Arsenal: American coaching model would suit post-Arsene Wenger years

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts during the Carabao Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts during the Carabao Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

Arsenal have a massive void to start planning for when Arsene Wenger leaves, but could the answer come in the form of more than one person?

Arsenal is a team built around the idea of longevity. They’ve not been second tier since 1913, after all. The longest streak of any team in the top flight of the toughest division in world football. The trick with any of this is prolonging that success. Weathering the bad times by keeping them from getting too bad and rebounding off of them to find the top again.

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That is hard to do in the modern footballing world, where managers come and go like a revolving door. Clubs rise and fall and, while drastic falls are rare, you still have clubs like Fulham that plummet into the abyss and club’s like Swansea who shoot up the leagues tables.

Teams bring in and throw out managers like the success of the club depends on one man, yet no one lasts more than three, four years anymore before they have to throw that person out at the first sign of any sort of trouble and try again with someone else. It’s unreliable, unsustainable and it’s a bit reckless, to keep investing so much in single minds.

So how do you avoid relying so much on one person? That is the big question, and I hope it is a question that the Gunners are considering quite seriously as the impending Arsene Wenger exit (whenever that may actually happen) looms.

Wenger has had the biggest impact on any club in modern football. So big that it expanded to impact the entire league. That has gradually evolved to where it was as recently as last year, where he was, to sum it up in one word, a dictator. That is, without the negative connotations, of course, just in terms of power structure.

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This club has been wholly dependent on this one man, on his transfer doings, his tactics in every theater of play, his man management, all of it. When times were good, we loved him. When times were bad, we moaned this set-up and wanted someone else.

That is changing this year. Transfers are now out of Wenger’s window of control with the additions of Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi. But as we go forward and look at new managerial choices, I’d rather see a lessening of the responsibility on the manager in general to prevent such a situation from arising in the future.

What I’m saying is, while finding a replacement for Wenger is important, I don’t like handing it off to another overlord like Carlo Ancelotti, who is going to bring his own power structure in and suddenly we are at his whimsies, same as we were with Wenger’s. It seems like a model that can be improved upon with a little willful innovation from a club that, while not so much lately, has been known to innovate.

Consider more responsibility being handed down to the coaches, not just the “overlord” manager. Seeing Jens Lehmann show up as keeper’s coach has me thinking that maybe Arsenal are already seeing it this way because Lehmann is an independent mind if ever there was one, far out of the realm of influence of any individual.

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I’m an American, so I’ll compare it to baseball. In baseball, you have the manager. He’s the guy that oversees everything and, when push comes to shove, makes the decision. But then you have the hitting coach, the pitching coach, the bench coach, the bullpen coach and each and every one of those positions is just as widely talked about as the manager.

When a team signs a new pitching coach, it’s a big deal. This is the guy that handles the pitching staff, coaches them, develops them, all because it’s his expertise. If pitching is struggling, fire him and find someone else rather than rip out the entire coaching structure altogether.

The manager is sort of like a casual overseer, dabbling in each aspect, but relying on this individual expertise of his coaches to help the coaching structure become more of a collective brain trust rather than an authoritarian regime. It’s a team of coaches, just like we have a team on the pitch, where a captain oversees the players but, in the end, is just one guy, so why depend on him so comprehensively?

The same goes with American football. There’s an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, a special teams coach and it gets into each individual position as well, quarterbacks coach, linebackers coach. Each facet of the game has it’s own individual coach who has his area of expertise, with one man then overseeing all the different coaches. If the defense is the problem, fire the defensive coordinator to shake up one part of the team rather than undoing everything by firing the one man with any real power. Look at Liverpool. What if they could have fired their defensive coordinator mid-season to try to spark a new life in their one big weakness?

Football clubs have a lot of coaches, a lot of staff members, but they aren’t used in the same capacity as they use in baseball or American football. Arsenal, for instance, have a ton of specific coaches and staff that go into so many different things.

But consider a coaching set up where we had Lehmann as keepers coach, Patrick Vieira as midfield coach, Thierry Henry as forwards coach and, say Steve Bould as defensive coach. Or Thierry Henry as the offensive coordinator and Tony Adams as defensive coordinator. Again, these are just examples, I’m not focused solely on these names.

The point is just that if you divide responsibility more, and rely less on one guy, it is far easier to prolong success and, for that matter, to reach that success in the first place because you have more minds in more prominent positions to make decisions as opposed to one guy making all the calls. Why do you think democracies have a longer shelf life than totalitarian states? Because when you allow more than one person a bigger share of responsibility, you have more minds working towards its betterment, as opposed to just one person making all the calls.

You can point to the Manchester City model and say that Pep Guardiola and “super managers” are the way to go, but managers are come and go. Pep comes and goes. Whether he leaves two or twenty years down the road, the club will be in a pickle to replace him.

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Lessen the size of that pickle by not putting so much into one guy. You still need a manager. An overseer. But allow more minds to influence the decision making and you’re guaranteed to get the best out of your collective.

That’s the position the club is taking with transfers, so why not apply the same to the coaching scheme? You don’t just fill a void left by someone like Wenger with one man. Manchester United can attest to it. So don’t make it about that. Make it different. Re-invent the wheel.

I reckon this won’t be a popular idea, solely because I’ve tagged it as an ‘American’ principle and Stan Kroenke isn’t exactly beloved by Gooners, nor is Americanism in general. But set aside that tag and consider it for what it is – a collective rather than an overlord – and tell me it doesn’t sound a bit more stable and sustainable than the unending game of manager roulette, which we haven’t been forced to play in two decades.

Again, United are the best example. They are still struggling to recover, post-Fergie. Manager after manager, no one has suited their style. No one has been able to fill Fergie’s gap. And guess what? No one ever will. Because that isn’t how the managerial game works anymore. People don’t hang around and the ones that do hang around aren’t “proven” enough to take a chance on anymore. It’s just a limited bunch of super managers that flow around to different teams, maybe snag some silverware, and move on to the next personal challenge.

I don’t want that to be Arsenal. You don’t just stick someone else into a managerial void the size that Wenger will leave and expect them to be up to the task. No one person can replace what Wenger has done here. Not Ancelotti, not Joachim Low, nobody. Maybe they grow into it in a couple years, but then what? They get another couple years and we have to do it all again.

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It doesn’t have to be like that. There can be other entities that are responsible for different aspects of the game, that can be held responsible for those aspects of the game. And innovative Arsenal can be the team to give it a whirl.