘taking care’ of his hunger to manage. Maybe go to another club, manage four or five years more and then return to direct at Arsenal. As it is, such a move would be a recipe for failure, ensuring future managerial instability and turbulent times at the club.
We must be wary taking things for granted from those who remember 20-year-old moments as if they were yesterday. Tradition owes its existence to that. And tradition is something Arsenal must break if a more stable transition to tophy success is to happen.