By Tim Todd Freelance Twitter Correspondent
What is the definition of success for a football club? If Arsenal had appointed Jurgen Klopp in 2013 and he had won 2 FA Cups and finished top four in each of his three seasons, narrowly missing out on the League title last season, would Arsenal supporters be calling for him to be fired today?
My friend Rich in London posted this exact question on Twitter this morning and I thought it was such a great question that it required a longer discussion than can be had on twitter. As usual, we are going to be respectful here and not resort to ad hominem attacks. Instead let’s just talk about this idea from Rich,
Quick question if a new AFC manager was appointed in summer 2013. Won 2 FACups and finished 4th 3rd & 2nd would you be calling for his head?
— Richard (@R_GOONER) February 17, 2017
What this tweet raises is the question of how we define success and it also points to the sort of bipolar way that Arsenal supporters approach the managerial position. My first reaction to the question is “of course not.” You don’t fire a guy who has not only won trophies, two FA Cups, but who has created a team which has finished better in each of his three seasons.
My second thought though, was what would a club like Bayern do? Or PSG? Or Man City? Or Chelsea? Or Man U? Or Barcelona? Or, is this getting old yet? Or Real Madrid? Or Borussia Dortmund?
The argument for why those clubs are expected to win the league every year is that many of those clubs are in weird leagues. With the club resources they have, if PSG doesn’t win the French league, they will be rightly considered failures. The classic argument is that Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Barcelona, and Real Madrid are effectively in 2-club leagues — though that’s not entirely true anymore now that clubs like Valencia and Atletico have mounted title challenges in Spain and with RB Leipzig adding to the competition in the 18 club Bundesliga.
And when we look at the managers of these clubs, many of them are under fire. Thomas Tuchel is reportedly being pushed out at Borussia Dortmund after just two years! He finished 2nd last season in the Bundesliga and their domestic cup, and this season Dortmund is struggling in 4th place. PSG just replaced their manager, Laurent Blanc, who had won all four domestic titles the season before. Barcelona are getting ready to fire Luis Enrique, who won back to back League titles and the Champions League in 2015. He won the CHAMPIONS LEAGUE! And Barcelona are going to fire him.
And in the Premier League, Chelsea fired the manager who won them the Premier League, half way through the season that they were Premier League champions! And City fired poor Manuel Pellegrini after he won them the Premier League in 2013-14 by announcing that they were going to hire Pep Guardiola half-way through the 2015-16 season. Incredible, really. Manchester United fired legendary coach Luis van Gaal after he won them the FA Cup because he didn’t finish top four.
So, it’s actually very common for top clubs to fire managers. Even smaller clubs fire managers when the club seems stagnant. Liverpool fired Brendan Rodgers after their spectacular title collapse and Tottenham has been through a string of managers before settling on Pochettino. And who knows how long he will last if Spurs stop progressing or drop out of the top four.
This raises the question, one which Wenger would ask rightly, what are the values of OUR club? How do we measure success? How does the club’s management team measure success?
This seems to be the real tension at the Arsenal. There are those who want Arsenal to be at the top of the table, meaning at the level of competing for the Champions League and there are many people who are just as rightly happy with Arsenal in the top four every year.
I remember those times when Arsenal were competitive in the Champions league. When I first saw Arsenal at Highbury in 2006, they went on to the Champions League final that season. That was the last time that Arsenal were really competitive in that competition. Since 2006 Arsenal have been dumped out of the Champions League in the round of 16 eight of the last eleven times – with seven consecutive round of 16 eliminations. Would any other top club put up with that record?
On Friday, Wenger reminded everyone that Arsenal, Bayern, and Real Madrid are the only three teams who have spent 20 years in the Champions League (it’s actually 19 consecutive seasons over 18 years between 1998/99 and 2016/17). This is an achievement of sorts. However, in that same time Real Madrid won 4 Champions League titles and Bayern 2 and Bayern have been runners up an additional 3 times. That means 9/19 Champions League finals have featured those two teams while Arsenal have made it just once. And in that time Bayern Munich have made 10 different managerial changes and Real Madrid, 16.
Those clubs would certainly fire a manager who only won the domestic cups. Other clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham probably would see 4 years in the Champions League and two domestic cups as reason to renew that manager’s contract. The question then is what kind of club is Arsenal?