All three of you who have read my columns on a regular basis will know that I am not an overly sentimental chap, and the recent Mikel Arteta rumours suggests Ivan Gazidis isn’t either.
My opinion that Thierry Henry shouldn’t have a statue outside the Emirates Stadium is well documented, even though his goal against Leeds might have been the best 30 seconds of football ever seen at that ground.
Was he a great player? Yes. One of Arsenal’s best ever? Absolutely! Was there a rush to build him a statue? Not particularly.
There are five statues outside the Emirates Stadium, one for Herbert Chapman, Ken Friar and three more for players that, whilst great in their own way, are easily remembered by people today who are 35 years old.
These aren’t a representation of the player pool Arsenal have had at their disposal over their illustrious history, but more of a reminder to their current season-tickets holders of the glory years they just lived through. If Henry deserves one, then so does Alex James, Cliff Bastin, Liam Brady, David Rocastle, and so on.
I bring this up, because earlier this week the Telegraph reported that Mikel Arteta is in contention to be Arsene Wenger’s successor. It was a report that was well-received by Arsenal fans, if this is anything to go by. Ex-player, currently working under one of the best managers in world football. What more could you want, eh?
Erm, someone with a track record would be nice, for a start. I can see why Arsenal fans would want Arteta, but if they wanted an ex-player who’s been an assistant to one of the world’s best managers, why not give the job to Steve Bould?
Same thing, right? Or is Bould now tainted by association to Arsene Wenger in the same way Ryan Giggs is tainted by association to Louis van Gaal? That would be desperately unfair, but the desire for a clean slate and a fresh approach if Arsenal fail to meet expectations will leave no room for sentimentality for those currently employed at the club.
There’s also the fact it’s not just any manager Arteta is currently working for, it’s Pep. The idea that Arsenal could get the next Guardiola is a tantalising one, but let me run the following list of names past you:
- Brian Kidd
- Steve McClaren
- Carlos Queiroz
- Rene Meulensteen
- Mike Phelen
All five managed to secure managerial jobs, primarily based on the fact that they were Sir Alex Ferguson’s number two, but the most the quintet managed to achieve by themselves was McClaren’s Dutch title win with FC Twente.
The premise that working under a manger will transfer all of their best attributes and add them to someone else is alluring, but very seldom works. Liverpool and Barcelona employed a boot-room policy at differing times to great success, but those managers were often handed the best team in Europe to manage.
It’s to Guardiola’s credit that he’s managed to have success away from Lionel Messi and company, but having that success at Barcelona in the first place is what helped him get players like Arjen Robben and Kevin de Bruyne to buy into his methods.
If Arteta is to succeed Arsenal, then he’ll have to do it without any name recognition that demands respect or a track record of encouraging his team to play attractive football. He can’t do what Guardiola does, which is show a video of Barcelona or Bayern Munich and say ‘I did that.’.
He can’t do what Zinedine Zidane did at Real Madrid, which is relate to global superstars on a equal footing and tell them that if he could do something, so could they. That’s a significant handicap to someone at a club like Arsenal, a club who sees itself as part of the elite in Europe.
So why would they do it?
This is the most fascinating part of this story, because the lede has been well any truly buried by the sound of rose-tinted glasses being dug out from cupboards. The story here isn’t that Arsenal are considering hiring Arteta after Wenger leaves, it’s that the board aren’t afraid of pissing the manager off by suggesting the search is already on for his replacement.
We’ve seen over the last few months that Ivan Gazidis has been building the foundation of a succession plan, with the appointments of Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi to prominent jobs being the major components. But there’s a huge difference between designing a plan for the future, and executing on it.
With Arteta’s name being front and centre of the report, it would indicate that not only are Arsenal thinking about a future after Wenger, they’ve already got an idea on who they want. It actually doesn’t matter that it was Arteta named, it was the fact someone was named at all that is key.
For all of Gazidis’ previous comments about being a catalyst for change, this is a huge departure from that. All of his previous efforts were designed in the knowledge that Wenger would have to sign off on any and all decisions, so there was never any reports on succession, future managers or anything like that. It was always ‘We will review the situation at the end of the season.’
This isn’t ‘reviewing the situation’. This is Gazidis letting everyone know that the ‘situation’ has changed, and it’s not a case of ‘if Wenger leaves’, but ‘when’. You don’t leak that someone could be a replacement for the manager if you’re under the impression you don’t need to find a replacement.
If this report was wrong, we’d have heard from Gazidis that he has full faith in Wenger and that there was no shortlist to replace him. Have we heard from Ivan? Nope. It is clear he means business. At a time when Arsenal fans are feeling sentimental, the board is feeling anything but.