Even if Unai Emery is an underwhelming choice for Arsenal manager, he may well still be the right one.
He will bring with him some qualities which are reminiscent of early-years Wenger – his modern ideas and freshness – and others which were sorely lacking in the final years of the Frenchman’s reign – attention to detail, defensive solidity and meticulous video analysis.
There is every reason to think that, on paper, Emery can be a massive success at the Emirates Stadium: on top of all the technical plus-points, the last few years of stagnation and gradual decline towards the end of Wenger’s reign mean that the former Paris Saint-Germain coach will not be trying to directly outdo a club legend but rather clean up after one.
And yet, one thing worries me above all else: Emery’s grasp of the English language.
It sounds harsh – he’s only been here a few days – and it also sounds old fashioned – aren’t all the players used to multinational dressing rooms and a mix of languages being used all around them? – but it’s also worth some real scrutiny.
For one thing, this is a man who is about to take over an extremely technical and key role at a massive British business. He’s also a manager who relies on his attention to detail and his ability to communicate to his players exactly what he wants them to do.
Wenger: "I am a facilitator of what is beautiful in man. My constant battle in this business is to draw out this beauty."
— Jonathan Liew (@jonathanliew) May 25, 2018
So Emery’s English isn’t great thus far. He’ll learn and get better. Mauricio Pochettino didn’t feel confident enough to speak (certainly to the media) without a translator when he first arrived. When Antonio Conte came the summer before last, his grasp of the language was spotty, too. It wasn’t such a huge barrier to either of those men in the end.
But this isn’t the first time Emery has had that problem.
His record in Spain is brilliant. He worked wonders in the lower leagues, weathered storms at Valencia and won three European trophies at Sevilla. Away from his homeland, however, his record is a little less stellar. He won everything there was to win in France with Paris Saint-Germain, but their willingness to get rid of him shows exactly what those trophies are worth these days. Indeed, contriving to come second in Ligue 1 last season probably tells you more about his spell in the French capital than all his silverware put together.
The above video is not subtitled, but even with the sound off, playing puppets with water bottles in order to put his point across to the media is not a good look. It’s reminiscent of Giovanni Trapattoni’s infamous rant in broken German during his time at Bayern Munich.
He also had an unhappy time in Moscow with Spartak.
None of this means he’ll fail at Arsenal. Indeed, on paper you can argue he’s the perfect man for the job. But his communication skills in foreign languages may well be one reason why a man who seems to work wonders with Spanish clubs hasn’t been able to replicate that elsewhere.
You can’t criticise a man for trying. You can’t criticise his willingness to front up and try to doggedly keep trying to speak to the English press in their native tongue. It shows his desire and his determination and, after all, his job is football, not linguistics.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if Emery’s grasp of English could be the only barrier to success in north London, and that rather than being the next Pochettino or Conte, Emery may well go the way of Walter Mazzarri and Pepe Mel instead.