Arsene Wenger shouldn’t be surprised to see a hooded figure carrying a scythe standing outside his office these days. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse may also join the queue shortly. As well as the numerous calls for his departure from sections of the Arsenal fans, the Club have announced that they’ve started the search for a Director of Football to 'relieve some of the pressure' on the current manager.
It’s the football equivalent of finding all the locks changed and your belongings in a cardboard box dumped in the car park. So, despite all of the debate, I think it’s pretty definite that Wenger will be gone at the end of the season. And I think all parties involved have handled the situation about as badly as they could've done - short of changing the locks.
First of all, the Club see him as untouchable, peerless, the embodiment of the Club itself – which is how Wenger sees it as well. In a bygone age they'd have been sacrificing waifs and strays to appease his mood swings and naming cities and countries in his honour. But it's all gone on far too long and if they're not careful it's going to end in tears.
All parties have known about his contract ending this season since, well, since it was written. And yet here we are, in terms of doodoo's, about as close to ground zero as you can get.
The Club have tabled a two year extension worth £8 million a year as an inducement to stay. The fact that Wenger largely ignored it and said he’d make a decision at the end of the season should have had alarm bells ringing at board level. How can you plan for any sort of succession under those conditions?
Wenger said back in August that he was ‘scared’ of retiring:
It’s been my life and, honestly, I’m quite scared of the day. The longer I wait, the more difficult it will be and the more difficult it will be to lose the addiction.
You can't really blame him, but without any visible signs of Arsenal attempting to help or make the decision any easier, it doesn’t seem to be doing either party any good.
Since they’re looking for a Director of Football, why not offer it to Wenger? Ask him to choose a successor that he can mentor and let him restructure the Club along more sustainable lines. Who could be better?
The danger is that the situation gets out of hand and Wenger is treated with disrespect, which no-one wants. The man is a genuine pioneer and has shaped much of the game as we now know it, and he may surprise everyone and come roaring back for another few seasons.
But it’s unlikely. It’s no coincidence that his most successful teams were full of characters capable of standing up to him. Of late such characters have been lacking and Arsenal have had a soft centre, almost as if Wenger has been buying players to fit into his comfort zone. With the benefit of hindsight he should have retired five years ago at least. He’s been in charge for twenty years and is starting to look in danger of outstaying his welcome, as Cloughie did at Forest, and no-one wants to see that.
Talking of Forest, it’s been sad to see the decline of a club I’ve a particular soft spot for. Under the ownership of Fawaz al-Hasawi they were, and still are, in danger of replicating the likes of Leyton Orient, Coventry and Charlton in tumbling down the leagues under an umbrella of outrageous mismanagement, a non-existent structure and amateurish planning and governance.
But help might be on the way in the, rather large, shape of Evangelos Marinakis, the infamous owner of Olympiakos, who’s looking to buy a controlling interest in the Club. This is a good thing for two reasons – firstly, he looks like a younger Demis Roussos, and there really aren’t enough of them in British football, and secondly, he might actually know what he’s doing.
He’s already brought in Mark Warburton, late of Rangers (erm, well….) and Brentford (better) to become Forests’ sixth manager in four years and there are signs of a rebuild being put together to actually make the Club start functioning again.
This was the Club that Nigel Clough turned down a few weeks ago to stay as manager at Burton Albion. The Club that his father had made European champions, that he made his name at, but it wasn’t enough to make him want the job – lets hope better days lay ahead.
A sentiment echoed just up Brian Clough Way at the Baseball Ground, or whatever it’s called now, when Steve McClaren was ditched for the second time to make way for football's new ‘Mr Right’ Gary Rowett.
I always find it surprising that managers can get sacked from job after job and yet still be in demand. I find it even more surprising when the same manager gets re-employed by the same club that'd sacked him previously – only to be found out that he's still no good! Duh? It’s like a buying a car that you really don’t get on with, so ditching it and buying another one exactly the same – and guess what – it’s still no good!
Steve seems to make a habit of revisiting old haunts - three times at Derby, twice at Twente; his next job therefore is probably going to be back at Boro. Which may not be the strangest prediction, as Aitor Karanka seems to be having a few problems of his own at the moment.
Karanka has said that Stewart Downing and Patrick Bamford won’t feature again this season after a ‘training ground disagreement’. This is the football equivalent of ‘unreconcilable differences’ cited in divorce cases, which basically means one of the parties has either been less than faithful, has been caught dressing up in the others clothes or has finally strangled the cat.
Firmly on the side of the injured party is Adam Clayton – alas, not the bass player with U2, although I’m sure Karanka can call upon a whole host of the rock super-strata to support him in his hour of need should it be necessary. In this instance though, it was the Middlesbrough midfielder:
We know we have a top manager in charge and we’re right behind Aitor. He puts everything – everything – into the job. There are no chinks between Aitor and the team – we just need a win to turn everything that’s negative into positives.
So, not only fiercely loyal, but analytical and philosophical to boot. 'Well said' young Clayton.
Would’ve been so much better coming from Bono though.
And Karanka’s still toast. Cue Steve.