Stability in football management for its own sake is no use. During the time Alex Ferguson was managing Man Utd, Real Madrid, a club of comparable stature, had 22 managers. United won 13 titles and two Champions Leagues; Real won 11 titles and three Champions Leagues. That’s not much different, and Ferguson’s stats and bio are amazing anyway.
I don’t much care what Man Utd do or who they appoint as manager, but Arsenal are in a similar position to Utd in 2013. The same manager was there for a very long time and the people in charge don’t know life any other way – Arsène outlasted all the Board members who welcomed him in 1996, bar Ken Friar. It looked for several years that they had no idea what they were going to do when Arsène left, so they just let him carry on. Wenger got to choose whether he wanted to extend his contract or not. Unlike every other football club, the manager got to decide whether he wanted the job, rather than have that decision imposed on him by his nominal bosses.
In spring 2014, prior to Arsène’s last-but-one contract, Ivan Gazidis let slip – obviously deliberately, as he’s far too sharp a talker to have done it accidentally – during the announcement of the Puma kit deal, that the manager was going to extend his contract. I imagine he had Arsène’s permission to do that, so Arsène must have told Ivan and the Board that was his intention. And this was before the nine-year trophy drought ended in May that year, which just shows the power Arsène was wielding by that time, whether or not his overall record deserved it.
As things turned out, Arsenal went on to win the FA Cup that year and Arsène perked up no end from the put-upon image he’d been giving off for most of the previous season.
It’s now five years since Alex Ferguson retired, and though Man Utd finished second in the league last season they certainly weren’t close to winning it. It’s the best they’ve done since he left, though. Replacing a long-standing and successful manager isn’t easy. This is the disadvantage of the Man Utd model against the Real Madrid model. Fergie almost became Man Utd, and to many people Arsène almost become Arsenal. In fact, to some people Arsène was even bigger than Arsenal. Those people are mad, but they exist. Nonetheless it proved a huge problem for Utd. Luckily for Unai Emery, Arsène has lowered the bar somewhat from his early career highs. If he’d left in 2006 or even 2010 it would be much harder for his replacement. Arsenal have drifted in recent years, but not so badly that the whole squad is a write-off. Some new methods and a bit of squad adjustment may well be enough to turn things round.
As it happens, Man Utd appear to be having some turmoil this summer, with Jose Mourinho already apparently warming up for a full meltdown. Spurs have a big debt, an overdue stadium and have signed no-one, while Chelsea belatedly changed managers and seem likely to lose top players. Admittedly Man City and Liverpool look strong, but Arsenal’s chances of a title are surely well above the 25/1 I’ve seen quoted on many UK online sites such as BettingTop10.
Whether or not success is instant, we all know that Unai Emery is most unlikely to be allowed to emulate Arsène Wenger in going nine years without a trophy or a serious league challenge (he’ll have to do a few Doubles in his first half dozen seasons to buy himself anything like that amount of leeway, and even then patience might run out with more than two or three trophyless seasons). You could argue that for the last eight or nine years Arsenal have just been stable for the sake of being stable, and despite what pundits often repeat, stability is not the be-all and end-all of the sport. We are in a new era of Arsenal which will, if nothing else, be different. Whether the rollercoaster has more ups than downs is the big question.