The Wenger era (the “Wengera”?) is now finally over, ending in predictably limp fashion in Madrid as Arsenal lost the second leg of their Europa League semi-final to Atlético. They managed only one shot on target while conceding a goal by carelessly switching off before the interval. Sadly, as an epitaph for the decade-long decline of a once-great manager and his team, it was almost perfect. Now, the club turns to the managerial search, where two possible replacements – Howe and Dyche – await.
Are Howe and Dyche Arsenal Quality?
However, the question of who will replace Wenger appears no closer to being answered than when the Frenchman announced his departure from the club a fortnight ago.
Broadly speaking, those on the long list of candidates to be the new Arsenal manager fall into three categories: the European “super-coaches”; the “former players” starting off their coaching or managerial careers; and, for want of a better phrase, the “No.2s”, that is the assistant managers who might be ready for their first job as a manager.
The “super-coaches” are the already successful coaches or managers who have proved their worth by leading other major clubs (the select group of clubs that Arsenal still aspire to being a member of) either to domestic titles in one of Europe’s major leagues, or to European trophies, or both. However, most of those “super-coaches” are already in England, with Guardiola, Klopp et al coming to the Premier League in the last few years, while Wenger was still trying to convince everyone that he could lead Arsenal back to the top.
The Super-Coach Route
The “super-est” of the “super-coaches” who are not currently in England is undoubtedly Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian has won a truly impressive three Champions League titles (two with Milan and one with Real Madrid), as well as domestic titles in Italy, England and France. However, Ancelotti does not appear to be what Arsenal need right now. After the last decade of stagnation, the club is almost a footballing Augean stable. It needs a complete clean-out, to get rid of the complacency and lassitude that have enveloped it for too long. However, that is absolutely not Ancelotti’s speciality. He is almost the managerial equivalent of the “impact sub”, the man who comes in at short notice, steadies the ship (as he did in particular with Real in his first season) before eventually moving on, after a season or two, to another big and highly paid job.
As for the other “super-coaches” who are available, the obvious, indeed outstanding candidate is Diego Simeone. The fact that he could oversee a defeat of Arsenal over two legs while watching almost all of the action from the directors’ boxes says it all about how well-drilled his team is. He does not even need to be on the sidelines to communicate to his players his obvious passion and will to win. And yet he does not appear to be in the running for the Arsenal job, perhaps because Ivan Gazidis has said that one of the criteria for a successful candidate would be a commitment to entertaining football. Simeone commits only to winning football, regardless of style, and so, unfortunately, appears out of the running.
Finally, there are Luis Enrique and Max Allegri. However, Enrique’s excessive salary and staffing demands rule him out of contention. Meanwhile, there is the suspicion that if Allegri comes to England it will be with Chelsea, which is now the first port of call for Italian managers entering the Premier League.
The Former Player Route
So, what about appointing a “former player” as the new manager? There are only two members of this particular group, Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta, who are currently the manager of New York City and assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City respectively. Both men were fine players, especially Vieira, but they are still only starting out at managerial or coaching level. And if they had ever expressed any serious ambition of becoming Arsenal manager, why did Wenger not keep them in the Arsenal fold and develop them as his successor? It is much more likely that they will both remain within the Manchester City “empire” (New York City being one of several City-affiliated teams around the world), before one or both of them are groomed as Guardiola’s successor.
Speculation holds that Arsenal might consider appointing a management “team” that combined a “super-coach” like Ancelotti with a “former player” like Vieira or Arteta. Again, however, this seems improbable. First, Ancelotti is unlikely to want to work with an assistant with whom he is unfamiliar. Secondly, even if Ancelotti accepted such a set-up, it is far from certain that either Vieira or Arteta would agree to be a part of it. Vieira, for example, has already declared publicly that although he is a managerial novice he still feels capable of managing “any club” in Europe. If he is that ambitious, he is extremely unlikely to want to go back to being an assistant manager at Arsenal, even if it came with the promise of being appointed as manager within a season or two.
So, having identified the obvious difficulties with appointing either “super-coaches” or “former players” (or even a combination of the two), what about the final broad category, the current “No.2s”?
