Think what you will about Arsene Wenger’s recent managerial travails, but there is no doubting his bona fides as a legitimate innovator throughout his career. He’s always been a guy who has had one eye on the future, and isn’t afraid to talk about it - even if those recent managerial travails betray a newfound reticence to embrace it.
Anyway, he’s always been an interesting person to talk to about the game as a whole, because that subject - where it’s been, where it’s going, and how to get there - has always been very much in his wheelhouse. Today, at a fundraising event for Grenfell Tower victims, he was asked about the future of football management, in light of French second division side Clermont Foot going into their third season with a female manager, Corinne Diacre.
“I’m convinced that (it) will happen soon”, Wenger said when asked about the likelihood of a woman taking over a team in one of England’s top two divisions. While that’s a long way from making sure it does, or even paving a path, it at least signals a willingness to embrace and accept it when it does, and that’s a pretty great thing.
Wenger also shared some other, unrelated thoughts about management which line up more with his frustrations on how the game is evolving:
“I'm convinced in 10 or 15 years it will not necessarily be a football specialist who is a manager of a club. You will have so many scientists around the team that who will bring out the team to play on Saturday will be more management specialists than football specialists because the football decisions will be made by technological analysis."
It’s hard to tell from this interview whether he thinks the evolution of which he speaks here is a good thing or a bad one, but given that this isn’t too far afield of some other things he’s said in the past, in which he’s expressed emotions ranging from bemusement to contempt at how the scientists have taken over the game, it’s sort of easy to intuit that he’s not a huge fan.
“Last of a dying breed” is a cliche, but Wenger’s type of management is definitely being phased out. What Wenger seems to be missing in his statement, though, is that the football specialist will always be a part of any successful management team. Anyone who’s been around a team, management or otherwise, that functions well knows that any team that wants to be successsful has to be a blend of the practical (football knowledge), the theoretical (statistical analysis), and the functional (performance science/medicine).
Wenger’s fear is that football experts will be extinct in a generation; mine is that they’ll be undervalued and deemed archaic, and thus not listened to. That may be a distinction without a difference, but I don’t believe football expert-type managers will ever be completely gone, the way Arsene seems to.