Arsene Wenger stability has brought Arsenal little, it's time to take risks
Back in May 2013, as the dust was settling on Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement at Manchester United and Roberto Mancini's dismissal as Manchester City manager -- the two men left their jobs within five days of each other -- Ferran Soriano spoke about the changing landscape of football management.
The former Barcelona vice-president had been appointed as chief executive at City nine months earlier, and his first major decision was to sack Mancini -- who had taken the club to their first league title in 44 years during the previous campaign -- after the club finished as runners-up in the Premier League and FA Cup.
Two weeks later, I was one of a group of journalists present in a Manhattan hotel when Soriano gave his only in-depth interview to date at City about his views on the game and revealed he was not a big believer in empire-building.
"Three years in football is a long time," Soriano said. "In football, teams have cycles, and you can have managers who go through several cycles and managers who go through one cycle.
"Obviously, we want the next manager to stay for a number of years, but I think it would not be wise to speculate on the next manager being there for 26 years. This is an exception, and I think three, four, five years is one cycle. Maybe a manager can do one or two cycles, but people get tired. Players need another way, another excitement, and managers also want to move, but I think this is normal."
It is safe to assume that Arsene Wenger would not last long under Soriano, certainly not the most recent incarnation of the Arsenal manager that has delivered just two trophies -- the FA Cup, twice -- since winning the last of his three Premier League titles in 2004.
Wenger would not survive at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich either, or in the post-Ferguson era at United. Liverpool's owners, too, lack patience after three years without tangible success has elapsed at Anfield.
Soriano's reading of a manager's cycle is one shared by many of his European contemporaries. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Europe's most successful clubs this decade, all operate by the principle that their managers/coaches will come and go every three or four years, but they continue to win trophies. (Atletico Madrid are an exception, with Diego Simeone at the helm since December 2011, but the Argentine has preserved his position by winning five major trophies and taking his team to two Champions League finals in that time.)
Wenger and Arsenal are clearly an anomaly in the modern game.
The Frenchman delivered great success and not only changed the outlook of his club, but also that of English football during his first decade in charge. However, despite those two FA Cup successes, the second 10 years have been a barren wasteland of false hope and unfulfilled potential. And with Arsenal now in serious threat of missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time this century, questions are being asked over whether he is still able to decide his own destiny.
Wenger admitted after the weekend's 3-1 defeat to West Brom that he has made a decision on his future -- though he would not reveal it yet -- and widespread reports suggest that he has resolved to sign a new contract and stay on.
Sources told ESPN FC that Wenger agreed a two-year deal last November, but has so far failed to sign it. However, so much has happened since then that it would be inexplicable if Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke and chief executive Ivan Gazidis simply left Wenger to put pen to paper as though nothing had gone wrong.
Kroenke and Gazidis clearly place high value on the stability and consistency that Wenger brings, but sometimes risk and volatility bring about better results. The latter have certainly not harmed Chelsea or Manchester City in recent seasons. Even United, with Old Trafford still suffering the aftershocks from Ferguson's retirement, have won two major trophies during a period of great upheaval.
Since 2010, Chelsea, City and United have dominated the race for honours in England, despite going through managers at a rate of knots. City and United have each won five major trophies this decade having both employed four managers; Chelsea have amassed seven major honours, including the Champions League, under seven managers at Stamford Bridge since 2010.
But what have stability and consistency actually done for Arsenal with Wenger at the helm during that time? It is difficult to find a positive answer, though perhaps the Arsenal board have been unnerved by the difficulties endured by United since Ferguson ended his 26-and-a-half year reign in 2013 and are now simply too frightened of the potential consequences to tell Wenger that it is time to leave.
Ferguson at least helped United plan for his departure by allowing coaches Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen to take a greater role on the training pitch and become recognisable figures outside the club. His plan was for the two men to remain at Old Trafford and help the new manager to settle in, but David Moyes dispensed with their knowledge and experience -- the first of a series of bad decisions by the Scot -- and the club is now only just beginning to recover under Jose Mourinho.
But when Wenger goes, is there anyone who will be there to ensure a smooth transition? Assistant manager Steve Bould and first-team coach Boro Primorac are seen and not heard, so there is every chance of a major upheaval if Wenger departs.
That prospect may alarm Kroenke and Gazidis, but the reality is that the same happens at major clubs throughout Europe, and Arsenal will have to move with the times.
If the only things keeping Wenger at the Emirates are the stability and consistency that he brings, it really is time go. As Soriano insisted, managers come and go in cycles, and only Arsenal know why they have allowed themselves go round in circles for the past 10 years.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_