Who Will Take Over From Contract-Shy Arsene Wenger at Arsenal?

With Wenger currently stalling over contract negotiations, the question about his successor becomes increasingly relevant. Here’s a look at the future candidates…
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With Wenger currently stalling over contract negotiations, the question about his successor becomes increasingly relevant. Here’s a look at the future candidates…

Few modern managers become totally synonymous with a football club they've been in charge of - an insatiable and sometimes irrational thirst for success has led to the sort of short-termism that nearly always prevents the longevity required. Not at Arsenal; one name that immediately springs to mind as the antithesis is Arsene Wenger.

Just like his great rival at Manchester United - Sir Alex Ferguson - Wenger's philosophies on football and life run through the very core of his football club.

His personality and beliefs are so ingrained into the fabric of Arsenal FC, that you wonder how the club will readjust when his time in charge does finally come to an end - and whether those calling for him to go have fully considered the implications of that?

Whatever the organisation, whatever the industry, the effects of fifteen years of autocratic leadership will run deep, and too much change too quickly can be counter productive and even dangerous.

Even if the last six years of Wenger's management have been trophy less, the previous nine brought unprecedented success that must ensure a degree of trust and faith in his methods, which a new man would have to be very sensitive too.

It's one of the reasons I'd always previously thought it would take a big personality to replace him, someone who would acknowledge and respect Wenger's achievements, but not be overawed or intimidated by them.

Someone with years of experience and success behind them, either in the English top-flight or Europe's other major leagues.

Names like Guardiola, Hiddink and even Mourinho fit into that category - and you could easily make a case for any one of them succeeding Wenger, but you have to wonder if they'd would want or need the high-risk challenge of following an Arsenal institution, let alone the possibility of a black mark on their CV if it all goes wrong.

Maybe it's the sort of job that's far more attractive to that calibre of coach second time around, when someone else has tried and failed, in much the same way as Wenger's own appointment was preceded by Bruce Rioch, after nine years of George Graham at Highbury.

Even if Wenger himself had little to lose back in 1996, it was undoubtedly a huge risk for the club when the forward thinking David Dein persuaded his colleagues in the Arsenal boardroom that Wenger should be brought in.

Despite winning the French league title with Monaco in 1988, this was a man unknown to many in English football, who'd most recently worked in Japan's J-League with Nagoya Grampus Eight.

How could someone with no experience of English football, who'd been working six-thousand miles away from North London in one of the world's lesser known leagues, possibly be the right person to bring success back to Arsenal?

The question asked by almost all football observers at the time and a question that may even be repeated in the future, after Wenger revealed that he would like to see one of his former players, current Grampus Eight manager Dragan Stojkovic, eventually succeed him at Arsenal.

Wenger's reported to have told a Serbian newspaper that there were "a hundred reasons" why he'd like Stojkovic to follow in his footsteps, and that the former Yugoslavian international shared an "almost identical footballing philosophy" to his own.

It led to a lot of collective eye-rolling from Wenger's critics, who rightly or wrongly saw it as an attempt to retain influence even after he's left the club, the desperate actions of a control freak who won't be able to let go when the time finally comes to walk away.

Those with more regard for Wenger might view it as the most successful manager in the club's history merely wanting to make sure that the project he's devoted fifteen years of his life to is continued by someone he trusts and understands.

Whichever view you subscribe to and whether Stojkovic is a realistic candidate or not, it's hard to see any new manager being able to succeed at Arsenal if Wenger is 'moved upstairs'.

You can only imagine the difficulty in trying to do things your own way with such a recognisable silhouette looming large in the background - and it would surely be a form of torture for Wenger himself, having been so used to doing things his own way.

So, if a clean break is the only way, the timing of it will be absolutely essential for Arsenal, Wenger and his successor - and it shouldn't be presumed that change can only happen during dire straits.

Perhaps the best hope for a smooth transition of power would be for Wenger to go willingly after some sort of silverware, allowing a new era to start on the up and without the burden of a trophy draught.

Maybe that's the dream scenario for Arsenal's board members, who must all have sleepless nights about how to handle the managerial situation.

Sacking the most successful manager in Arsenal's history is almost unthinkable and pretty unpalatable, even for those Arsenal supporters who've long lost faith in his ability.

But if a Director of Football position is unlikely to work and Wenger lives up to his reputation for stubbornness, perhaps the best chance of an even tempered and dignified parting of the ways would be for him to have a big input on the identity of his successor.

If that is what happens don't be surprised to see history repeating and Arsenal Football Club once again turning to the city of Nagoya for a manager - after all, Wenger is a man who has built a managerial reputation on spotting potential and taking punts on individuals that others weren't brave enough to.

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