ARSENAL and Tottenham Hotspur may have something in common other than a shared geography – they have hosted influential and extremely gifted managers who operate on an autocratic basis.
Arsène Wenger was well known to be his own man, stubborn and convinced of his own methods and reluctant to change. In the end, Arsenal had to wait for Wenger to decide when it was time to go, although it is most likely he was pushed to fall on his sword. Tottenham are not in that position with Mauricio Pochettino, but the two managers have similar characteristics that, in the case of the Spurs manager, may yet reach a difficult flashpoint.
Football writer and lawyer, Alex Fynn, at a presentation at University of London, outlined the “10 sins of Arsène”. While acknowledging that Wenger helped to create modern Arsenal and for a while, his approach produced outstanding success, Fynn said the Frenchman had absolute power and was untouchable.
Arsenal’s core values began to desert them and Wenger became stuck in a cycle of being uncompetitive in the transfer market and consistent top four finishes with qualification for the Champions League. In doing so, Wenger was satisfying a board that didn’t necessarily want to spend money and was eager to make a profit each year and benefit from income derived from UEFA Champions League involvement.
Fynn said Wenger was unchallenged because he employed Arsenal “lifers” like Pat Rice and Steve Bould. He ignored any pressure to give former players of his own era a coaching role – notably Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, and his scouting structure made too many poor decisions. “He was also complacent and refused to adapt – you’re only a revolutionary once in your life,” said Fynn. “Arsène’s methods were copied and evolved by others and he was overtaken.”
For so long, Arsenal used a lack of money as an excuse for being uncompetitive in the transfer market, but Fynn said Wenger didn’t want to spend, didn’t have a coherent transfer policy and preferred to concentrate on youth. After some years of lacklustre market activity, Wenger finally relented in 2013 with the signing of Mesut Özil for £ 43 million.
The past four years have seen Spurs move into the “super club” bracket. From a financial perspective, their revenues are now just behind Arsenal’s total income. Interestingly, when Arsenal moved into their new ground, they pushed £ 1 million pounds ahead of Tottenham with every home game that passed. Tottenham now have their own statement stadium.
Spurs’ rise has been partly due to Pochettino who, according to Fynn is a natural successor to Arthur Rowe and Bill Nicholson, the men who created Tottenham’s much eulogised style. Spurs have made mistakes, though, notably in the way they wasted the money earned on Gareth Bale, opting for quantity over quality.
Pochettino’s record has been consistently good, but he has yet to win a single major honour at Tottenham. Yet Spurs have won many plaudits for their football, their commitment to young players and their role in the development of the England squad.
Fynn explained that Pochettino surrounds himself with Hispanic acolytes and rarely changes his backroom staff, which again suggests he is largely unchallenged. There is also a reluctance to push the boat out in the transfer market. Fynn also suggested there seems to be an inability to admit or learn from mistakes. All of these traits sound very similar to Wenger.
One of the reasons why Sir Alex Ferguson was so successful for so long was his ability to refresh his backroom staff and employ excellent assistants that made a significant contribution. Fynn said some of Tottenham’s players may have been with Pochettino too long, the same criticism that could be applied to his backroom team.
Nevertheless, Pochettino is an advocate of football played “the right way”, but in the long-term, the Argentinian may leave the Premier. “His heart is in Spain,” insisted Fynn.
In some ways, Wenger and Pochettino demonstrate that some managers – and indeed, players – can become bigger than the clubs that employ them. Nobody wanted to sack Wenger and Arsenal were never going to announce they had done so. But every manager has his time and Wenger had a lengthy innings that went on for too long.
Pochettino is still at a relatively early stage of his career but this is sixth season with Spurs. You get the feeling that Tottenham are terrified of the prospect of losing Pochettino, and who can blame them?
There is constant talk of Real Madrid being interested in him and if he gets to the point he feels he has achieved all he can at Tottenham, the prospect of a move to Spain may be too much to resist.