Premier League

Arsene Wenger On The Future Of Football Management

 • by Simon Collings
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After spending over 20 years in charge of Arsenal, Arsène Wenger has witnessed a great number of changes when it comes to management in the Premier League.

To date, the Frenchman is one of few coaches in England’s top flight who still has near enough complete control over the running of his side.

In years gone by such a model was the norm for the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Wenger, but now the landscape has changed.

Gone are the totalitarian managers of old and instead the role of a head coach has slowly diluted.

In truth, we have been witnessing the style of management in England transform over the years ever since Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996.

There was Gianluca Vialli’s stint as player-manager at Chelsea, while Liverpool also famously adopted the unorthodox approach of appointing Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans as co-managers.

From there, English clubs began to experiment with the appointments of directors of football. However these, certainly in their formative years, proved problematic.

Take Harry Redknapp, who reportedly quit his role as manager of Portsmouth in 2004 after falling out with director of football Velimir Zajec.

Indeed Redknapp’s assistant at the time, Jim Smith, told Radio Five’s Sportsweek: “There have been problems in terms of players, what the chairman perceived and what Harry perceived.

“But bringing in Mr Zajec pushed Harry all the way – it was the final straw.”

Jacques Santini reportedly had similar issues at Tottenham around the same time, as sporting director Frank Arnesen had the final say on transfers.

Since those difficult early stages, the role has become more accepted in England and now many of the top clubs employ such a figure.

Indeed, even Wenger and Arsenal were close to appointing such an individual last summer as rumours grew about Marc Overmars returning to the club.

In the end, a compromise was met and Darren Burgess was hired as a director of high performances.

“I’m the manager of Arsenal Football Club and as long as I’m manager of Arsenal Football Club, I will decide what happens on the technical front. And that’s it,” said Wenger in May.

However, while the Frenchman may be reluctant to relinquish power, he is aware that the management landscape will continue to change.

And one area in which Wenger does envisage evolving is with the role of a female coach.

Around ten to 15 years ago the idea would have seemed inconceivable, but the success of the women’s game certainly makes such a notion realistic.

“There is an interesting experience in France where Corinne Diacre manages in the second league for three years now,” said Wenger at a recent Football Writers’ Association Live event which raised money for the London Fire Relief Fund.

“She has done extremely well. I personally am convinced that will happen soon in this country.”

Wenger’s belief that a female manager could soon be appointed by a men’s team in England is further born out of his prediction that the role of a coach is set to change.

The emergence of directors of football have already seen the position’s power dilute and Wenger believes that it will only continue to do so.

“I had a meeting with the League Manager’s Association and told them it would be interesting to make a perspective study of where our job will go,” said Wenger.

“I am convinced that in ten to 15 years it will not necessarily be a football specialist who will be the manager of the club.

“That he will have so many scientist around him who bring out the team to play on Saturday.

“It will be more a management specialist, than a football specialist because the football decisions will be made by technological analysers.

“That doesn’t mean it is not forbidden for a girl to imagine to be at the head of a department like that.”

It is perhaps fitting that a man who was dubbed ‘The Professor’ when he first came to England should predict football clubs will, essentially, be run by scientists.

However, upon further examination, it is a concept that one can imagine happening.

As we have already seen with the appointment of directors of football, clubs are keen to enforce the concept of division of labour – splitting the workload between a number of roles to maximise overall efficiency.

It can even be seen at Arsenal with their appointment of Burgess this summer. Yes, Wenger maintains the say on transfers and matters on a technical front – but Burgess has been given a huge say on physical matters.

The Australian, who used to work at Liverpool, organises training programmes, players’ rehabilitation and much more, all to ensure they perform on the pitch.

For a man like Wenger, such an idea would have most likely been rejected instantly 10 years ago but he, like many others, is aware the times are changing.

Football clubs are unwilling to give one man all the power simply because, were he to leave or be sacked, the upheaval causes the whole mechanism to slow down.

Teams do not want to be sacking a manager, only to be forced with replacing his entire backroom staff as a mass exodus occurs due to his departure.

It is why we see more and more clubs being eager to keep their own coaches in place, with a manager merely slotting into the system.

And this here is what Wenger is hinting at when it comes to the future.

The manager will no longer be the all-powerful leader, but instead one of many cogs in a well-oiled machine. Around him will be a number of experts, each ensuring they deliver in their specific area so that the team performs.

And if the manager were to go, for whatever reason, he would simply be replaced and the wheels keep on turning.

It is a concept that can be seen a lot more in other sports, such as American Football. There in the NFL, you can witness first hand the dilution of power by examining the roles of the general manager and coach. Simply put, no one is indispensable.

And, just as ‘The Professor’ oversaw a revolution in English football when he arrived back in 1996, it may well be Wenger is about to witness another in the years to come.

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