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Has Arsène Wenger Failed to Develop Good Coaches?

Posted By Brian Phillips On November 6, 2008 @ 12:07 pm In Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I agree with almost everything Matt Hughes writes in his post on Arsène Wenger at the Times‘s football blog today, the gist of which is that Wenger has been even more instrumental in Arsenal’s success than Alex Ferguson has been in Manchester United’s, and that he will therefore be harder to replace. But one of Hughes’s points strikes me as slightly odd:

As they search for potential candidates Arsenal also have far fewer Wenger-schooled acolytes to call upon than United, who have provided one-fifth of the Premier League’s managers. Bryan Robson may have fallen off the radar but at various different times Roy Keane, Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Steve Bruce have all appeared as plausible successors to Ferguson, which should come as no great surprise as they all played in what remains the favourite of all his teams, the 1994 Double Winners. By contrast, Tony Adams is the only former Arsenal player managing in the Premier League, and in his brief spell at Portsmouth he has yet to win a single point.

Wenger’s failure to inspire many of his players to successful managerial careers is something of a curiosity which could be explained by his love of free-spirited individuals, as the list of protégés is surprisingly small.

It’s true that Alex Ferguson has an impressive record of turning players into coaches, though we might also note that “one-fifth of the Premier League’s managers” means just four managers. But more importantly, Ferguson has been at Manchester United a full decade longer than Wenger has been at Arsenal, 22 years to Wenger’s 12, and of the five managers on Hughes’s list, four had already finished their United careers by the time Wenger arrived at Arsenal. (Roy Keane is the only exception.) It takes time for a player to develop into a manager, and in a comparison like this a 10-year head start is enormous.

For the comparison to be at all fair, either Ferguson needs to have produced a number of top-quality managers during his first 10-12 years at Manchester United (he didn’t), or we need to wait to see what Wenger’s former players are up to in the early 2020s. I’m willing to believe that Wenger’s “love of free-spirited individuals” might make him less likely to develop good managers than Ferguson’s tough-mindedness—though I can think of a number of former Arsenal players I’d love to see on the sidelines—but it’s just too soon to draw that conclusion. At the moment, one former Wenger player is managing in the Premier League (Tony Adams), and one former Ferguson player who doesn’t pre-date Wenger is managing in the Premier League (Roy Keane). That’s not a terrible imbalance, even if you accept that what Roy Keane has accomplished with Sunderland is more impressive than what Tony Adams has accomplished in his brief career with Portsmouth.


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