@foreverheady ponders the rippling pool
Managers come and managers go, but the Arsenal dance goes on forever, as Pete Brown almost said back in 1970. By and large though, our managers spend longer looking good on the dance floor than most, with just four men, Chapman, Allison, Graham and Wenger setting the playing style of the club for over half its long history.
Can we expect a similar length of tenure for Unai Emery, or will Arsenal now follow the example of most other top clubs and change the boss every few years or so? Most commentators seem to think that the latter course is more likely, although should our new man prove a reasonable success history suggests that he too might be in for the long haul. We’ll have to wait and see, and one day no doubt time will say nothing but I told you so.
The last few weeks have been interesting ones for Arsenal fans: whether you were Wenger in or Wenger out his resignation came as a shock, greeted triumphantly by some, occasioning grief for others. But whatever camp you were in and however you reacted to the emotional final goodbyes it soon came down to the king being dead, long live the king.
As Robert Frost so succinctly observed, “they, not being the ones dead, turned to their affairs.” and so it is with us as we debate the style the new man will adopt, predict the players he will move on, the ones he will keep, and the ones he will usher in. There is a delicious sense of being confronted by a whole series of known unknowns, and Tom Stoppard gets it about right in his play Arcadia: “It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing…. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It’s the best possible time of being alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”
Arcadia of course promises us a blissful release from the labours of the day, a promised land where we may rest a while, and this to me is what Saturday afternoons bring (OK, I know that most matches don’t happen on Saturday afternoons any longer, but you get what I mean) and the thought of a new side playing in a new way with a new man in the dugout has certainly piqued my interest.
But as Shotta warned us last week, perhaps remembering Poussin’s shepherds, however luxurious the promise of paradise, disappointment is also an ever present in Arcady.
Who knows, but what might be interesting is to pause for a moment and think about what a manager – or Head Coach as they are more fashionably known these days – actually does. And this is another thing that most of us who have never managed a Premier League team don’t know – but it certainly doesn’t seem to stop people from having very strong views as to just what the manager should be doing. Actually I think I am a very good manager: I watch most of the European Leagues, scout extensively on YouTube and pay great attention to the tactical breakdowns on Monday Night Football. I know just when to bring on my subs and have no truck with players who give less than a 100% for the shirt, knowing as I do just how heavy the cannon is.
What perhaps I am less good at is getting my ideas across to players who do not speak English as well as I do, given that my grasp of French, German, Italian and Spanish is sketchy, whilst my Dutch, Russian and Swedish is non-existent. I find it hard to know just when and how my tactics need changing because the opposition manager has altered his in an unforeseen way. I am not always at my most confident when I need to factor in the risk/reward quotient of making substitutions before the 70th minute given the medical advice I have received that two of my players are likely to tire in the last quarter, or when a substitution has been forced on me in the first half and three of my players are already on Yellows. I am not very good at keeping the right balance between stick and carrot when dealing with a player who has just discovered that his Mother has cancer, and despite plenty of experience still find it tricky to keep the egos of 20 young alpha males appropriately in check and balanced, especially when the agent of one of them finds out that another player is on more money than his. Or that a rumoured new signing is likely to see a regular starter move on to the bench.
And I have still not quite worked out why players have good days and less good ones, or why a player won’t pass to another one, or why the presence of the most obviously talented member of the group seems to inhibit the form of the rest of the midfield unit. So maybe this managing business isn’t quite so easy after all, and a bit of me feels for Unai who I see is already being criticised on account of various transfer rumours that fans either approve or disapprove of. It seems that whoever we buy is either too young or too old, too expensive or too cheap, too little or large. He is not as good as Arsene or is much better. He has too much authority, or not enough; he is a maverick and doesn’t understand the Arsenal way, or is an embarrassing yes man only too willing to bed down with mediocrity. Who knows? I certainly don’t, but find myself already wishing away the summer that I have been looking forward to for so long. And it’s a china orange to the whole of Lombard Street that just about every true Arsenal fan is feeling just the same way as the long countdown to early August begins.