Patrick Vieira’s availability last summer for a role at Arsenal naturally raised a desire from many fans to see the former captain back at the club. His playing days were over and the Frenchman wanted a return to the club where he spent his most successful years. But while he was overlooked by Arsene Wenger and has since taken up a role at Manchester City, should the Gunners look for someone to come in a offer a similar presence that Vieira does at the Etihad Stadium?
There’s no question that a lot of careful planning and consideration is taken when looking to appoint someone in the role of Director of Football, or any other position that grants them a decent voice. Ajax have former players in place, as do Bayern Munich and Barcelona. But is it something Arsenal need now, especially in the absence of figures like David Dein?
The problem with introducing a former player into such a role is the question of how much influence he will really have. This is clearly Arsene Wenger’s club, whereby the manager holds enough power to select his own boss. Wenger has shown time and again that he is not open to taking on an opinion that differs greatly from his own. And while he’ll certainly give it some thought, as fans are told, one of his strengths, or weaknesses, is his drive to do things on his terms.
So, was it a genuine indication of what the club thought of the idea when they said there were no available roles for Vieira to fill ? Every group of supporters, I’m sure, would like to know that there is a figure from a successful period in the club’s history to help oversee the building of another positive era. People like Vieira would act as a bridge between the club’s playing staff and it’s hierarchy. In a positive and forward thinking club, where is the harm in extending a hand to someone who understands the club well?
Players like Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry would of course be welcomed back in any capacity, and the Dutchman’s inability to fly would make him a good candidate for a role away from the coaching side of the game. But again, what kind of influence would they have in a club that appears to be shaped by one man? It’s not an attack on Arsene Wenger, as I’m sure many clubs would want someone of his experience and history to oversee the future of their club. But there does come a stage when another step becomes a necessity. It’s not to raise the question of a Director of Football, because again, Wenger has his own ideas for player recruitment. But rather, it’s the introduction of a fresher set of ideas, and specifically from someone who understands the demands of the game.
Steve Bould’s introduction is a great move in the right direction for the club, and even though there were clear reservations from the manager to go down the route of selecting another assistant, Bould will surely come to show why a different perspective is important.
The problem with Arsenal is that Wenger never wants to portray himself as someone who’s losing control. And even though any former player would work closely (and positively) with the manager, it does just end up being another voice to challenge the ideals Wenger has.
Would it benefit Arsenal to have a former player introduced in some capacity? Yes, but only as something of a PR stunt. It would greatly please the fans, and there might be an idea that the club are progressing with younger figures in important roles. But it’s hard to see anyone coming in and having a real say on any aspect in the running of the club. Patrick Vieira oversees the youth development at Manchester City; a role he would never have been offered at Arsenal.