Legacy hunters

By Pete Reilly Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/6 21:13:42

Arsenal give Man United a lesson in turning the page


Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette drives the ball in front of Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini at Old Trafford on Tuesday in Manchester, England. Photo: VCG

Manchester United and Arsenal met at Old Trafford midweek and the game ended in a 2-2 draw, the hosts twice coming back. While the game had its positives for the home side, it also was indicative of the problems at the club, problems that have plagued them since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down in 2013.

Arsenal, while not showing the same level of performance as they did in besting North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur a week ago, twice took the lead and had another goal disallowed. They had the better chances and despite their game plan being disrupted by early injuries, they looked like a codified footballing unit, a team with an identity.

Spanish coach Unai Emery has only been in the job for a handful of months since replacing Arsene Wenger in the summer. The Frenchman's departure was in many ways similar to that of his longtime rival Ferguson. Wenger had been in the ­Arsenal dugout for a quarter of a century and oversaw the club's most successful period since Herbert Chapman's team won three titles in a row in the 1920s. He also oversaw the biggest change in the club's history when they moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium.

Pantomime villain

Even in these early days, it seems Arsenal have got their appointment right. At the same stage of United's first post-Ferguson season, new manager David Moyes was canceling the club's annual Christmas pantomime and overseeing a title defense that was almost over with the team outside of the top six and behind his former club Everton.

Moyes lasted until April the next season. His successor Louis van Gaal had two seasons but was effectively handed his marching orders just hours after his side won the FA Cup. There is the growing belief that Jose Mourinho is not going to last too much longer in the role, with every result bringing speculation that the axe man nears. Any stay of execution is being put down either to the unwillingness of Chief Executive Ed Woodward to admit he has got the appointment wrong three times, or that with a multibillion pound takeover from Saudi Arabia looming any new owners would want to clean house and bring in their own new boss.

So how can one club get it so wrong? Part of that for United has to be that not only did Ferguson, a man who knew everything at the club but also had the confidence to delegate, a man whose reign coincided with Manchester United becoming a global powerhouse, depart but the chief executive David Gill also left.

Duo depart

These were two of the most respected men in their roles in football and they needed to be replaced at the same time.

While Ferguson anointed Moyes, it was the owners who shifted Woodward over.

Woodward had been successful on the commercial side of the club - and he continues to be, with the club posting record revenues again this year - but was new to the football side.

The combination of Woodward and Moyes attempting to navigate the ­transfer market to bring in only Marouane Fellaini and after allowing his ­release clause to expire is a memory that haunts fans five years on.

Fellaini is indicative of the club's post-Ferguson malaise. Not good enough on arrival, he has seen the performances around him adapt to his level to the point where he is now one of the most consistent performers. Contrast Ferguson's ageing first-teamers, a title-winning side where he had brought in Robin van Persie, to what Wenger left his ­successor: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, the club's most expensive signings. In fact, the club's top five most expensive recruits are still at Arsenal but, more importantly, their best playing days are ahead of them. That's a boon for Emery.

You could argue that Wenger set the bar low for whoever followed. The club have not won the title since 2003-04 and his presence had long been divisive. Ferguson, somehow, led a squad that Moyes inherited to the club's 20th English league title - 13 of which he had won.

The fans at Old Trafford had become entitled on his watch, and five years and three managers later, that's something they are still ­getting used to.

Establishing a winning culture at a club that has not won anything of note for years is one thing, coming into a club and motivating players that have already won everything is quite another.

Shorter stays

Perhaps there are lessons about legacy and succession planning to be learned from these contrasting regime changes but then again, we may never see the like again.

Ferguson did 26 years and Wenger did 22. The longest-serving managers in the Premier League now are Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche who are weeks past their six-year anniversaries. Both took over with clubs outside the top flight, though, so the longest-serving boss who was employed as a Premier League manager is Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs, who has just passed the four-and-a-half-year mark.

The dynasty may be over in terms of managers staying for decades, just as the dynasty that Ferguson built may be over. What happens next, when Mourinho inevitably leaves, will be crucial. Pochettino's name has been mentioned but, assuming they cannot tempt him away from Spurs, Arsenal's comparative success post-Wenger suggests another name: Why not Wenger himself?

He knows English football so well, he didn't want to leave Arsenal and could be the steady, avuncular hand that United need.



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