If Arsene Wenger is to go, Arsenal can learn from Man Utd's experience

Friday March 28th, 2014

Two managers synonymous with their clubs: Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and retired Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
Matthew Peters/Manchester United/Getty Images

If the problems at Manchester United have taught us anything, it's that succession planning is not easy. Whether Sir Alex Ferguson did truly choose David Moyes to be his successor, or it was a tale spin-doctored to allow the Scot more time to find his feet at Old Trafford (and that has worked - without the Ferguson support, he may have gone in December), United post-Ferguson is in far worse shape than its directors could ever have envisioned.

While a case study of one is hardly much to go on, Arsenal could learn a lot from the United situation. The longer Arsene Wenger continues to stall on a new contract, the less certain it becomes that he will keep his post at the end of the season. Regardless of whether Arsenal wins the FA Cup, have recent results convinced Wenger that the time might soon be right for him to bid adieu? And would a failure to capture the FA Cup with just Wigan, and either Hull or Sheffield United standing in the way be the final straw?

Here are a few handy tips for the Arsenal board to think about if Wenger's time is indeed nearing its end, or for the time down the road when it eventually does.

If Wenger goes, he goes for good...

Although he is responsible for every facet of the club, even helping design the Japanese garden at the club's training-ground, Wenger would need to make a clean break if he steps down as coach. While the presence of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford match cannot be said to have affected United's performances this season, the narrative layer that brings, with incessant shots of Fergie looking like a disapproving parent at more dropped points, simply heaps more pressure on the new coach and does not help when bad results come along.

Wenger may be offered honorary presidency of the club - fine, take it - but if he was offered a director of football role, it should be hoped that he will turn it down.

...but still keep some continuity

It still seems bizarre that United lost its two most important figures at the same time, with chief executive David Gill leaving in the same summer as Ferguson. That left not only a rookie mega-club coach in Moyes in charge of the sporting side, but Ed Woodward running everything else; and in that first summer, both men had a shocker.

Moyes dithered in the transfer market and Woodward failed to close deals. The squad suffered for its recruitment and in January, fared little better; United ended up spending £64 million on Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, and we know how that has worked out (so far). Moyes also ditched many of Ferguson's coaching staff, which surprised and upset his new players, who are reportedly not impressed with one of the new coaches.

Some continuity is crucial in times of transition, and if Wenger were to leave Arsenal, it is vital that chief executive Ivan Gazidis would still be there. Assistant coach Steve Bould should also remain on staff as a link to the new man.

Don't let Wenger appoint his successor

Wenger may know Arsenal better than anyone, but does he know the European coaching market as well? Is he better qualified than his board of directors to appoint a new coach? And will he be dealing with that coach on a day-to-day basis after that appointment? So often in football, the rules of normal business life do not apply, but in this situation in particular, it seems to be fine for a senior manager to choose who replaces him. Why is this? Would your boss let you choose your replacement? In Ferguson's case, his selection was perhaps even more surprising because one of his legacies as a British coach was the number of players who played under him that went on to become coaches.

"If so many of his former players have become good managers, it's not because he had an influence on footballers but on men," Paul Ince told France Football earlier this month. "To be a coach is a tough job, but this mental strength, we learned it from Fergie."

Despite that, among the 35 "Fergie disciples" to have become coaches -- from George Adams (aged 63, now Ross County sports director) from his East Stirlingshire days to Chris Casper (aged 38, ex-Bury coach) -- he did not anoint one of his own. Incidentally, if he had, the most high-profile would be Laurent Blanc, currently PSG coach, perhaps with Jordi Cruyff, Maccabi Tel-Aviv sports director, helping with recruitment.

Wenger told Serbian paper Vecernje Novosti back in 2011: "I would love Dragan Stojkovic to be my successor, there are a hundred reasons for that. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football. I knew he was going to have teams playing attacking football. I told him that is he could transmit his football imagination to his players, he would fly high."

When it comes to ex-Wenger players, there is a fascinating discrepancy: some of his players at AS Monaco, with whom he won Ligue 1 in 1991, went on to become outstanding coaches. Glenn Hoddle, Claude Puel and Jurgen Klinsmann have all paid tribute to lessons learned under Wenger, as did Stojkovic, Wenger's key player at Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Yet the tally from the Arsenal era is far fewer, and less impressive: Tony Adams tried and failed while Paul Dickov and Remi Garde are still in jobs. There are others, but none outstanding, though members of the Invincibles generation are starting to find their way. Dennis Bergkamp is a highly respected coach at Ajax, while Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires have made no secret of their wishes to move into coaching.

The latter two both offered their services to Wenger after retirement, and were surprised that they were not accepted. Stojkovic, by the way, left Nagoya Grampus Eight last October after six years in charge; in 2010 Nagoya won the J-League title (something Wenger never managed) but last season finished 13th in the 18-team league.

Ferguson produced a generation of coaches; Wenger most certainly has not.

These may sound like simple principles, obvious even, for a change at the top in any firm. But United's season has shown that there is an art to succession planning and that it went very wrong last year. Even if it does not need to this summer, the time will come when Arsenal should take heed.

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