SOME Arsenal fans may be a touch disappointed that their club has not hired a marque manager, a black-suited, designer-stubbled touchline acrobat with heaps of attitude. Such people feel that an elite club needs to have an elite manager to match. But the top-name coaches, who go from club to club in a game of musical chairs, are few and far between, and what’s more, this highly-coveted band are, generally, getting older and some may be past their best. Still, however, the same names get thrown into the ring of discussion when a seat at the top table becomes vacant.
Arsenal tried to target an up-and-coming manager in Unai Emery. It didn’t work out for a combination of reasons – an unhappy club, a directionless member of the bulge bracket, an absent owner and a manager with challenging English skills. Communication was among the problems of the short-lived Emery era. Arsenal have slipped from being a Champions League club to a Europa League club. And now they have Mikel Arteta, a 37 year-old with no experience of management.
The solution could have been to lure one of the really top names to the Emirates to replace Emery, but it is mid-season, although the likes of José Mourinho (56), Carlo Ancelotti (60), Mauricio Pochettino (47) and Max Allegri (52) have all been available at some point.
The time will come when the likes of Mourinho, Ancelotti and Allegri will no longer be today’s men. While the closed-shop continues to operate, the younger managerial talent will never get a look in at the top clubs. People have been talking about Eddie Howe being part of a group of young managers with a different mindset that represent the future of the game, but clubs still cannot resist opting for the safer option. Brendan Rodgers was part of this group but it looked as though his time had passed, but after seeking refuge at Celtic, he came back to the Premier with Leicester. He’s having a good season but has he been tempted by Arsenal or Tottenham?
With Arteta, Arsenal have bought into the emerging trend of looking to a younger man with energy and ideas. He also ticks the “one of ours” box even though he’s spent the last three years as Pep Guardiola’s number two. Chelsea have Frank Lampard (41) and Manchester United have Ole Gunnar Solskjær (46), both former players keen to build their managerial career.
Occasionally, clubs do get the urge to break the cycle and try something radical. There are reasons for trying to prove to the public that they are innovative, brave or devil-may-care, but often there are financial implications and availability issues that drive a change of direction.
It’s a risk to appoint a relatively raw new manager, as Chelsea found our when they thought they had found Mourinho 2.0 in the form of André Villas-Boas. It was an experiment, but it failed. Tottenham stuck their neck out with Christian Gross in 1997 and nobody had heard of him. The relationship didn’t last long. When Arsenal appointed Arséne Wenger in 1996, not too many fans knew anything about him, but this was a gamble that paid-off handsomely.
Arteta’s arrival will keep most of the fans happy, because he was a respected and popular figure in his playing career and his return will cool the heat of discontent among the fans and take some of the heat off the board.
Arteta’s reputation will buy him no small measure of goodwill but it may not be until 2020-21 that he gets properly assessed. Arsenal’s squad needs an overhaul and a style of play that the Emirates faithful can understand.
Will he be his own man, or has the Guardiola approach rubbed off on him? If Guardiola is the man who has set the modern benchmark for football management, then acquiring his right-hand man would suggest Arsenal are hoping Arteta has been schooled the right way.
If he fails, Arsenal are back to square one, but if it works, the club will not only have kick-started a career, they could have found a long-term successor to Wenger who has been influenced by two of the outstanding figures in football management in the 21st century. What’s not to like about that?