A decent coach is worth his weight in gold these days. Once upon a time the back pages and fan forums were solely dedicated to the men on the pitch, but these days it seems as though the figure on the sideline is just as important – if not more so.
This fascination with the manager is evident in the manner in which both Arsenal and Chelsea have been linked with Luis Enrique. Not only has he been routinely suggested as a replacement to either Arsène Wenger or Antonio Conte but the press have positively bounced both clubs off one another to build the fiasco into a bidding war between two interested parties.
On the one side, you have a club desperately trying to find the perfect, long-term replacement to an icon of not only Arsenal’s history but that of the entire Premier League. And on the other, you have a completely different club looking for the next, competent coach to keep the wheels going on their efficient, short-term machine at Stamford Bridge for the next few years.
And yet it’s abundantly clear that Enrique should pick Chelsea.
Firstly, nobody wants to be the man that replaces Wenger. As we saw with the dark clouds that descended over Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson left, all the money in the world and three good coaches still haven’t taken Manchester United back to the spot Ferguson left them in.
They’ll get there eventually, but before that happens years will be spent, money will be wasted and coaching careers will be undoubtedly ruined.
Although Wenger’s reign won’t end on the same high note as Ferguson’s, the position at the Emirates will prove to be a poisoned chalice for all sorts of similar reasons that may prove impossible to overcome.
Indeed, Wenger has become a lightning rod for criticism aimed at Arsenal over the past decade. Although some board members and shareholders are deeply unpopular among the supporters, the general consensus seems to be that Wenger is the main obstacle between the North London club challenging for Premier League titles and Champions League trophies.
The man that then steps into the Wenger-shaped hole at the Emirates will be single-handedly tasked with proving that theory to be true. It won’t just be about rebuilding an aching squad or providing a fresh perspective to one of England’s biggest clubs, it will be a job that feels the full weight of expectation from Arsenal fans.
No half measures will work after Wenger; this club won’t be dumping an icon just for Enrique to comfortably finish fourth every season and maybe reach the odd semifinal in Europe.
That wouldn’t be the case at Chelsea. Although Conte’s title win was only a year ago, a lot has changed at Stamford Bridge and in the Italian coach there is a man seemingly just as tired of his club as it is of him.
Whereas Wenger’s departure will go out with a bang, Conte will most likely slink out the back door without so much as a whimper.
Rather than inherit a noisy, rebellious fanbase desperate for their first league title in 14 years, Enrique would be joining a club that is well aware of its faults and one that has turned itself into experts in forgetting the old regime and getting things back on track for the next manager shortly in the door.
While no more than six points may separate the two clubs in the Premier League table, Enrique knows that the task of challenging for another league title would be far easier at Stamford Bridge. Sure, both squads need a huge amount of investment this summer, but Chelsea still have the skeleton of a title-winning side readily available to the right kind of coach.
Eden Hazard, Willian, N’Golo Kanté, Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois were once crowned champions under the right coach and circumstance and they could easily be exactly that once again. Arsenal may have some fantastic players but making league winners out of scratch is a lot harder than brushing the dust off old ones.
And, of course, if it all doesn’t work out then the former Barcelona manager knows that his reputation will still be intact. José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink have all been welcomed in the front door of Stamford Bridge only to then be flung out the backdoor with little consequence on their coaching careers. And it’ll happen to Conte this summer too.
Yet at Arsenal, we’re currently watching their greatest manager leave in a rather disgruntled manner. And Enrique will be well aware of the fact that the next manager after him won’t be offered as much patience or decorum.