Thursday, 16 April 2015

Jurgen Klopp to leave, should Ivan make his move?

Well, well, well. One of the hottest stories of football is out, and if Arsenal manage to make their move on this, it could be monumental for the future of the club. Ready? Here it comes...

Wellington Silva has a Spanish passport.

Okay, I'll get serious.

The opportunity regarding Jurgen Klopp is huge. I know and I fully understand that he has flaws, but as innumerable clubs would tell you, there aren't many perfect managers out there. I can't be the only one in thinking that at present, he's the better manager to Arsene Wenger. Considering the age, the pedigree and Klopp's experience in German and European football, it's certainly an irresistible opportunity.

I agree that circumstance matters a lot. Arsenal are currently on a high, which means that the sentiment surrounding the club is primarily, yet absurdly, pro-Wenger. Arsene won't break a 2-year £8m contract unless the mood surrounding the club is toxic, which only seems vaguely feasible if Arsenal get spanked by Reading. Manchester City and Real Madrid look likelier to snare Klopp owing to managerial instability in their camps. The possibility of Klopp being an Arsenal manager next season (or indeed, ever) is very slender.

And yet, there is the faint hope that remains that Klopp could be at Arsenal come 2015/16. Perhaps Wenger could call it a day, perhaps the fans could force him to, or perhaps Ivan Gazidis could think the grass is greener on the other side, honourably "relieving" Wenger of his duties. The chances are low, yet they exist. And don't lie, whatever your views on the present manager, there had to come a time when you contemplated if Klopp should be the future manager for Arsenal, whenever that time comes. Wenger's not getting any younger.

But is he the right man to replace Wenger?

Klopp has his faults, sure, but so does Arsene Wenger. He has his merits, but well, so does Wenger. Perhaps our best course could be to weigh both of their traits and faults, even though they may prove futile in the end.

For the extremist pro-Wengerite, should you feel that it's disrespectful in measuring Wenger to someone else, kindly don't read the rest of the post. You may want to bathe in the past, but I'd love to think about our future.

Tactical approach

It's well known that Arsene Wenger isn't the most astute tactically. He's been guilty of "focusing on his own strengths" than looking at the other teamsheet. His teams have been susceptible to tons of schoolboy errors with regards to set-piece defending, even in the glory days. Thierry Henry's autobiography also stated that Wenger had not properly prepared for the Champions League final!

There have been mitigating factors behind the rare times he's shown tactical adaptability. Firstly, all of them were times under pressure, which suggests that Wenger doesn't do pre-game planning unless his neck is on the line. Manchester City was, according to Gunnerblog (a huge pro-Wengerite), a result of player pressure than his own brilliance. The tactic of pressing Liverpool high up the pitch seems like an exception rather than the norm. In any way, Arsenal stopped pressing after the initial minutes. In addition, I have yet to understand the real reason behind shunting Ramsey on the right, and I won't pretend to.

Even if you could find convenient loopholes in my argument to opinionate that Wenger is not as bad tactically as I'm making it out to be, the fact remains that Klopp is a much better tactician. His pressing style and defending as a unit is a promising philosophy, certainly better than possession football, which even Pep Guardiola admitted is behind its time. He sends his team out with a plan and does not believe in the concept of "pre-planned" substitutions, as Wenger appears to.

Arsenal have players like Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud, Ramsey, Welbeck and many others who have the stamina and the will to press, which could make them ideal for Klopp's philosophy. Perhaps the only flaw in Klopp's pressing approach is that it pushes players to the limit which results in injuries, but hey, we were getting plenty of them under Wenger already weren't we?

Performance under pressure

I need hardly remind how badly Arsenal play under pressure. When the chips are down, there's barely any shape nor plan to go forward with. When confidence is flowing high and there isn't much onus on the team, an Arsene Wenger side is capable of producing truly breathtaking football. But beyond that?

Falling away in the title race in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2014 was not down to lack of money, it was because the manager could not get his team over the line when the spotlight was on them. We've lost to Birmingham, Bradford and Blackburn under pressure. We've thrown away two, three and four goal leads when things started to go wrong. We barely scraped past Wigan Athletic and Hull City when the FA Cup came to the business end. It's no coincidence that Wenger has never defended a league title.

You could perhaps say the same about Borussia Dortmund under Klopp as well, except that Jurgen has managed to defend the Bundesliga title (from Bayern Munich). I'll admit that Klopp sides sometimes tend to dwarf under pressure, but not nearly as much as Wenger sides do. Klopp is still capable of cajoling his troops when things are going wrong. Wenger hardly gets off his seat.

