Diego Simeone and Arsene Wenger
An abandonment of principles, values and footballing philosophy or a pragmatic, whatever-it-takes approach to winning football matches?
That’s the decision facing Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis as he goes through the process to find the next manager at Emirates Stadium.
While Arsene Wenger heads into his 250th European match as a coach, the decision makers above him continue to assess their options, with Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone perhaps the most unlikely choice of the lot.
Simeone said he hadn’t been contacted by anyone at Arsenal about the vacancy before the Europa League semi-final first leg in north London. But the Argentine has long been touted as a potential replacement for Wenger, despite his contrasting footballing philosophy, which is starkly opposed to the attractive football foundations the Frenchman has laid for the Gunners since he arrived in 1996.
The first leg between Arsenal and Atletico provided an intense clash of footballing styles, beginning with an early red card for Sime Vrsaljko, which saw his coach sent to the stands following his protestations over the decision.
On the pitch, Arsenal looked the better side but Atleti’s typically resolute style saw them eventually edge back into the game when Antoine Griezmann capitalised on Laurent Koscielny’s error to equalise and take the vital away goal back to Madrid.
“They have no real weak points,” Wenger said ahead of the first leg.
“We have to play to our strengths. We like to dictate the game, to have the ball and as well must try to annihilate the strengths of Atletico.”
While the obvious fit for the Arsenal job is a manager who possesses a footballing philosophy built upon wanting to entertain the fans, coupled with finding a balance between attack and defence, there can be no doubt that Simeone represents an interesting option for the powers that be at Arsenal.
La Liga and Europa League winners, twice runners-up in the Champions League and consistently challenging at the forefront of European football, the pragmatic Argentine has put Atletico on the map. Their new 67,000-seater Wanda Metropolitano stadium has brought them even further forward but their coach could be tempted by a new challenge in the coming seasons, be it at Arsenal or another Premier League team.
“Above all, I want my team to have a style,” Simeone told Marca in 2006.
“The intelligent supporter is the one who does not obsess over whether the team plays well, but rather that the team wants to win.”
Simeone’s emphasis on the collective over the individual is nothing new, but his tactics and expectations for those who play under him make him a motivator and hard taskmaster – something that Arsenal need going into next season.
Arsenal need to be different to move forward as they’re unable to compete with the billions chucked at the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United.
The new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat is also involved in the process to appoint a new manager, along with head of football relations Raul Sanllehi, and they’re expected to play a major part along with CEO Ivan Gazidis in creating a more European-type managerial model, which sees power more evenly shared between those at the top.
While the search for a new manager continues, there can be no doubt that fresh ideas will be welcomed at Emirates Stadium. It’s crucial that those ideas are transformed into a balance of entertainment for supporters to bring back the previous apathetic fans, who have stayed away from games in recent months.
Indeed, it doesn’t have to be Simeone, but the profile that fits is someone who can take Arsenal forward while maintaining the values that Wenger has encouraged and displayed for much of his 22 years in charge.
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