Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! With England on the hunt for a new boss, we ask sports writers Stuart Hood and Mark Bailey if bookies’ favourite Arsène Wenger should leave the Gunners for the Three Lions…
YES! Arsène for England
“It’s time to forget Arsène-al and embrace Wen-ger-land” – Stuart Hood, sports writer, Virgin Media
He fits the job perfectly
In December 2014, the FA published a document called the England DNA. The paper, which was devised by FA technical director Dan Ashworth, endeavoured to set a blueprint for how England national teams played at all levels. Teams “aim to dominate possession intelligently, selecting the right moments to progress the play and penetrate the opposition,” it said. Cross-reference this playing style with the tactical philosophies of managers who’ve bossed in the Premier League and the name that springs to mind is… Sam Allardyce. Just kidding. The answer is obviously Arsène Wenger.
England fans actually want him
Every employee wants to be wanted, and right now if you asked even the most pro-Wenger Gooner whether they would consider swapping him for Pep Guardiola, their answer would be “yes, yes, yes”. In sharp contrast, if you asked a gaggle of English fans who they want as their next boss, they’d scream “Aaaarrrrrsène Wengeeeeerrr”, perhaps to the tune of The Lion King’s “Circle Of Life”.
He’s the right age
I’m not saying Arsène Wenger’s too old to manage in England’s top tier. Wait, that’s exactly what I am saying. When the Frenchman turns 67 later this month, he’ll be a whopping 14 years older than the average top-flight manager. Wenger recently claimed to be “scared” of retirement, and if that’s the case he needs to get with the programme and appreciate that international football is the safest haven for the sport’s elder statesmen. I say this because, while only two men have paced Premier League touchlines in their 70s (Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Robson), the last four UEFA European Championships have been won by teams with bosses over 60.
He’s as English as spotted dick
There’s a much-touted argument that Wenger shouldn’t be the Three Lions’ next manager because we need a good old Englishman in the dugout. But here’s the thing. Due to spending the last 20 years in North London, Wenger would be able to represent England at rugby, cricket and a whole bunch of other sports. Football is slightly different, as the Home Nations have opted out of FIFA’s residency rules, but if the Frenchman were to apply for British nationality, then he’d get the green light to don a white shirt. And if he’s just a piece of paper away from playing in the team, then surely he’s English enough to be the national team’s boss?
He can hack the flak
Managing England isn’t all sunshine breaks in Dubai. The moment things go even slightly awry the tabloids come down on you hard and fast (see Steve McClaren, Roy Hodgson, Big Sam). This will put off some potential managers, but it won’t daunt Wenger, who possesses skin that’s thicker than an Argentinian steak. Add in the frustration of his last few years at the Emirates, and if the FA’s recruitment team sell the challenge properly (hint: “Arsène, please end England’s era of underachievement and clean up our game in the aftermath of Big Sam”), then surely Wenger will make the logical call. Namely: “Yes, I agree. It’s time to forget Arsène-al and embrace Wen-ger-land, Wen-ger-land, WEN-GER-LAND!”.
NO! He should stay put
“Why drink from a poisoned chalice when you can sip fine wine?” – Mark Bailey, writer, The Telegraph
It’s the hardest job in English football
Hi Arsène, fancy an awesome new managerial job? It will be loads of fun. Your face will probably be morphed into a root vegetable for national giggles (Graham Taylor, 1990-1993). You won’t get a contract renewal, even if your team reaches the semi-finals of a major tournament (Terry Venables, 1994-96). Sadly you can’t use a brolly, even if it’s raining chats et chiens (Steve McClaren, 2006-07). Your romantic exploits will be exposed to the world (Sven-Göran Eriksson, 2001-06). Oh, and you might get sacked after one game (Sam Allardyce, 2016 to… er… 67 days later). Arsène? Where are you going? Come back! Big Sam says it’s the “best job in English football”! What do you mean, “Non, non, non”?
Wily Wenger will never do a Gary Neville
Considering the fate of recent England managers, it’s hard to imagine why Arsène Wenger would want the England role. Why drink from a poisoned chalice when you can keep sipping fine wine at Arsenal? But miraculously the Arsenal gaffer admits: “One day, if I’m free, why not?” What makes Wenger different is that he is savvy enough to wait for the right moment. He doesn’t make rash decisions like Gary Neville, who leapt at the sudden chance to manage Valencia, only to get sacked less than four months later. Having stayed loyal to Arsenal for 20 years, Le Professeur isn’t going to quit any time soon.
He wants a farewell trophy first
The media’s obsession with England ignores the other side of this story: Arsène Wenger is very happy at Arsenal, despite his squabbles with the fans. With his rival managers at Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool all navigating their first full seasons in charge, Wenger is well placed to end his final season at Arsenal with a Premier League title. Why abandon the chance of a fairy-tale finish?
Health-mad Wenger has time on his side
Given that England had the youngest squad at Euro 2016 (with an average age of 25 years and ten months), the team needs a boss who can mentor Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling all the way to the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. And Wenger is one seriously healthy pensioner, who can manage for years to come. By 2022 Wenger will be 72 years old – only one year older than Sir Alex Ferguson when he quit Manchester United, and only a few years older than Spain’s Luis Aragones was when he led Spain to glory at Euro 2008 at the age of 69. With his clean-living philosophy, Wenger’s age won’t be an issue if he makes England wait.
He will miss the buzz of the Premier League
Arsène Wenger relishes the thrill of nurturing players on a daily basis. Chuck him into the England dugout after their qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia this week and he would have just two competitive fixtures with England before next summer – at which point his Arsenal contract will have ended anyway. The England job is made for a manager who is ready to drop down a gear. Wenger still wants to put his foot down.
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