Last month, Arsenal appointed Unai Emery as their new head coach. Emery, a Spaniard who spent two up-and-down seasons as Paris Saint-Germain’s manager and before that won three consecutive Europa League titles at Seville, will replace Arsene Wenger who controlled the helm for 22 years.
The hire looks good, as the Gunners will be coached by a man who’s had managerial success and brings a modern edge to the pitch. In comes a fresh face, and out goes a staple. But even as an encouraging hire gives a jolt to a team that’s slumped in the Premier League standings in recent years, the dismissal of Wenger feels a bit too late.
Arsenal won the Premier League in 2004, and they haven’t had the taste of victory in the 14 years since. They’ve won the FA Cup three times in the last five years, but that feels insignificant when compared to the 13 league titles in their history.
A common sentiment from Arsenal fans is that though Wenger should be acknowledged as a legendary manager who brought the club to great heights, it’s also frustrating that mediocrity had been accepted as Wenger continued to control the team into his late 60s.
It only makes sense when reminded the club is owned by Stan Kroenke.
Kroenke initially bought stock in Arsenal in 2007, but he increased his shareholding to a majority in 2011 and has since taken over the club. A reserved and quiet multibillionaire nicknamed Silent Stan, Kroenke is infamous for his cold management of his professional sports franchises, an unconcern with where they land in the standings and a seemingly unengaged attitude.
For those unaware of the style Kroenke has assumed in the US but are familiar with his young tenure in the UK, it won’t surprise you to learn that he’s quite the same operative in the states. The overarching viewpoint on Kroenke is that he, if given the option, will always make the financially driven decision rather than that to improve the actual quality of the team.
Rather than shelling out more money during the transfer window in any given year to add more talent and help put Arsenal over the top, he’s much more content merely contending and comfortably avoiding risk to profit season after season.
Here is where it should be mentioned that these teams are businesses, designed to make money for the people who run them. Players, coaches, and all other employees function as viewed as commodities, and fans are considered consumers. When an owner buys a team, they know this reality.
But when an owner controls more organisations you can count on one hand, doesn’t go out of his way to talk to the media, thus putting up a wall between himself and the fan base, and makes financially driven choices at the expense of actual team success, disdain is inevitable.
Maybe Wenger’s exit and the hire of Emery is a sign that Kroenke does take interest, that the voices of thousands of Arsenal fans clamoring for any semblance of discernable change haven’t fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps Kroenke’s agreement to release an extra £20million in transfer funds to ensure the club could hire Emery and acquire better talent is evidence the tide has changed.
The problem is, Kroenke has approached a status of having good faith before, only to revert back to his money-grubbing ways. You might recall when he moved his National Football League franchise from St. Louis in Missouri to Los Angeles in California.
The Rams had success in St. Louis, taking three division titles early in their 21-year stint and winning a Super Bowl in 2000. But as soon as Kroenke — a man who was born in, grew up in and attended university in Missouri — was presented with an opportunity to make even more money by bolting from his home state, he jumped all over it, moving his football team across the country to a far more equitable California.
The St. Louis Rams became what is now the Los Angeles Rams. A brand new, $2billion stadium is planned to open in 2020, a luxuriant reminder of what comes first when it comes to Kroenke.
The perfect summation of Stan Kroenke can be found in a quote gained by the Daily Mirror last year in an interview. Amid pressure by Arsenal fans to move on from the 68-year-old Wenger, Kroenke had an interesting idea:
“An easy answer is it’s easy to do something. It’s harder not to do something.”
Why it’s hard to let go of an ageing manager after several years of adequacy in place of greatness is simply confusing. Alas, Arsenal stuck with Wenger and proceeded to have a poor season, finishing sixth in the Premier League.
Though Kroenke has shown no indication to sell his share on any of his seven sport franchises, the jury on the 70-year old owner largely appears to be out. While Arsenal are taking a step in the right direction with the hiring of Emery, it’s still hard to ignore the dark cloud named Silent Stan that looms over the Emirates.
Emery is supposed to represent change in north London, but Kroenke’s bottom-line mentality will stop any real revolution at the Emirates.