Amidst the bluster over transfer “war chests” and “swoops” and being “ready to pounce” (why is the football transfer lexicon so contrived and couched in such aggressive terms?) there’s an issue bubbling in Arsenal’s cauldron this summer. Arsene Wenger has 12 months to run on his current contract. We already know the club’s position via the silky smooth delivery of Ivan Gazidis. They want him to extend his terms.
Or, if we’re to indulge tabloid transfer terminology, Gazidis is POISED! to SWOOP! in for Wenger’s signature by TABLING AN OFFER, after which presumably he and Wenger will be LOCKED IN TALKS! Doubtless Gazidis will remember to have his best Parker pen in his talons as he SWOOPS into Wenger’s office. We know that Arsene is very much a man of his signatory word and would only leave before 2014 in exceptional circumstances. But should Arsenal be offering him a new deal? It’s an emotive subject and one that doesn’t so much dichotomise our fan base as sever it in twain with a meat cleaver.
I’m already half wiping the digital spittle from my face as readers shriek ‘OF COURSE WE SHOULD / SHOULDN’T OFFER HIM A NEW DEAL YOU TWATBASKET!’ at their screens. When you retire your caps lock, visit the fridge for a chilled bottle of Kool Aid and loosen your defences a little (wouldn’t be the first time defences have been loosened under Arsene Wenger…I kid, I kid), there are good arguments for yay and nay to a contract extension. In the interests of the article, I’m going to straddle the fence and look at both sides of the argument.
Words such as ‘stability’ and continuity’ are often tossed around and they are obviously important to Arsenal. With Ferguson and Moyes having flown their respective nests, Arsenal are the by word for managerial security in England. Our identity is tied up in it more than any other club in the country. Whilst it is true the role of chairman is a largely decorative one, the appointment of Sir Chips Keswick to succeed Peter Hill-Wood suggests a desire for some steadiness after a few years of boardroom upheaval.
Keswick might feel like an inconsequential change, but had Stan Kroenke appointed his son Josh to the position, for example, the winds of revolution would feel brisker on the Arsenal air. The boardroom has settled for now and, for the first time in a few years, the playing staff has too. Boardroom revolution and the competitive landscape have made for a rocky couple of years for Arsenal and Wenger has not done a bad job in that time. He’s admittedly only achieved the bare minimum, but the bare minimum has morphed into a much more difficult challenge due to circumstances largely beyond his control.
It’s easy to be pithy about only having achieved our basest targets, but most managers and clubs slip below that once in a while. Inter Milan won the treble, including the Champions League, just three years ago. Last season they finished 9th in Serie A. It’s a little perverse to have expected Arsenal to win the league any time since they last managed to do so given the resources available to their rivals. Wenger’s big under-performance has been in the domestic cup competitions. Yet Wigan and Portsmouth have won F.A. Cups since our last silverware and it’s done little to assuage their ailing health.
Winning the Carling Cup didn’t save the jobs of Juande Ramos or Kenny Dalglish. The point is, the vast majority of managers oversee at least one jerk of the needle. Wenger’s consistency of performance is not to be sniffed at. We scoff at 4th place partly because we’re so used to it. You’ll never miss the water till the well runs dry. You could argue that having kept a steady hand on the tiller, Wenger now deserves to reap the benefits of Arsenal’s increased financial muscle with a settled playing squad.
There again, you could equally lay some of the lack of stability at his door. Cesc Fabregas was always going to return to Barcelona one day, but the indecisive dealing with the Nasri transfer made a bad situation worse, as did the trolley dash nature of our incomings that same summer. Meanwhile, the club freely admit that Robin van Persie didn’t join Manchester United for fiscal reasons. Ultimately, Arsene Wenger could not convince his captain and talisman that Arsenal were an attractive enough footballing option. He’s only been able to inspire loyalty from the overpaid.
Besides, you could ask if stability is now an antiquated requirement in the breakneck speed of the modern game? Most of Europe’s ‘super clubs’ change their managers annually and find their standing relatively unaffected. The willingness for Europe’s top players to join perennial ‘Year Zero’ clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea suggests that consistency is not even an attractive sell to transfer targets any longer.
There’s also an element of institutionalisation. We’ve become so demurred by the notion of stability that we’ve forgotten that there’s a big wide world out there. The prospect of change has become terrifying. There are young adults slinging back booze in your local who have never known another Arsenal manager. It’s understandable that the prospect of change is scary. Much like the queen dying, you know it’ll happen and soon, but you’ll still be shocked when it does. But that doesn’t necessarily mean change would be wrong.
Then of course, the ultimate question arises, who if not Arsene Wenger? Whenever I entertain this conversation, the names “Martinez” and “maybe Rodgers?” (always said apologetically) occur quickly enough to suggest there’s a shallow pool to choose from. City, Chelsea and United changed managers this summer and even a colossal club like United appointed David Moyes. Moyes may or may not prove to be a sagacious appointment, but nobody would venture that the United board would not prefer to be starting the season with Ferguson in charge.
Wherever you stand on this argument, it’s irrefutable that those charged with making the appointment have to sanction a superior candidate. The board shouldn’t countenance change until they are confident that they have a reasonable chance of getting somebody better. I’m not suggesting that such a candidate is impossible to source, you understand. There is a very fair argument that appointing somebody from Grampus 8 was a pretty audacious move that worked out well enough for us. But finding a man that satisfies the criteria of “better” and “available” is still not a simple task.
Wenger was meticulously sourced from Grampus 8, it wasn’t just a wild stab in the dark. We shouldn’t take for granted that we can plunder a footballing backwater for a little known heavyweight anymore than we should expect all of our transfer dealings to be as economically favourable as Santi Cazorla. This is a debate that inspires extremism, yet there are just so many grey areas. I think my own position would lean more towards renew than relinquish. I’m not sure I would be as bullish and as public about it as Gazidis has been.
We’ve been very forward about our financial muscle this summer. Yet an anxiety lingers amongst the supporters that Wenger still needs persuading to don a muscle vest and flex it. In fact, Arsene’s three most expensive acquisitions (Arshavin, Wiltord and Reyes) have all left question marks as to their impact. It’s difficult to judge when viewing the relationship from the outside, but I think I would be a bit cuter and perhaps see how the summer and the beginning of Arsenal’s season pans out.
If the manager makes a good fist of the market and the campaign begins positively enough, then I might SWOOP! Wenger has never been averse to making Arsenal wait for his signature and he must surely know that he would only be sacked before 2014 in exceptional circumstances. It would amount to “friendly pressure” on Gazidis’ part, but there exists an amicable tension in any good executive relationship. Sometimes it brings that little bit of extra focus. LD.
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