Arsene Wenger’s happy ending at Arsenal is still possible – but he must step down as manager
In the words of the man himself, the Arsene Wenger era has effectively now come to an end.
“The last 25 minutes were a nightmare for us,” said the Frenchman in the aftermath of Arsenal’s 5-1 loss in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie in Munich. “We didn’t have an answer to Bayern.”
More accurately, Wenger didn’t have an answer. He’s been repeating the same mistakes and patterns of under-performance and mediocrity for years. Against Bayern, his team had no response, his players had nowhere to turn, they didn’t know what to do or who to look for, and as the goals poured in during their second half collapse in the absence of Laurent Koscielny, their season was, once again, all but over.
There will be no coming back for the Gunners at the Emirates. A brave, consolation victory is possible – likely even – but a turn around; no. With the Premier League already lost, there will be no grand finale for Wenger.
He could stay on but it would only prolong the agony of watching a great man put his legacy at risk for the sake of finding closure for himself, the fans and the club. Dark days lie ahead for Arsenal without him at the helm. Yet perhaps there is a way for the Gunners to move on with their manager capping off his career with the defining flourishes it deserves.
A directorship is waiting for him, upstairs – above the dugout – for whenever he finally decides to call it a day. Perhaps he doesn’t have to climb the full set of steps all the way to the top straightaway. Wenger loves the day-to-day of being a football manager. He may not cope without his usual patterns of work, and in some areas his expertise remain sharp.
Wenger has assembled one of the most talent-rich squads in all of Europe. The problem is that he has long since ceased to be the coach to get the most out of it. Instead of staying on or getting out, Wenger should step up: become the director of football he has already become for Arsenal, but in a more formal arrangement.
It would be his job to oversee transfers, scouting and all the other aspects of his job that go unseen and under-reported on. Taking his place on the training ground would be an enhanced assistant, a first-team coach, better suited to sculpting a high performance team out of the high potential squad he excels at collecting.
Who could come in to become the head coach to succeed him on the touchline? Leave that up to Wenger. Fears over a succession as flawed as David “The Chosen One” Moyes at Old Trafford, who was hand-picked to replace Sir Alex Ferguson, are understandable, but the Frenchman is arguably more aware of the forces behind his own alchemy than the former Manchester United manager. The Professor is a man of method, not just gut feeling, instinct and wisdom.
Either way, this would be his last big chance to secure the titles he craves. If he can no longer lead Arsenal up the hill himself, he can go out on top as the great manager who found someone that could. He wouldn’t have to bask in his successor’s glories. He would be a partner in their success.
Wenger has rebuilt Arsenal into the club they are today yet he has taken them as far as he can. In truth, he passed that point years ago. Call it mediocrity if the point has to be laboured for emotional effect but the Gunners are now just about doing enough to stand still as others grow stronger.
If Wenger wants his kingdom to survive he should abdicate now in order to find and teach a worthy heir his ways, not carry on until his work lies in ruins, waiting for another visionary to arrive in a few decades to wake a sleeping giant that never had to hibernate in the first place.
On BT Sport after Bayern’s thumping 5-1 win, former Arsenal defender Martin Keown said that Wenger, along with his 20 years of work, needed protecting from himself. Rather than drop it, he can still pass it on, maintain a connection, let it grow, watch it flourish.
There could be a new chapter for the Frenchman to write rather than a story to leave without an ending. It doesn’t have to end with a whimper. It doesn’t have to end with Wenger.