Arsene Wenger’s contract at the Emirates Stadium will run out in May 2017, at the end of the next Premier League season. Rumours of a contract extension had surfaced in the past month but the Frenchman rubbished these claims, opening the doors for further rumours about where Le Professeur would take his services.
England’s quarterfinal exit to a spirited Iceland at Euro 2016 and the subsequent resignation of manager Roy Hodgson has opened up speculation about who will take up the role with Jurgen Klinsmann, who first established his credentials on the world stage as the coach of an exciting German team at the 2006 World Cup and is currently managing the USA, being one of the frontrunners.
Only Sir Alex Ferguson can boast of a longer time handling the public and media pressures of the English top flight than Wenger. Whoever the FA appoints, is not just handling tactics and player management but would require a smooth handling of the English media as well.
Wenger is known to be a disciplinarian who has clear ideas about how to play football as well as a genuine eye for spotting and grooming young talent. Except for Eric Dier, who did a brief spell in Portugal before joining North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, the rest of the English squad cut their teeth in the Premier League and Wenger surely has a cabinet worthy of notes on each of these players from preparing for matches.
England’s primary problem in France was a familiar inability to unlock defences that have plagued them for years, if not decades. The quality of players is unmistakable but England’s managers have never had full freedom to execute plans or drop the star players that are not fitting in with the media constantly breathing down their neck.
Arsene Wenger is no stranger to this pressure and on the back of a 19th consecutive season qualifying for Champions League football, is probably best suited for the job. There are only a handful of European games a season where Wenger’s team does not have more of the ball, which is also the case for The Three Lions.
If the England Football Association does offer Wenger the job at the end of next season, that gives him one year to identify his strongest squad for the World Cup in Russia. If Wenger does take up the offer, it would be hardly surprising if he gets rid of the senior players who are weighing the team down and puts more responsibilities on the shoulders of younger players like Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford. Jack Wilshere will also be possibly looking at a larger role if he can stay fit.
Players like skipper Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge would not be automatic starters because of their price tags, and would have to put in solid shifts in training to convince the 66-year-old of their utility to the team.
Wenger’s contribution of the English game cannot be overstated. When he joined Arsenal in 1996, the Premier League was a thump-and-chase league where teams focused more on bone-crunching tackles, long balls and aerial duels. The Invincibles changed that adding another dimension to attacking play with a solid ground game built on short passes and slow buildup.
The England national team, however, has always remained a throwback to the pre-Wenger days of Premier League football. Foreign managers Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello struggled to build an ethos much the same way Englishmen Steve McClaren and Roy Hodgson did. This has resulted in English teams filled with Premier League superstars bowing out in the early knock-out stages, extending their trophy drought to half a century.
After 20 years of managing Arsenal, it remains to be seen whether Wenger will consider an international management role. Questions will also be raised about a club-level league title drought that has extended to over a decade.
However, no one in their right mind can dispute the fact that if anyone can get parts from Premier League clubs and make them play together as a team with shared ideas of football, it’s Wenger. He has already done it at Arsenal without depending too much on spending silly money in the transfer window.