Arsene Wenger’s recent decision to leave his Emirates post at the end of the season led, rather inevitably, to the rumour mill very quickly starting to turn. The question nagging at all football fans being, who will replace the 68 year-old once his remarkable 22 year-long tenure finally comes to an end?
Thomas Tuchel emerged as an early front runner. Then rumours of Brendan Rodgers heading south of the border started to spread. We’ve heard Carlo Ancelotti’s name linked, as well as Germany coach Joachim Loew’s. And ex-Gunner Mikel Arteta could even stand a chance of landing the job. The latest manager to get a mention? Former Barcelona player and boss Luis Enrique. He’s looking like a strong possibility now too.
The Gijón-born coach, who managed Barca between 2014 and 2017, has been seen by many as the logical successor to Antonio Conte if and when he leaves Chelsea. But while he may top Roman Abramovich’s wishlist, Enrique is also firmly on Arsenal’s radar. And why wouldn’t he be? The man has a proven track record of success and could just be the perfect fit for the North Londoners. Luis Enrique might even prove to be the long-term replacement for Wenger that Arsenal seek.
The Arsenal board will no doubt look to the example of Manchester United and see what can happen when a club tries too hard to look for a ‘long-term successor’ to a legendary manager. David Moyes’ stint at Old Trafford was supposed to be a long and successful one. But, to put it politely, it didn’t quite work out that way.
After enjoying the leadership of a cool, calm and collected man with free-flowing football and pragmatism always at the forefront of his mind, Arsenal will want to avoid a succession of Chelsea-style hirings and firings. They’ll want to select the right candidate and settle on him. Enrique fits the bill.
On a practical level, he’s great pals with Arsenal’s Head of Football Relations Raul Sanllehi, the pair having forged close ties and worked well together during their time at the Nou Camp. So there should be no conflict there.
More than that, though? The man knows success. In his three years with his former Catalan employers, Enrique led them to two La Liga titles, three cup successes and a Champions League. It’s possible to argue that managing Barcelona isn’t the world’s toughest gig, but with a win ratio higher than 75% over three seasons, Enrique knows how to win football matches.
Will Arsenal fans warm to him? It’s highly likely. The man is thoughtful, serious about playing attractive football and respects fans and their input. Not only that but he believes in nurturing young talent, something that Wenger has always taken pride in. Enrique’s first game in charge of Barcelona saw his hand debut appearances to three youth players, Munir El Haddadi, Rafinha and Sandro Ramírez.
He’s unafraid to take risks and upset players too. Critics of Arsenal’s current manager often cite his loyalty to out-of-form players as a major weakness. Wenger’s insistence on standing by struggling players may seem nice but often leads to poor teams performances and dropped points. Enrique has no such qualms about making big decisions. While in charge of Roma he once famously took off under-par club legend Francesco Totti during a big European tie, much to the anger of the Roma faithful.
Arsenal fans have become accustomed to a certain style of play over the past two decades. Enrique would look to continue it. He helped develop Barca’s 4-3-3 short passing game but doesn’t mind not having the ball. He evolved their tiki-taka game from an at-times dull affair into slick, direct counter-attacking devastation. Which Arsenal fan isn’t going to love that?
Wages could prove to be a slight stumbling block, however. Enrique has reportedly asked for £25m a year, a contract that matches that of Jose Mourinho’s at Manchester United. If Arsenal agree to his demands and the appointment were to be made, he’d trail only Pep Guardiola in terms of the highest-paid football club managers in the world.
He could just prove to be worth it, though.