EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier today, we published a roundtable asking the question “should Arsenal’s next manager be a long-term solution, or should he be a bridge to that solution?”. We asked that question of the TSF staff, and I also asked the wider SBN Soccer community, who are not all Arsenal fans, for their thoughts. One of the contributions we got was lengthy enough and thoughtful enough that I didn’t want to distill it down into the two- or three-paragraph roundtable format, lest the essence of it get lost.
Guest columnist Raf Noboa y Rivera had this to say:
If you’re a Gooner, a moment comes soon that once you might’ve dreaded; now, you may welcome it. What happens once Arsène Wenger leaves? Should they aim for a younger version of Wenger? Or bide their time? Seeing how Manchester United have fared since Sir Alex Ferguson’s farewell, apprehension might seize your soul.
Allow me — a non-Arsenal fan, who still deeply appreciates both club and the man for how they’ve revolutionized English soccer — a thought or two.
I’m not going to talk about soccer, though. I’m going to talk about Kodak and Apple.
Kodak, at one time, sold 90% of the camera film in the United States, and controlled 85% of the camera market. It was so ubiquitous, that the phrase “Kodak moment” became part of our lexicon to describe a personal moment saved for posterity. In 1975, it created the first digital camera — but, afraid of the threat it posed to its film business, Kodak dropped the project. They never recovered that technological lead; they saw their competitors outpace them; and eventually, they wound up bankrupt.
Apple revolutionized not one, not two, but at least three markets: in computers, in music players, and in cell phones. The Macintosh introduced the graphical user interface into mass-market computing; the iPod made portable music players mainstream; and the iPhone turned cellphones completely upside down. Before the Mac, computers were inscrutable black boxes, run through arcane text commands. Before the iPod, music players were unwieldy bricks with scant battery life. Before the iPhone, cellphones were either simple handheld phones, or fiddly “smartphones” with tiny keyboards, meant to be used by corporate workers.
The difference between Apple and Kodak? Simply this: Apple is willing to sacrifice present success for even greater potential gains, and consistently — ruthlessly — sacrifices current products with that in mind. Despite the iPod serving as a gateway product for millions of customers — people who bought one, and then, enthralled, proceeded to buy a Macintosh — Apple ceased making it. Its biggest moneymaker isn’t the computers that gave it life, but the phone that it now features above everything else in its advertising. None of this was guaranteed, and yet — that fazes Apple not at all. It continues to proceed in that fashion.
Right now, Arsenal resembles Kodak far more than Apple. In continuing to employ Wenger, it has embraced present success — and therefore, stagnation — rather than risk failure in pursuit of even greater success. Its rivals — most especially Manchester United — risk failure far more than Arsenal does.
In fact, United — whose situation, I need remind you not, most closely resembles Arsenal’s — were pitiless in this pursuit. Despite David Moyes’ anointment by Sir Alex Ferguson, he was sacked before he could complete a single season, having clearly demonstrated his incapacity to replace Ferguson. Louis van Gaal — a European Cup winner, which Wenger isn’t — only lasted two seasons there. van Gaal’s replacement, the peevish, disobliging José Mourinho, won the Europa League in his maiden season, but is clearly under pressure in his second — and he may not see a third.
Let’s say that happens, and an ambitious manager — say, Thomas Tuchel — finds himself with a choice between United and Arsenal. Given what we know about both clubs, why would Tuchel pick Arsenal over Manchester United? Surely, he’ll have more leeway in London, but will he be more likely to win trophies there? Conversely, the pressure will be far greater in Stretford, but so will be the rewards; however he wants to strengthen his squad, he’ll be able to do so. Not so with Arsenal, on the evidence of the past decade; the signings of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil stand out precisely because of their scarcity.
Ambition follows ambition, and I scarcely see it in Arsenal. An ambitious Wenger could come to Arsenal in 1996 and launch a revolution because everyone else, everywhere else, was napping, relatively speaking. That’s no longer the case, except in London. Stan Kroenke and the rest of the board just want to keep the money flowing in, whether at the gate, through merchandise, or the occasional tour.
They don’t need to hire Thomas Tuchel or Lucien Favre or Markus Weinzierl or Luis Enrique for that. A Sean Dyche will do quite nicely; Eddie Howe, if you’re somehow still taken with him despite his struggles at Bournemouth. Manuel Pellegrini is around if you’d prefer to maintain a cosmopolitan air; perhaps Carlo Ancelotti can be persuaded to return to London, if he’d like to repair his reputation after his relative failure at Bayern Munich.
And if all else fails? There’s always David Moyes and Sam Allardyce, should either wish to depart their current posts for what would be considered a step up.
That’s what comes next, after Arsène. You’ve gone from being Apple to being Kodak. More’s the pity. English soccer is exponentially better when Arsenal are Apple.
Thanks again to Raf for taking the time!