There is a lot of ardent disagreement right now regarding Arséne Wenger. As a fervent Wengerist, I dismissed the calls for his sacking as the siren call of narrow-sighted supporters. But as the losses pile together and the hopeless future becomes a depressing present, I cannot disregard the demands for Wenger’s release as easily as before.
A manager’s job description is both infuriatingly straightforward and condemningly complex. On the surface, it’s absurdly simple to explain what managers do: their success and failure is measured only in championships. But, detailing what steps a manager ought to take to achieve that championship is where the disagreement begins, and differing opinions can often be construed against the manager.
For some clubs, tossing their managers into the parking lot isn’t a big deal. Either their tenure was short-lived, their successes few and far between, or a combination of the two. Arséne Wenger’s scenario is the precise opposite; he’s been with the club for fifteen years and experienced unparalleled triumphs.
The term “sacking” has always sounded to me like putting the manager in a bag and pretending he was never there in the first place, an attempt to erase a manager from the club’s history. This would be impossible with Wenger. I remember — jokingly — when I first became an Arsenal fan wondering if Arséne changed his name (since it’s so close to the word Arsenal) to bind himself with the club for eternity.
For many clubs and managers—but particularly for Wenger—it’s difficult to know when the time for a sacking is upon them. So, for this conflicted Gooner, I compiled the Sacking Checklist, a set of logical progressions that, if affirmed, allow a supporter to feel at peace firing a longtime—and previously successful—manager. This list will hold for any manager of any sport, but I will use Wenger as an example. If all the conditions are fulfilled, firing the manager is justified. If they’re not, then you’re creating a scapegoat.
1. What has changed since the more successful times?
In North London, the shift has been seismic. Everyone has their own analysis, but personally I believe Arsenal is no longer on the same financial plane as the top clubs of the league, and therefore can’t afford to retain their best players long enough to build a consistent roster. There are tradeoffs to remaining financially stable, and most of those tradeoffs seem to be exemplified on the pitch.
Some believe the cause of Arsenal’s rapid decline also includes Wenger’s refusal to modify his tactics. He still insists on passing continuously around the box, waiting for the perfect pass, which more often than not results in a miscue.
2. Are these changes the manager’s fault?
If you place the blame on the shifting financial climate in the EPL, then you must draw a link between the financial climate and Wenger’s faults within that reality. Financial stability is an admirable goal, but considerably less so when it isn’t accompanied with silverware. Ultimately, if a club is going to declare an oath to financial stability, they must find a way to make it mold with the goal of winning championships, since that’s the fundamental function of the modern sports team.
However, if you believe Wenger is tactically stubborn, and his frugality is nothing less than penny-pinching, then you’re more likely to place the blame squarely on Wenger’s sinking shoulders.
3. Does it seem highly unlikely things won’t improve soon?
When you’re with a club as long as Wenger, there necessarily will be ebbs and flows in the business cycle of competition. The manager must be given an adequate opportunity to effectively countermeasure.
No matter where you place the blame for the current situation, the manager—especially Wenger—has a lot of say in the youth system. Wenger sold experienced stars at a high premium, this we know. But does the youth system have promise? I think with Arsenal we can answer in the affirmative, or at the very least acknowledge Wenger has earned the benefit of the doubt in this area. Despite the dismal present, the future likely holds promise for Arsenal.
4. Would another manager do better?
The ultimate purpose of sacking a manager is to replace him with someone who will do a better job. If you don’t think someone else will do a better job, then sacking is completely pointless. As owner Stan Kroenke recently detailed, it’s hard to argue anyone can do a better job than Arséne Wenger. But, things can get worse, and if they do, that argument will become ever easier.
5. If someone else could do better, who could the team hire?
With any managerial crisis, the media always floats possible successors. This round, we’ve heard names like Carlo Ancelotti and Dennis Bergkamp as possibilities. I’m certainly biased due to my affection for Wenger, but I cannot envision Ancelotti finding equal—or greater—success at Arsenal where his payroll has a ceiling. As for Bergkamp, he has no managerial experience—his initial foray into top-flight managing is currently in its first year as an assistant for Ajax—so it’s hard to envision he could equal Wenger’s expertise, despite his intimacy with the North London club.
If you cannot answer questions 2-4 in the affirmative—and provide a decent option for 5—but you still believe Wenger should be canned, then you’re simply after a scapegoat. You’ve been unable to determine the current state of affairs is the manager’s fault, or whether a viable option for improvement exists. This is the admission you are simply out of ideas.
Now, there’s inherent value in change. Sometimes, clubs stagnate if under the same regime for too long. As I’ve written on this site before, Wenger might be the victim of his own success to a degree, where his innovations have been replicated by many others in the unforgiving market for improvement. Still, turning a manager like Wenger—who has achieved so much and is so vital to the organization—into a scapegoat simply because we don’t know what else to do is not only patently unfair to Wenger, but more likely to result in further failures. As Andrey Arshavin has so often demonstrated on the pitch, running in the wrong direction is not preferred to standing still.