Unai Emery was, if not a complete left-field choice for Arsenal manager, definitely one that many of us weren’t necessarily expecting. There has been a lot of talk in the intervening year-and-change about who Arsenal should have gotten, especially in light of how the guy they did get has done so far.
What we hadn’t heard, though, was a definitive list of who Arsenal were actually considering for Arsene Wenger’s job. In the Athletic yesterday, David Ornstein revealed that list in his weekly column (which alone is worth the subscription price to the Athletic), so I thought I’d take a few minutes to look a bit at the candidates.
I don’t intend this to be a “would he have done better than Emery is doing now” list, nor do I wish to judge them all and say Emery was the best choice Arsenal could have made given the choices they had. I’m not interested in alternate histories, and there’s no way of knowing whether last transfer summer would have played out as it did with any of these guys. Rather, this is just a sort of thumbnail sketch of who they are and whether they’d have been worth pursuing on their own, not with the benefit of hindsight from today.
So here’s Arsenal’s shortlist (excluding Emery, of course), in no particular order:
Mikel Arteta: Everyone’s favorite during the process, thanks to his Arsenal ties and success. Currently Pep Guardiola’s #2 at Manchester City, and widely thought to be his eventual successor there.
Thierry Henry: Another sentimental favorite, but had a lot of problems, particularly with player relations, at Monaco. Small sample size rules apply, of course, but in 20 games managed, Henry won four and drew 5.
Julen Lopetegui: The current Sevilla manager, who gained, um, fame by, while still managing the Spanish national team, accepting a job managing Real Madrid which was to start following last year’s World Cup, which caused Spain to fire him immediately before last year’s World Cup. His system isn’t bad, but he’s also got similarities to Unai Emery.
Ralf Rangnick: Former Red Bull Leipzig manager, who is now employed by the Energy Drinks as their head of sport. He never won the Bundesliga because he didn’t manage Bayern, but he had reasonable success at all his managerial stops.
Jorge Sampaoli: The Argentinian has managed all over South America, and won the Copa America with Chile in 2015. He managed Seville for a couple seasons before returning to South America to manage Santos of Brazil.
Patrick Vieira: Another Arsenal legend, had some decent success managing New York City FC and now manages France’s OGC Nice.
The other reason I’m not about to judge whether Arsenal made the right call in hiring Emery from this list is that I am in no way qualified to judge the quality of the list overall- I’d never really heard of Ralf Rangnick before reading his name in Ornstein’s column, and I’m only tangentially familiar with Lopetegui.
I do know that I have an inherent bias against a team’s managerial-selection thought process being “(player) played for us and was great, so clearly he’d be a good choice for manager!”, so based on that I’m glad they didn’t go the Vieira/Henry/Arteta route. Managing Arsenal is too big a job to restrict a prospective coaching pool to ex-players. Other than that, at the very least, this list shows that Arsenal were willing to cast a pretty wide net, and weren’t going to settle for a Steve Bruce-style retread or a Jose Mourinho-style ex-manager.
It will be interesting to see how this list evolves over time, because I have a feeling they’ll want to keep it fresh - they may need to use it before too much more time elapses.