Squad building

Thankfully, Wenger has seemed to learn from the days of Almunia, Eboue, Cygan, Diaby, Denilson, Chamakh, Park et al and now buys players after careful inspection. Sure, that still doesn't hide the fact that Arsenal have Sanogos and Flaminis to get rid of their current squad, but this Arsenal team is still one of the most talented I remember. Wenger's hope was to leave Arsenal with a better team, facilities and infrastructure. He seems to have gotten that together.

I haven't followed Dortmund over the course of seven years, obviously, but it seems that Klopp is a pretty good squad builder himself. At Dortmund, he saw his star players lured away by bigger clubs. That won't happen at Arsenal, Ivan's sponsorship deals have seen to it.

The big stage

Let's not lie - while money has been a factor in Wenger not competing for the league in early years, it wasn't the reason why Arsenal did not win the league last season. Money's not why Arsenal fell to Monaco, nor did not challenge for the league this season. Money wasn't why Blackburn, Birmingham and Bradford defeated Wenger. Putting every single Wenger failure entirely down to lack of money was one of the biggest cons the club pulled. I'm surprised that Arsenal fans - otherwise very intelligent and analytical - did not pull the club out on that cheap trick.

Whisper it quietly, but Wenger cannot perform on the big stage anymore. When he came in the mid-90s, football wasn't global. However, he knew the French market and raised level of competition by his Thierrys and Vieiras as well as introducing a new diet and fitness regime. Back then, he was ahead of the times.

He's not now. Teams know how to play against Arsenal's possession style. Wenger doesn't have that tactical edge over managers in the Champions League - a stage where Arsenal needed to compete this season. We weren't close to winning the league this season; the only reason we're second is because the teams around us - aside from Chelsea - have regressed as well. Arsene is running out of steam.

Wenger's been on the job for 18 years. Think about that for a second. Surely the rigours of the job would be getting to him?

Klopp offers more. He offers progress. He's young, energetic, he offers new ideas and dynamism. He'll come to Arsenal all the wiser from his exploits from Germany and he'll have a plan. It could backfire - sure - but it's definitely worth a go. Klopp's done more than enough to warrant a chance at an elite club, or at least, a club striving to be one.


The only major issue with Klopp is this - he's too much of an ego. I understand that managers need to be egoistic and dominatory for their club to reach the pinnacle. Sir Alex Ferguson was an egoist. Jose Mourinho is an egoist. Arsene Wenger is an egoist.

And therein lies the problem. Arsenal is definitely not a club suited for egoist managers. The Arsenal board of directors do not have the footballing knowledge to demand proper accountability from the manager. Stan Kroenke might not want to risk Wenger leaving and his failsafe Champions League money to come under risk.

Wenger has cut a dictatorial figure at the club - I think we all know that. Andries Jonker and Sir Chips Keswick have said as much. Since most of the board are filled with businessmen who lack footballing knowledge, Wenger’s given a free reign. In terms of transfers, players, positions, formations – Arsene Wenger calls all the shots. Since David Dein's departure, his degree of power even eclipsed Sir Alex Ferguson’s at Manchester United.

Arsenal regressed for a while under this rule. None of Shad Forsythe, Andries Jonker and Steve Bould are given much of an input, because Wenger does not take kindly to criticism. Remember his reaction to Jacqui Oatley’s probing questions and Paul Merson’s post-Anderlecht analysis?

My fear is that Klopp could go the way of Wenger, because I'm not sure he's a manager someone like Ivan Gazidis can control. I don't want a dictatorship at Arsenal, I want a collaboration. I want the likes of Forsythe, Jonker and Bould give Klopp their input, and for Jurgen to take that data and create something special. I don't want Klopp's aim of raw hunger for success skew, to controlling power at Arsenal - like it did with Wenger.

Klopp may go the way of Wenger, he may not. Heck, we may never know, for his chances of ever managing Arsenal don't sound great. But call me crazy (and you will), but I'd be willing to take that risk. As I said, Klopp's not perfect, but he may be worth the gamble.

Again, I don't believe Gazidis has the guts nor the authority to make the change in the first place. This entire discussion may well be pointless. But then again, you can't expect Wenger to stick around and keep performing forever. Arsenal need to make the leap sometime soon.

Why not this June?

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]