One of the things I’ve been curious about was how this new football executive dynamic was going to work when Arsene Wenger’s time at the club eventually came to an end. It’s now something we’ll see soon enough, as we now know the manager will depart at the end of the season.
It becomes more and more clear that this is not a decision he made of his own volition, it was jump or be pushed, and it was inferred to me that Stan Kroenke’s mind was made up when there came an ultimatum from members of the board who told him ‘It’s him or us’.
Some say this happened as far back as a month ago, but my understanding is it was more recent than that. It appears to have gone down in the last week, leading to Friday’s announcement from the manager. However, you can’t have watched his press conference and come away with the idea this was what he wanted.
His wonderful line about not needing to die anymore was, for me anyway, a direct pop at Ivan Gazidis for his press conference last week. The chief executive presided over an increasingly funereal meeting with the fourth estate, refusing to elucidate on what had happened and why, and telling people Arsene himself would expand on Sunday pre and post-West Ham.
Wenger said after the game:
I had the feeling of assisting at my own funeral. People speak about how you were, it is a little bit interesting. I don’t need to die anymore, I know what it is.
I don’t think it’s in Wenger’s nature to create conflict that will reflect badly on any aspect of Arsenal, at least not as long as he’s still there, but you don’t need to be an expert to read between the lines there to see what he’s getting at.
And now, as I’ve written before, and as Tim Stillman points out in this piece, the ball is very much in Gazidis’ court. There is no hiding place anymore. Wenger has been a wonderfully effective shield for a long time, taking the metaphorical bullets – some of which were definitely and fairly aimed at him, but some of which should have been fired towards a board which has been impotent and ineffective for too long.
Now, they’ve made their move, Gazidis has made it clear with his press conference appearance that he is the man who will be making the decisions, and on those decisions he will now be judged. The appointments of Sven Mislintat as Head of Recruitment and Raul Sanllehi as Head of Football Relations (I suspect he’ll be renamed Director of Football as soon as the manager is gone) are long overdue, and if we are to make the transition from a legacy manager like Wenger to the new era of far more temporary head coaches successfully, we need these two men to be good at their jobs.
I really hope they are. I also hope that they are all singing from the same hymn sheet, and pulling in the same direction, but in situations like this – especially in organisations like football clubs – people look to make their own mark. In an ideal world Sven will find the players, Raul will do the deals for the players, and Ivan can stand there looking all happy when we announce them, but nature abhors a vacuum and make no mistake we’ll have one when Wenger goes this summer.
It wouldn’t be uncommon for those waiting to fill that gap a bit, take a bit more territory, ensure they have a bit more influence. Gazidis, I believe, has become quite aligned with Josh Kroenke, whose presence in London since early this year – to learn the Arsenal ropes – is certainly an interesting sidebar to what’s happened in the last week. Is it coincidence that this decision has been made since he’s been around? Probably not.
He’s been a member of the board since 2013, and with Papa Stan all tied up with LA and his US interests, he may well have been given the keys to the London ‘franchise’. And there will be those who think that in calling time on Arsene Wenger, he’s doing what needed to be done. Like many, I’ve certainly felt we needed to go in a different direction, and despite the very understandable outpouring of affection and sentimentality towards the boss, I still don’t think it was the wrong decision.
The next big thing for them is, of course, the successor, and while I don’t know who it’s going to be, a key consideration to the appointment is to ensure it is as far from divisive as possible. This is a fanbase that needs some healing, which is why the idea of someone like Brendan Rodgers was so ludicrous. He might have his champions, but giving him the job would be essentially pouring salt on the wounds.
And while we can’t take speculation as gospel, perhaps there’s an insight into how the new executive committee – if we can call them that – view things in this Sky Sports article. It suggests Ivan Gazidis wants Mikel Arteta to take over, Sven is a fan of Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco who is with Schalke, while Raul is keen on a man he knows well from his Barcelona days, Luis Enrique (described to me recently as a Spanish Jose Mourinho, but less likeable and with much less charm *shudder*).
So that’s one job they have to get together and get right, and while it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a divergence of opinion and options, if each man has his own candidate it could lead to conflict as well. Then they have to face up to what is a massive summer of work in rebuilding the squad.
We’ve invested heavily in the attacking areas of the pitch in the last 12 months, but midfield and defensive recruitment is an absolute necessity and you could make a strong case that we need to find a new goalkeeper too. Any new manager is going to want funds to spend on players, and these days players don’t come cheap.
Already our expectations are being managed by overnight stories that unless we sell, we’ve got a transfer budget of just £50m because of how much we’ve spent in recent times, as well as handing big money deals to Mesut Ozil and the new arrivals. In this current market, £50m isn’t what you’d called a war chest. It’s more of a skirmish pot or a melee bucket.
The idea of offering any top class manager that kind of trifling budget for players is basically absurd, and even an up and coming new coach would want more than that to act as a kind of safety net. There’s no question Arsenal is a club with massive potential, but unless there’s a willingness to invest in the squad properly, it will be hard to attract a candidate capable of moving us in that direction.
What worries me is how they might raise funds for new players, and that’s through sales. Flogging off the deadwood won’t raise much, so shifting a couple of key assets would give a new manager more to play with, but if you sell the likes of Hector Bellerin and Aaron Ramsey then you’re not making your squad stronger, you make it worse before you start investing.
So, there’s plenty to contend with, and for the first summer ever it will be the board, the chief executive etc, front and centre. If our transfer business is poor, or takes ages, it’s no longer because of Arsene Wenger’s lack of decision making or our inability to negotiate properly because of Dick Law’s latest escapades. It’s certainly going to make things interesting, and there’s a lot to do.
There are some out there who saw Wenger as our only impediment to success, as if his departure would somehow ensure the title would come back to North London. That’s a long way from the truth. Whoever comes in has got a big job on their hands. An exciting job, a job with the great potential given the stature and resources of this football club, but it’s a long, long way from being an easy one.
For some extra reading this morning, check out this piece from Lewis Ambrose who writes about the manager’s situation as someone who has only every known Arsene Wenger in charge of the club. I’m sure it will resonate with many, even those outside of that generation.
And I’ll leave you with yesterday’s Arsecast Extra which is very Wenger focused as you’d imagine, and there’s good chat in there about him, the whole situation, and how it feels. Happy listening, please subscribe and share if you like it.