This piece originally appeared on www.sabotagetimes.com.
As is traditional, Arsenal fans are ending February mourning the passing of another season without silverware, preparing themselves for three months of dead rubbers and wondering what lies around the corner for their beloved Gunners. Although we have been here seven times before – and even as a neutral it feels like more than that – there is something exceptional about this season’s collapse.
There is less bitterness this time around: little angst, relatively subdued booing and very few supporters frothing at the mouths and demanding that half of the squad be summarily executed and buried in a mass grave at the Shenley Training Centre. It is almost as though the players’ readiness to surrender has moved osmotically into the minds of the fans.
Nonetheless, the question on everyone’s lips remains that concerning the future of Arsène Wenger. Over the past few years every Arsenal fan has become familiar with Einstein’s definition of insanity and has subsequently declared their club’s manager to be of unsound mind. This discovery has proved as difficult to accept as the trophy drought that preceded it.
Indeed, it looks increasingly as though there is no way back: the time has come for Wenger to go. Replacing him seems next to impossible but there will be plenty of candidates. Wenger acolytes Remi Garde and Dragan Stojković have previously been earmarked for the role, but fans will demand a bigger name in this time of crisis.
Here’s how we scored the favourites to succeed Wenger.
With fewer than six months left on his contract and after another season of failing to break through the Premier League’s glass ceiling, Everton fans are growing used to the fact that Moyes will seek pastures new at the end of the season. If Arsenal were to make him an offer, he would definitely listen. 10
More in the style of George Graham than Arsène Wenger, but that will suit many Arsenal fans after eight years of sterile possession and spineless defeats. There are question marks over Moyes’ reactive philosophy but with a higher calibre of squad available to him he should be more open to throwing caution to the wind and aiming to outscore the opposition. 7
One of the Scot’s big plus points: Moyes is a master motivator and his players are as committed off the pitch as they are on it. When he finally walks away from Goodison Park, expect the Toffees on the pitch to be as emotional as those in the stands. 9
This will perhaps be Moyes’ trump card in the eyes of the Arsenal board. Due to well-known financial constraints, he has mostly chosen to drive a hard bargain for players with potential and he has never spent big without recouping the money elsewhere. A dyed-in-the-wool Arsenal man. 8
This is, unfortunately, where Moyes falls down. He has never managed in the Champions League proper, his only winner’s medal is from a League One title won in 2000 and his record away to the Premier League’s recognised Big Four is played forty-eight, won zero. While he is recognised as a very good manager, few would ascribe true greatness to him at this point. 5
Final score: 39/50
Swansea’s League Cup-winning manager has reiterated his desire to stay in South Wales and keep working in a relatively relaxed environment but of greater import than his words is the fact that there is only one year remaining on his contract. The Swans’ frantic attempts to extend it are an acknowledgement that Laudrup is very much open to offers from bigger clubs. 8
Unfortunately, his short spells at Getafe, Spartak Moscow and Mallorca were characterised by a lax approach to defending which led to evident underachievement. Sound familiar, Arsenal fans? More recently, however, his reconfiguration of Brendan Rodgers’ metronomic Swansea side has added a killer instinct without compromising their ability to control games. Doubts remain over Laudrup’s true acumen but he is improving. 7
Not a particularly demonstrative man, Laudrup prefers to deal with problems in quiet, impersonal terms and his players have responded to his methods while the going remains good. The problem arises when things go awry: at Spartak Moscow he convinced neither the players nor the board that he possessed the determination required to reverse the team’s obvious decline. It seems Swansea is the perfect club for him in that respect: the club’s board provides the thrust – Laudrup simply points them in the right direction. 6
A key reason for Swansea’s success this season has been Laudrup’s brilliant dealings in the transfer market last summer. Spanish bargains Michu, Chico Flores and Pablo Hernández have been standout performers while Ki Sung-Yueng and Jonathan de Guzmán have added sophistication and flair to an already dominating midfield. However, it is worth noting that this was made possible by the sales of the club’s star performers from the previous season, suggesting that he would continue Arsène Wenger’s work in that regard. It could be painful. 8
While Laudrup is rightly the man of the moment, he would be an underwhelming successor to Wenger. He is still thought of primarily as a fantastic and decorated player and he will have to do a lot more than succeed in cup competitions with Getafe and Swansea for that to change. Furthermore, his spell at Spartak – a club of comparable domestic standing to Arsenal – was as bad as his time in Wales has been good. We simply do not know how good a manager he is yet. That said: he has undeniably magnificent hair. 7
Final score: 36/50
The Chilean is the incumbent manager of Málaga but has grown tired of the seemingly endless litany of broken promises and financial upheaval and is known to be planning a swift exit come summer. He has been linked with the Manchester City and Chelsea jobs but Arsenal would probably be the neatest fit in terms of a move to England: they have a technically gifted young squad with which he would enjoy working and the chance to link up again with Santi Cazorla, a player his current board “gave away” without his permission, will appeal. 9
Very similar to those used by Wenger: Pellegrini’s sides have a firm emphasis on retaining possession; attacking with short passes and swift positional interchanges; and defending as a collective/pressing from the front. If a smooth transition in terms of playing style was desired by the Arsenal board, he would be the obvious choice. 9
