It’s a fact that Arsene Wenger is in the twilight of his career, and the when rather than the if is being debated. With that, comes the question of who will take over the reigns once Le Prof does decide to call it a day. Andrew Thompson takes a look at one very special candidate.
Whether he is gone tomorrow or at the end of his contract extension, the inevitable occurrence for Arsenal is that Arsene Wenger’s days on the Emirates touchline inch closer to an end. He surely won’t be sacked (despite the wish of many), but the issue that has come up in many a forum has been just how will the Gunners fill the void that will be left by the Premier League’s second longest serving manager.
It is without question that whoever does take the hot seat after Wenger’s departure must be exceptional. Cries for the likes of Roberto Martinez, Michael Laudrup, Jurgen Klopp and a few others may have been founded in some regard, but the truth is, sans Klopp, none of them would make the grade. Most importantly, they would not be given enough slack on the rope and given ample time to settle. But perhaps there is one man, maybe the only one in the world, that would be afforded the time to not only continue on the legacy left by Wenger, but improve upon it – Thierry Henry.
No my fellow Gooners, I am not suggesting that The King himself should replace Wenger at the end of the season or some such nonsense, but when you think about it for just one moment, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he may be ready to take over the reins in three years time. When you consider it further and look at the evidence beginning to present itself recently, could this have been part of the plan all along?
Arsenal’s humbling at the hands of Monaco in the first-leg of the round of 16 in the Champions League will no doubt put further pressure and speculation in regards to just how long the club will accept the current state of affairs…if you ask the fans, they’ve had enough. Naturally my entire theory is predicated on Wenger seeing out his contract and not being sacked by Stan Kroenke or proverbially falling on his own sword at the end of this season, but Henry on the touchline could still be the long-term goal regardless of happenstances surrounding the Alsatian headmaster.
Let’s delve into the possibility for just a moment, and look at not only some key evidence to suggest this may be the plan, but discuss the personality traits that would make TH14 a potential dream turned reality.
Training Arsenal’s youth
How does one of the clubs greatest legends spend his time post-retirement? By taking the beginning steps to receiving his Continental B coaching license. It was widely reported a month ago that Henry had begun the process of taking UEFA coaching courses in Wales with the desire to break into management, and immediate speculation surrounding that fact was seeing him back at the club on the touchline in some capacity.
Backed by former club and international teammate and close friend Robert Pires (who also spends a fair bit of time at the club himself) to be the logical successor to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, it’s been in the collective consciousness that the Gunners’ record goal scorer had always intended this career path. And now, just one week ago, it’s broke via Le Prof himself that Henry has been training the clubs youth players. Truthfully there are few, if any, better former Arsenal players to learn from than his majesty, but perhaps the reason it’s Henry is because these are the youth players that, in three years time, will be pressing for first team places immediately or a few years on – players Henry would be managing should he be Wenger’s successor.
Managing a football club is a task that is a difficult one, but to form relationships with your future players years in advance makes it just a little easier. Just look at Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, managing Barca B before taking the reigns of the first-team and molding them into one of the most formidable club sides in footballing history. That is not to say that Henry will lead us into the pantheon of the footballing elite, but knowing the system and the players before taking the job puts you in an excellent position for success.
With the likes of Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem and others being touted for big things in years to come, and Henry getting his hands into the mental and technical fabric of our youth system that is in much need of a massive shot in the arm, it’s a tell-tale sign that something big is in the mix for the club that Wenger could well just be trying to hold out long enough for Henry to take over. But as with anything in football, time will tell.
Tactical mind and knowledge of the game
There is never a moment where professional footballers do not have a firm grasp of the game that has taken over and enriched their lives from a fairly young age. Whether you were a brilliant striker at a top club or a squad option at a bottom feeder, to be a professional, this simple yet complicated game is one that you have a strong understanding of. But some players can use those experiences and turn it into something bigger, something greater.
After making his full debut for Sky Sports as a pundit this season in the wake of his brilliant analytical contributions during the World Cup this past summer, it’s clear to most of us the kind of understanding Thierry Henry truly has for the game, and it goes far beyond playing.
I had a theory (and I am sure many have thought this as well), that often times the best managers were never brilliant on the pitch. Forming an understanding of football on the pitch and off the pitch are separate entirely. The likes of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and many others were never brilliant players by any stretch of the imagination – what they were afforded was the ability to study and learn the other side of the game that most players do not tap into.
