Saturday, 28 April 2012

Would a Guardiola Arsenal enjoy visiting Stoke?

Managers always shy away from speculation linking them to another job while the incumbent is still in post – it’s against the rules in the management brotherhood.

I have no such qualms.

We have an important and tricky game today which needs to be the immediate focus but Arsene Wenger has two more years to run on his contract and it would be folly of Arsenal not to consider who could replace him, even if they might also offer him a new contract.

Pep Guardiola confirmed yesterday he will quit Barcelona at the end of this season. Over the past few years, he has been one of the names thrown up as a possible candidate for the Arsenal job should our lack of silverware force Wenger out.

Admittedly he is also linked with any ‘big job’ but there feels like more substance to the idea he might pick Arsenal over somewhere like Chelsea or Man City.

Those who claim to be in the know say the relationship between Guardiola and Wenger is a strong one considering the boss doesn’t make a habit of buddying up with his contemporaries – there was even talk that Guardiola stayed at Wenger’s home when he visited London once.

We shouldn’t overlook the importance of Wenger’s opinion on his replacement. In all likelihood he, not the board, will decide when he leaves Arsenal and I imagine his recommendation on a successor will be the one the club will act on.

Are there any other managers out there beyond Guardiola that you could imagine Wenger trusting to preserve, or, heaven forbid, enhance his legacy?

He and Guardiola certainly share the same steadfast belief in playing football the ‘right way’ and also the principal that a club should be about more than buying success. Encouraging youth and fielding a team that has been brought up to play the Barca/Arsenal way are key shared philosophies.

So, while there may be substance to the idea Guardiola could be the next Arsenal boss, will it happen and would it work?

The timing of his departure from the Nou Camp appears to rule it out. He says he wants a break from the game but you can’t imagine that will be for more than a year at most. Wenger continues to remind us he’s never broken a contract and, unless next season proves an apocalyptic disaster, you couldn’t see him getting the boot. That means the Spaniard will be looking for a job before there would be a vacancy at Ashburton Grove. Maybe he will take a job in the middle of nowhere to refresh his love for the job, the equivalent of Wenger’s Grampus Eight adventure, but is it realistic to think he resist being in the thick of the action for two years?

Of bigger significance is whether Guardiola could be the manager that pushes Arsenal from also-rans to winners. My first instinct is to say yes. He inherited a brilliant squad and world class players at Barcelona but the work ethic he has installed in the team and their simple yet devastating approach has moved them to even greater heights.

He is renowned for his perfectionism and desire to win, as well as play great football. Under his guidance, Barcelona were just as capable of being hard to beat as they were at ripping opponents apart. These are all features we lack and which could push us to the next level.

But today’s game at Stoke is an excellent reminder of why that all may be too good to be true.

Just as working at Barcelona or Real Madrid creates unique kinds of pressure, adjusting to the peculiarities of the Premier League would present a whole set of new and unfamiliar problems for Guardiola.

One week his team must thrill 60,000 supporters paying the highest ticket prices in the world, the next it must visit the Potteries, endure 90 minutes of hell and come away with six points from the two games.

His team would have to cope with horrible pitches and defenders that spend more time targeting ankles than the ball. I know all this exists in La Liga as well (to a lesser extent, I suspect) but perhaps the way Guardiola’s and Wenger’s teams approach the game are too similar. Would Guardiola know any better way of coping with Peter Crouch than Wenger?

Our next manager has to fix the problems in the current team, not just accentuate its strengths. Someone with experience of the day-to-day toils of the English game may be more likely to address them. Promoting an assistant or coach would be another good option – which makes the possible replacement of Pat Rice so important.

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