The one black mark on his glorious Villarreal tenure was his long-running feud with incomparable-genius-cum-petulant-child Juan Roman Riquelme, which ended with the playmaker returning to Argentina, never to return. The blame for this episode can hardly be apportioned to the manager, however: despite his Godlike talents, Riquelme has driven almost every manager under whom he has played to distraction. More recently, Pellegrini managed the insane mix of egos and prima donnas that is Real Madrid and had no problems. 9
While it is undeniably true that his successes at Villarreal and Real Madrid were facilitated by the kind of wanton spending that sees Arsène Wenger cry himself to sleep, there is no doubting that Pellegrini spends it on class. Furthermore, many of the talents signed at Villarreal, like Riquelme and Diego Forlán, represented huge gambles – talented individuals with questionable records or confidence issues – and therefore came cheap. Pellegrini turned these delicate flowers into rampaging colossi and made it look easy. 10
Despite leading Real Madrid to a record points total in 2009-10, Pellegrini was famously pilloried by Spanish sports daily Marca for an entire season simply because he was not José Mourinho. Not the most famous name outside of Britain’s football hipster circles, our press could conceivably hound him out of the Arsenal job simply for not carrying enough kudos – which, for a coach of his talent, is very sad. 6
Final score: 43/50
Frank de Boer
The Ajax manager has repeatedly stressed his loyalty to his employers but, like Michael Laudrup, he has one year left on his current contract and has delayed negotiations on extending his deal. The difference may be that while Laudrup has no real affinity to South Wales, de Boer is Ajax through and through. Nonetheless, he is a realist and a brilliant young coach: Arsenal would hope that a move to the Premier League and the chance to revive another fallen giant would appeal. 7
Having been raised a disciple of Ajax’s famous 4-3-3-or-die philosophy, de Boer almost exclusively plays that system. This is a plus: it would allow for a continuation of Arsenal’s current proactive style and his common sense would see him sign or develop a pivote to play the holding midfield role. His ideas remain effective: the schoolings given by de Boer’s Ajax to Manchesters United and City in each of the last two seasons are testament to that. 8
De Boer’s skills in this department have seen him succeed where other Ajax managers have failed in recent years. He has chosen his youngsters early, stayed loyal to them and demanded maximum dedication and professionalism in return. His demands are famously high and his given name is apt: when twin brother Ronald missed the decisive penalty in the 1998 World Cup semi-final shootout, Frank received his distraught sibling with the immortal words: “what the f**k did you do that for?” 9
Given Ajax’s sad relegation to also-ran status on the European stage, it is hard to know whether de Boer would deviate from the tried-and-tested develop-and-sell model that has supported both Ajax and Arsenal for the last two decades. Given his abilities as a motivator and a tactician, it seems likely that he would invest his energies in coaching the current squad to improvement rather than making wholesale changes. 7
De Boer’s situation is again comparable to that of Laudrup, although the memories of de Boer’s playing career are fast fading due to his swift development in the dugout. With consecutive Eredivisie titles under his belt and notable scalps claimed in Europe, expect him to be a prominent member of the managerial A-list before long. 8
Final score: 39/50
Destined to leave Real Madrid at the soonest possible opportunity, the Special One has spoken repeatedly and loudly of his desire to return to England this summer. He maintains property in London and has made no secret of his fondness for the city. Arsenal can provide an attractive financial package and the platform he needs to compete for major trophies: they just need to get there first. Make an early move and Mourinho is attainable. 9
Up until now, his has been the level to which tacticians across Europe have aspired. Only Pep Guardiola has consistently out-thought Mourinho and even he was outfoxed by the Portuguese eventually. However, his win-at-all-costs plan is rarely pretty and he finally appears to have been figured out: Real Madrid have been outplayed by relative minnows like Betis and Granada this season, while Jürgen Klopp destroyed him in the Champions League. Despite this, there is little doubt that he would still succeed handsomely in the Premier League. 9
The enduring myth is that José Mourinho walks into the dressing room and charms the pants off of his players, who then spend the time they have in his charge willingly running through whichever brick walls he points them at. There is some merit to this: the cores of his squads at Porto, Chelsea and Inter felt a strong emotional bond with Mourinho and he somehow convinced Samuel Eto’o to play as a defensive winger en route to Champions League glory in 2009-10. However, the spectacular failure to govern Real Madrid’s dressing room suggests that he may have lost the Midas touch. 9
Arsenal’s latest financial results showed that the Gunners currently have cash reserves of £123.3m. Mourinho would immediately spend that twice over in his quest to deliver silverware in May. He rarely develops young talent: that takes time and compromises the chances of immediate glory. There is no chance of him deviating from his methods and it will be a shock to Arsenal’s system should they decide to hire him. Many fans would argue that the jolt would be a welcome one. 7
The ‘Special One’ moniker may have been self-bestowed but it has stuck for good reason. One of the most prolific winners around, José Mourinho is the biggest box office draw in football management. If Arsenal were to hire him then almost all worries about ticket prices, recent failures and a poor squad would cease overnight. The Emirates would be a guaranteed sell-out for even the smallest cup game and the fans would be vocally behind their team – at least until they realise that Mourinho’s plan to ensure victory largely involves boring the opposition into submission. 10
Final score: 44/50
1. José Mourinho – 44/50
2. Manuel Pellegrini – 43/50
=3. Frank de Boer – 39/50
=3. David Moyes – 39/50
5. Michael Laudrup – 36/50