As Wenger leaves Gunners...
Arsenal to test Rodgers’ resolve to stay a Celt
Brendan Rodgers: a strong contender to replace Arsene Wenger (pic: SNS Group)
In his 22 years as manager of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger hasn’t signed a single Scottish player. With the Frenchman having announced his intention to leave in the summer, ironically the London club could well be looking north of the Border for his successor.
While the talent on the pitch may have failed to meet his English Premiership standards, the qualities demonstrated by Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers since his move to Glasgow make him a stand-out candidate for the job.
After an historic unbeaten first season in the Parkhead hot seat, the Northern Irishman stands on the brink of unprecedented back-to-back trebles.
The League Cup has already been secured but the speculation will provide an unwelcome distraction in his attempts to win a seventh successive title with victory over Hibs at Easter Road today, and the Scottish Cup against Motherwell next month.
Apart from doing better in Europe, and in particular the Champions League, it is hard to imagine what else the former Liverpool manager may feel he can achieve in Scotland.
There is the undoubted carrot of trying to guide Celtic to a record-breaking 10 league championships in a row, and in the process cementing his status as an all-time Parkhead great, while his relationship with Dermot Desmond may also be a key factor in his future plans.
The depth of Rodgers’ self-confessed love of the club he has supported as a boy may well be put to the test should the Gunners come calling.
Interestingly, the Celts’ majority shareholder has said the club will not stand in Rodgers’ way should Arsenal wish to make an approach for his services.
“He’s an outstanding person and we wouldn’t like him to leave, but we can’t force anyone to stay,” said Desmond.
“You can’t put handcuffs on anybody if they want to go to a club like Arsenal. It will be Brendan’s decision and Brendan’s decision only.”
Rodgers may top the bookmakers’ lists to succeed Wenger, though there are a number of other worthy candidates who will come under consideration.
Germany boss Joachim Loew is being touted, while former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has also been linked with a return to London.
A popular figure among the support as a player, Patrick Vieira has also been mentioned as has ex-Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel.
Whoever does take the reins, it is not the worst time to take over at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger: change (pic SNS Group)
Wenger was regarded as something of a visionary when he first arrived in England, most notably changing attitudes towards training methods and players’ nutrition.
The 68-year-old won three English Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, including the double in 1998 and 2002.
Although one of the best there has been, his star has faded in recent seasons with success-starved fans clamouring for change.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis has said the North London club must be “open-minded, brave and bold” in their search for a new manager.
Rodgers could well fall into that category given he works in a league often criticised by those in England.
“The most important thing is to make the right appointment – not a quick appointment,” said Gazidis.
“The process begins today. I want to keep that process in-house. This club has to rise to the challenge. You don’t find a replacement for Arsene Wenger, you find a new path forward.
“It’s important to me that we continue the football values that Arsene Wenger has instilled – somebody who can continue that for our fans – progressive, exciting football that gets people interested and excited in games we play.
“Another significant piece is how the candidate represents the club and our young players – our academy teams are doing extremely well and under the radar there are lots of players coming into our first team.”
So what next for Wenger?
While taking another manager’s job in England seems highly unlikely, he is unlikely to remove himself from the game completely.
There are pots of money to be made in the Middle East, and international football would be the obvious next challenge.
The chance to manage his country would surely be hugely appealing.
Didier Deschamps’ contract with France runs out in 2020, perhaps allowing Wenger enough time for a brief sabbatical?