How would you sum up Manchester United post-Sir Alex Ferguson? Three managers, one FA Cup, one EFL Cup, an abhorrent amount of money spent, boring football and Marouane Fellaini. A far cry from Premier League trophies on tap and major European finals. An era defined by a scattergun approach to squad building; an almost textbook example of throwing money at a problem and hoping it solves everything.
Arsenal haven’t been much better in that time, and this season has been as farcical as anything United has produced since 2013, but there lessons to be learnt from their case. Ferguson retired and United stumbled into a new era with all the bravado and competency of a teenage drunk trying to impress a girl at a party. With Wenger seemingly on the precipice, his own empire collapsing around his ears, the time for Arsenal to tread the same path will soon be here. I cannot stress enough that Arsenal cannot follow in Manchester United’s footsteps.
It’s clear for all to see that Arsenal, just as United were, are not prepared for life without Wenger. There have been no changes at board level, no rejigging of club structures nor any evaluation at coaching level to ensure that Arsenal don’t have a knowledge vacuum once Wenger leaves. Years of overdependence have led to neglect of this aspect of the club and now a new manager faces a scenario where they have to be the coach, the negotiator, the accountant and the chairman all at the same time. This scenario can only end in failure.
When Ferguson retired, United had no Director of Football nor a savvy transfer fixer. This meant that David Moyes was never equipped with the talent he and United needed to maintain their level at the top of the table. United’s squad needed a major overhaul and never received one. Arsenal’s squad is in similar need of repair, but the current chaos at the top doesn’t fill fans with the belief that it will be done in an efficient manner.
While heavy investment is required, it’s not enough to just spend big on players, either. United have invested over £500 million on players since Ferguson’s retirement and have little to show for it. Players such as Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Angel di Maria came and went. Luke Shaw, Bastien Schweinsteiger, and Anthony Martial fell out of favour with current manager Jose Mourinho. With no overarching strategy to buying players, United are in a constant state of renewal, signing players for one manager than tossing them out when the new manager says he doesn’t want them. It’s very difficult to build a title winning team in this way. For Arsenal, then, you hope that there is a commitment to a certain brand of football and a certain profile of player that will dictate who they bring in. A Director of Football is crucial here, as while managers will come and go, he will set and maintain the club’s football direction.
With that in place, Arsenal would then be able to hire the right manager. United’s fixation with quick, easy success has resulted in an inconsistent hiring policy. Moyes’ lack of top level experience and failure to earn the respect for the squad lead to Louis van Gaal arriving. Van Gaal brought experience and commanded respect, but United weren’t prepared to give him time for his philosophy to come to fruition. Fans weren’t prepared to wait, and so Mourinho arrived. Each new arrival seems to be chosen to fix the flaws of their predecessor yet bring a lot of baggage with them. These managers have little in common. Swinging from one philosophy to the next has done nothing for United’s identity and style of football. Arsenal will not find another Arsene Wenger but they could make life a lot easier by being consistent in their selection of manager.
Overall, Arsenal should aspire to be organised and efficient with whatever they do in the future. United’s lack of planning has created a long and winding road back to the top that needn’t be there. While there are obvious parallels between both clubs, there is no reason for Arsenal to follow in their footsteps.