Wenger As England Manager?

Perhaps because it is an international week. Perhaps it is because reporters are tired of writing about Arsenal's demise on the pitch.  Perhaps they are tired of digging into the books and trying to figure out how many years it will be until the long-term, and now out-dated, deals made to pay for the new stadium will be keeping Arsenal's football revenues from growing at the same pace as their peers in the league.  Perhaps it is because the England team are having a fairly easy run of qualification and with Capello already known to be on his way out there isn't much else to write about this week.  Whatever the reason, there is a rumor making the rounds that Wenger might be the perfect blend of "foreigner, but not really" to lead the England team into Brazil 2014.

To which my reaction is "What?!?!?!??!?!?"

Not An Over-reaction
I'm sure the first assumption that you are jumping to is that I'm against this because I've lost faith in Wenger and his ability to produce results at Arsenal.  That is far from the case.  I fully understand what he has contributed to the club throughout the entire run of my ability to consume the Premier League almost as easily as I consume domestic sports here in the US.  He has been a great manager for the team.  Financial (incredibly rich owners willing to lose money) and technological (it is easier to scout more and more players from more and more places every day) forces are conspiring against he and Arsenal at the moment but that doesn't mean I don't believe in the fact that he has brought many exceptional qualities to the club.  The question is, are they the right qualities to manage England?

Wenger's Strengths
At their peak, Arsenal did two things better than just about anyone else out there.  #1 - Identify young players who were undervalued before any of the other "big clubs" got to them. #2 - Identify players who were under-performing at bigger clubs due to being in the wrong system or the wrong position.  By applying these advantages Wenger was able to assemble very strong teams without spending a crazy amount of money.  As the players proved their worth, there was also more money to pay their wages because the club wasn't spending a ton of money in the transfer window.

Due to his policy of recruiting foreign players, Wenger also created another big advantage compared to his early-2000s and before peers in the Premier League.  The combination of his preferred style of play and the number of foreigners (plus being in the capital vs. being in, say, Manchester) meant that Arsenal was as welcoming an environment as there was in the Premier League for non-Englishmen.  Throw in some trophies and the club's relationship with Nike and Arsenal were without a doubt one of the top two destinations in England.

Despite what the press says about grit, guts, and good old fashioned English desire, talent generally wins out in all athletic endeavors.  Wenger's biggest strength has been that he has been able to out-punch his financial weight and attract great talent to Arsenal on a modest budget.  His decline or demise (depending on your point of view) has coincided with a reduced ability to do so.

Wenger's Weaknesses
You may notice that in all of the lauding of Wenger above, there was precious little written about his ability in preparing a team or his match day tactical ability.  In fact, if you look back at the history of headlines about Arsenal, even in Wenger's glory days, there have consistently been complaints about his ability to get the best out of the talent he has assembled.  In cases where he didn't acquire exceptional talent, he hasn't proven incredibly capable of taking modest talent and getting as much as humanly possible from them.

He may have acquired his stubborn streak by virtue of having been successful at all of the stops along the way in his career thus far but when a team continues to be unable to defend set pieces for years at a time to the obvious detriment of winning trophies that's a problem.  When that inability spans different defensive pairings, different goalkeepers, different holding midfielders, etc. then you have to assume that it is something inherent in the approach to the game.

When presented with superior talent in the early to mid-2000s, Wenger's strengths as a recruiter and talent evaluator far outweighed his weaknesses as a strategist and tactician.

Prognisis for England Management
So, here's the thing.  Wenger's weaknesses won't be shored up by taking a national team position.  They will, in fact, be exacerbated.  At Arsenal, he still has the opportunity find new ways to scout or undervalued sources of talent.  Technology and his spending power vs. those of his competitors makes that harder and harder every year but it is at least still possible. If you sit him in the England manager's seat (or that of any other country for that matter), then his talent pool is pretty much locked in.  It isn't like there are a ton of players who COULD be playing for England who choose to play for another country instead.  It isn't like there are a bunch of undervalued players roaming around the lower divisions of English football who he can discover in order to dramatically change England's chances of success at Euro and World Cup competitions.

On the down side, Wenger's weaknesses as a strategist and a tactician - the primary roles of a National Team manager along with ego management - would be exposed.  The wailing and moaning in the press about Arsenal's failure to defend set pieces are bad enough when mixed in with all of the other headlines created on the average Premier Leauge/FA Cup/Champions League matchday.  Can you imagine how horrible the situation would be if/when that was the big AND ONLY headline after a World Cup quarterfinal match?

After 15 years in charge of Arsenal, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to think that this sort of thing would be any different after the job title has changed.

No, if you ask me, England would be far better off with someone like David Moyes who has routinely outperformed the talent he had available to him, has to be as frustrated as Wenger with his current lot in life, and would likely look favorably on a move that would allow for a graceful exit from Everton.  He wouldn't have to leave for another club but for the "honor of managing one of the great national teams in the world".

If Wenger does get offered and takes the England job, just make sure you remember this post when England suffers the typical exit.

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