When Manchester United lost Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, many people hoped they’d start a steady decline but few dared to dream their fall would be quite so hilarious.
While losing a manager of the ability and stature of Sir Alex was always going to take its toll, losing David Gill at the same time has arguably left them in an even bigger mess, as Jose Mourinho’s recent pre-season tantrums have shown.
A quick trip down the M6 to London and it looks as if Arsenal have learned – or are trying to learn – from United’s mistakes. Before Arsene Wenger was shown the door, they recruited Raul Sanllehi to take over as director of football and Sven Mislintat as chief excitement maker while Huss Fahmy came in to take Dick Law’s contract-signing pen away from him.
That meant that when the main man left, the club had footballing people in place who knew what to do next.
The biggest surprise in all this has been how Ivan Gazidis, after years of being nothing more than a Queen-like figurehead at the club, suddenly found himself infused with power, which he wielded smartly before deciding all that responsibility wasn’t really what he wanted in the first place.
Had he left with Wenger, without bringing in Sanllehi, Mislintat, and Fahmy, Arsenal would be in arguably a worst state than United. I mean, United are a shambles and still finished 18 points ahead of Arsenal, albeit the same distance from City above them. What does that say for where Wenger left Arsenal?
Gazidis is Milan-bound, that much seems certain despite what Arsenal’s statement was meant to make you believe. At first glance, Sir Chips Keswick’s statement and Unai Emery’s comments both seemed to shut down any speculation that Gazidis would be on his way, but when you look with more than just a cursory glance, you quickly realise they say little of substance.
Since he arrived at Arsenal, the South African has largely underwhelmed. Coming into a role he knew would be subservient to Wenger, he pottered away in the background seemingly doing a whole lot of nothing and being relatively happy with that and his £2.6m salary.
His ‘catalyst for change’ comments eventually did come to fruition, much to the surprise of most. Mislintat and Sanllehi, as mentioned, arrived. Arsene said he’d go and then there was a total overhaul of the coaching set-up at all levels across the club.
In picking Unai Emery for the job of head coach at the club, it’s unlikely that we will see a re-run of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho’s turgid football. He has as many Europa Leagues in the last five years as Arsenal have FA Cups and more trophies than United in the same period by a ratio of 4:1. He knows how to win while playing football and the club have bought well to support him.
Ultimately, thanks to the work Gazidis has done in the last 12 months Arsenal are in a good place to absorb his departure in the same summer as Wenger’s, unlike Manchester United when they lost both Ferguson and Gill at the same time.
The fear before Wenger left was that there would be no football people left at the club to make any decisions, but Gazidis selected wisely those who should be able to guide the board as they look to replace the man who hired them in the first place.