There has been much debate around the structure of Arsenal’s hierarchy.
Many think a “director of football” could really improve the direction of the club, and ease the transition when/if Arsene Wenger ever stops being in charge at Arsenal Football Club.
Some are even calling for the return of David Dein.
When asked what he thought about it, Wenger dismissed the notion out of hand and mocked the idea.
But what exactly would one do and why is Wenger so opposed?
Arsene is doing too much
For over 20 years, Arsene has ruled Arsenal.
He has the final say on all transfers, contract negotiations, etc. For the most part, this has been a huge success. Take this account from Kim Kallstrom about his deal to come to Arsenal for more insight.
Nowadays, however, the financial aspect of football has become quite complicated. There are no longer “£20m players, £10m players,” etc. Both transfer fees and contracts have gotten out of hand, and Wenger seems a bit stuck in the past.
He has relaxed this somewhat in the buying of Özil, Sanchez, Xhaka, and Mustafi, but still seems unwilling to increase wages to modern heights. If Sanchez left on a free, he would undoubtedly command a ridiculously high price on the free market. Yet Arsene seems determined not to pay him fair market value.
If the club did not have the money, that would be one thing. But this is not the case. The move to the Emirates was specifically so that Arsenal COULD pay players that amount.
In the meantime, even though the profile of players has increased since first moving to the new stadium, the results have not improved accordingly.
Perhaps this is because Wenger runs EVERYTHING at the club (football-wise), and transfers and contracts are more time consuming and complicated than ever, that he has not been able to focus on tactics and come up with ways to beat his ever-improving opponents.
This is where a “director of football” could come in.
But what does one DO?
Confusion and misunderstanding tend to surround this position.
No-one can seem to agree on what exactly needs to happen to the hierarchy at the club. This model would complement Arsene, and maybe even save his legacy:
In American sports, pretty much every team has a “General Manager,” and/or a “President of Basketball/Football/Baseball Operations.”
This is someone who focuses on the money aspects (transfers/trades, contracts, etc.) while the manager/head coach is free to focus just on getting their team to win games.
Arsene sees this person as someone who would tell him what players he will have at his disposal, with no input from him whatsoever. This is a major misunderstanding.
The situations which bring the most success are when these two work in tandem. The general manager, or in this case “director of football,” builds the team around the manager’s specific needs and requests.
Arsene Wenger loves to play attacking football, and it sounds like his fear is that the director would do something rash—like spending all the money on defensive midfielders.
For instance, if Wenger decides that he needs an upgrade at left wing, he would tell the director of football what he wanted. The DoF would go find what Arsene wanted, show him the player he had found, and get Arsene’s approval. Then the DoF (NOT Arsene) would sort out the money.
Ivan Gazidis spent time in American sports working at MLS. This likely is his vision, and why he has repeatedly floated the rumour that Arsenal are considering hiring one.
Owner Stan Kroenke would also be familiar with this, but that makes the hilarious assumption that he actually cares about the club.
Together they would shape the vision of the club.
Not one over the other.
Focus on football
From what Wenger has said in public, his ego will not let him relinquish any duties whatsoever.
He wants to do it all himself.
This has seemingly been his downfall. Not only has ruling the club with an iron fist led to not meeting expectations, but it also has future ramifications.
Right now, Arsene is pretty much the entire structure of the club. No one is sure what Ivan Gazidis or anyone else really does, or how much input they actually have in football decisions.
So when Arsene goes (probably not this summer, but eventually), Arsenal will be left to not only find a new manager, but to suddenly have to figure out a new structure on the fly.
A director of football would help bridge the gap between Arsene and whoever the next manager might be. That way, when Wenger leaves the club, there are plenty of people in place to make sure the new man has everything he needs and can hit the ground running.
But perhaps most importantly, a director of football would let Arsene be free to focus on just that… football.
The manager should not care one bit what his players are making.
He should focus only on how they are playing.
Now, Arsene is, for whatever reason unlikely to want to do this. But if he were to, he could turn the results on the pitch around.
A director of football would let Arsene Wenger be free to grab that last Premier League title he so desperately wants, and save his legacy before he completely sours with the fans—if he hasn’t already.