The No.2 Route
Apparently, there are two No.2s being considered for the Arsenal job, with the events of the last week thrusting into the limelight two men who have previously worked largely in the shadows. First, Zeljko Buvac mysteriously left Liverpool, at least temporarily, because of “personal reasons”. Given that Liverpool were on the eve of a Champions League semi-final second leg with Roma, the timing was curious, to say the least. Then came the reports that Buvac was being considered by Arsenal, especially as he had worked with Arsenal’s new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, when they were both at Dortmund with Klopp.
Then, almost immediately after Arsenal’s exit from the Europa League, it was reported that Jose Mourinho’s assistant, Rui Faria, was also being considered by Arsenal. Although that also initially appeared unlikely, there seemed some truth in it given that Mourinho himself said that he would “help pack and carry” Faria’s suitcases if he were offered the Arsenal job.
What About Howe and Dyche?
All of which must make Howe and Dyche scratch their heads and wonder what precisely they have to do to be considered by Arsenal. Those two, the two outstanding young English managers of their generation, are the glaring omissions on the list of candidates to replace Wenger. For example, they are not among the favourites to replace Wenger in the odds offered by any major bookmaker. Frankly, that is extraordinary – and a mistake.
Both men have already achieved great feats as managers, by taking relatively small clubs into the Premier League and then keeping them there. Dyche’s Burnley did suffer relegation after their first season in the Premiership, but he took them straight back up the next year. Howe, in particular, has guided Burnley all the way through the lower divisions to the top flight, a remarkable achievement matched by only a few managers in the history of English football (Graham Taylor at Watford being one of them). And Dyche’s Burnley might yet finish above Arsenal in sixth place. Especially if they beat Arsenal on Sunday at the Emirates.
Will to Succeed
In addition to their obvious similarities, Howe and Dyche can both boast a genuine “usp” (unique selling point). Howe was a hugely promising centre-half who looked set for a glittering playing career until he had to retire early through injury. Of course, that means that he became a coach and then a manager very early and so, despite being only 40, he already has more than 10 years of coaching and managerial experience. Perhaps even more importantly, the fact that he was unable to fulfil his potential as a player might just give him that extra hunger to succeed as a manager. Such hunger was certainly a major factor in the success of the immortal Brian Clough. Like Howe, Clough had to retire from playing through injury, but then he threw himself into management with all the pent-up anger and energy that early retirement from playing brings.
Mention of Clough is a reminder that Dyche began his playing career under the great man at Nottingham Forest and so learned at first hand exactly how to motivate and control players. Like Clough, Dyche is reportedly a firm disciplinarian, and discipline (in terms of both the players’ individual discipline and the team’s defensive discipline) is arguably the most important quality that Arsenal lack right now.
Can They Step Up?
There is an obvious argument against both Howe and Dyche, namely that so far they have only managed at relatively small clubs and therefore might struggle to make the step up to a club the size of Arsenal. That is undoubtedly true, but everything that both men have achieved so far as coaches and managers suggests that they are capable of making that transition. More importantly, both of their hard-won managerial experience should make them far more obvious candidates than many of those under consideration, notably Vieira and Arteta.
Also, what Howe and Dyche have done at Bournemouth and Burnley respectively far outstrips what Brendan Rodgers has at Celtic. Quite simply, it is far more impressive to keep Bournemouth and Burnley in the Premier League than it is to win the Scottish title with Celtic, especially in the era when Rangers have ceased to be realistic rivals to Celtic.
The Last Word
Howe and Dyche may not be the men to replace Wenger and revive Arsenal, but should receive serious consideration rather than dismissal over their current appointments. George Graham joined Arsenal from a “small” club in 1986. He stepped up from the old Second Division and Millwall to take charge of the Gunners. That, of course, didn’t turn out too badly.
More importantly, if Arsenal miss out on Howe and Dyche, just as they have missed out on Guardiola and Klopp in recent years, they may live to regret it, as both men look like managers destined for the top. Indeed, both men may reject Arsenal even if there is a change of heart at the club. After all, they may receive an offer from an even bigger club in the future.
Main Image Credit:
Embed from Getty Images