You’ll constantly hear plenty of fans moan about the lack of quality punditry these days, especially from former players – it’s a real rarity when someone can hang up his boots but still make significant contributions to the sport in either an analytical role or a coaching/managerial one. However, for me, in time, I truly think Henry will make the grade and then some.
Having been brought up via the French youth footballing factory, nurtured and groomed by Wenger into one of the best strikers of his generation, and then ultimately playing along side fellow greats Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, Henry has seen it all as a player, and from three very different footballing angles. There is without question that his ability to not only break a match down tactically, but provide analysis and exhibit and understanding of the game that surely has more and more people standing up and taking notice that he has the mind of a manager. After all, would he really want to delve into management if he himself truly thought he was incapable of a positive outcome?
A return to the counter
I do not have to sit here and tell you what we all miss about The King, but you know I will – those scintillating pacey runs, audacious strikes from distance, his craftiness and a desire to put the defense to the sword. But this was a time when Arsenal still stuck to their guns and were arguably the best counter-attacking side on the planet. The Arsenal during Henry’s heyday compared to today is different. We have been subjugated by the influence of tiki-taka, for better or worse.
The good news is that there is change on the horizon even before the flag would potentially be transferred to Henry’s ship. There have been instances this season where Wenger (though much speculation exists that it was not his doing) has successfully shown that we still have the ability to be that ruthless, hard hitting team once more.
Most importantly, a survey of our squad currently as well to see who would be at his disposal in three years time, reveals that it’s more than plausible to suggest that Arsenal under Henry’s guidance would return to our counter-attacking roots. The likes of Walcott, Chamberlain, Sanchez, Gnabry, Akpom, Ozil and many others, all have that bit about them that cry out for the counter. You can just see Ozil fitting into that DB10 role brilliantly, Walcott emulating Henry in pace and willingness to get a sniff at goal, Chamberlain and Sanchez patrolling the wings on both sides of the ball; the list goes on.
It can surely be said that such a tactical overhaul would be predicated on finding the right midfielders. We all love Ramsey and Wilshere, but when you consider the amount of creative players we already have as well as our lack of grit and steel centrally, the pair of them could find their futures at the club thrown into question despite Henry having nothing but praise of them.
On the whole, when it comes to the tactical side of it, Henry was part of an Arsenal system that led the way in Europe when it came to the counter-attack, but he also bore witness to the days where we were one of the best and brightest in defense, a reality that we often forget. One Nil To The Arsenal did not ring around the ground with passion and verve without just cause, and yes maybe we would not be as technically driven as we are now, but my goodness would it be a beautiful sight to behold once more.
Love of the club
The final quality, and for me, undoubtedly the most important, is Thierry Henry’s unquestioned love and devotion to Arsenal. From forming a bond with Arsene Wenger, the continued and unwavering devotion of the fan base and a history of being around the club whenever possible, Henry brings with him an attribute that no other candidate could call upon – a willingness to die for us.
Naturally a heart attack during the 30th minute of a Champions League semi-final tie is not what I mean, but part of being a manager is doing what it takes to see your club succeed. Sure, if we somehow ended up with Simeone we would be in good hands, but a desire to see it through at the helm of a club that you happen to have a love affair with puts us all in a good position.
Most importantly of all, the longevity of Wenger’s time in north London must be taken into account when his replacement is considered. While the appointment is prestigious and we are a big club, there is no telling how long the man in charge will want to remain – for Henry, he would never want to leave. In addition, it must be considered that life after Wenger will require patience as we transition, and that is something that most managers will not be afforded. As for Henry, such is his love for the club, and our love for him, that he may be one of the only options that we are more than willing to see out that period with – it is crucial to club stability that we do not fall prey to a constant rotation of managers after Wenger hangs up his oversized overcoats.
At the end of the day (or Wenger’s current contract rather) there is no telling what the future holds in regards to who will replace the living managerial legend. But when this debate inevitably surfaces once more down the road in a few years time, we must all ask ourselves who truly would not only take this club forward, but preserve the legacy of Arsene Wenger and the identity of Arsenal Football Club.
We will have to ask ourselves, all of us, if we want three, four or five Pep Guardiola’s to come in for two or three years each, or if we want a club legend to come in and build upon the legacy with which he himself was apart of.
From Invincible player to Invincible manager – the mere thought of it could send chills down your spine. And yes, the Premier League these days is such where going undefeated is next to impossible, but for a man who’s bronze statue already graces the grounds of the Emirates, for me, there is no better option than Thierry Henry to lead this club forward.
Written by Andrew Thompson.