Sam Allardyce’s departure after 67 days and one game as England manager has left the Football Association sifting through the fall-out before starting the search for his successor.
The FA chose the English option in the 61-year-old as successor to Roy Hodgson after the fiasco of Euro 2016 – with disastrous results.
When the dust settles on this humiliating episode for the FA and Allardyce, might there be a temptation to go for an experienced, successful foreign candidate who was considered last time, has spent his prime years managing in the Premier League and is a global figure in the game?
Why England should go for Wenger?
When Hodgson made his ignominious departure from France after England’s Euro 2016 exit to Iceland in the last 16, chief executive Martin Glenn made no stipulation on his successor’s nationality.
He said it would be “the best man for the job” – and the Arsenal manager’s credentials easily outstrip those of the other candidates being touted as Allardyce’s replacement.
At 66, Wenger might even share Allardyce’s view when he was appointed that his age and experience make him the perfect fit for international management.
The “It Must Be An Englishman” lobby may find their frustration eased by the knowledge that Wenger has worked in the Premier League for 20 years, winning it three times as well as collecting six FA Cups. If it is not to be an Englishman, Wenger is effectively the next best thing.
He has managed Arsenal in 758 Premier League games, winning 438 and losing 132, a victory ratio of 57.8%. He has won 67 out of 102 FA Cup games, a win ratio of 65.7%.
He has led Arsenal for 1,128 games in total throughout his 20 years at the helm, winning 646, drawing 263 and losing 219. His teams have scored 2,084 goals and conceded 1,097. Wenger’s overall win ratio throughout his Arsenal career is 57.3%.
Wenger has a world view on football and is still regarded as a principled moderniser – too married to his principles for some of his detractors – who wants his teams to play with style, pace and movement.
It is a philosophy that would surely sit easily with the FA’s powerful technical director Dan Ashworth and his plans for a “DNA” to run through every England team.
|Arsene Wenger with Arsenal
|Champions League qualifying
Wenger remains an avid student of the global game. Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League for 19 consecutive seasons, although that fine record must be placed in context as Arsenal have only reached one final, a 2-1 loss to Barcelona in 2006, and have failed to get beyond the last 16 in the past six years.
He has no skeletons waiting to fall out of the cupboard and is hardly a candidate to be caught in the sort of sting that ended Allardyce’s “blink and you’ll miss it” England reign.
In other words, the perfect next England manager with the ideal credentials and track record if the FA can formulate a plan to somehow attract him to what many now call an impossible job.
Can England afford to wait for Wenger?
Can the FA afford not to wait for Wenger if there is the slightest chance he might succeed Allardyce?
The usual suspects are already in place as potential replacements, from England Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate, to Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, Steve Bruce (who is currently without a club) and Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew.
Southgate, 46, has been handed control for England next’s four games, starting with the World Cup qualifier at home to Malta on 8 October and a trip to Slovenia three days later.
He will then oversee the qualifying game with ‘Auld Enemy’ Scotland at Wembley on 11 November before a home friendly against Spain.
England’s next competitive game is then a meeting with Lithuania at Wembley on 26 March before the return with Scotland on 10 June.
Are England likely to do too much damage to their chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia before next summer, when Wenger’s Arsenal contract expires? Scotland will be tough but England will feel confident.
If there was ever a time the FA might feel it is worth biding its time and waiting for an experienced manager who ticks just about every box, this may well be it.
Southgate will get first crack at making a case to succeed Allardyce. He said in early September he did not feel he was ready for the job, but could World Cup qualifying victories prove intoxicating for a man ingrained in the way the FA thinks – and indeed for the FA itself?
If Southgate still feels he is not ready, what better way to prepare and serve the remainder of his international apprenticeship than to work under Wenger with the full England team?
And the same could apply to Howe. If the FA feels Howe is a potential candidate, could it not help the line of succession by asking Howe and Bournemouth if he could work with Wenger?
There is clearly already trust between the pair as Wenger was happy to allow Jack Wilshere to join the Cherries on a season-long loan.
What are the pitfalls?
The unfailingly loyal Wenger is currently under contract to Arsenal – and he simply refuses to break contracts – for one more season so he is unlikely to want to discuss England business until that contract expires.
It may require the FA to play a long game if they want to end up with Wenger as the next England manager.
Arsenal have recovered from an indifferent start to the season to win four Premier League games in succession, with the 3-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday night an echo, at times, of their great performances under Wenger.
If Arsenal are successful this season, Wenger may well feel he has no wish to leave Emirates Stadium with things starting to stir again.
The relationship of some Arsenal fans with Wenger has become strained, perhaps understandably given they have not won the title since “The Invincibles” season of 2003-04 and have seen others, such as Manchester City, emerge to usurp their superiority.
Wenger, however, retains strong support from many Arsenal fans and total backing in the boardroom.
If the FA did decide to at least consider Wenger, they would have a fight on their hands with the Arsenal hierarchy, who want their manager to commit to another contract.
Arsenal, with owner Stan Kroenke a staunch supporter of Wenger, still hope he will sign an extension sooner rather than later.
Much depends now on how Arsenal progress this season and whether Wenger faces any unrest from their fans. If the Gunners continue to progress and finally mount that overdue title challenge, the chances of him making a further commitment to the club will increase.
The FA will also undoubtedly face calls from many to appoint an Englishman, not simply from a nationalistic point of view but also to give a very clear signal of hope to the young coaches it wishes to nurture at St George’s Park.
Would that be served by the appointment of a 66-year-old French coach?
This is why Southgate, if he wants the job, and 38-year-old Howe will be strong contenders. If one is appointed, he will have provided a route map for the younger generation being groomed in the seclusion of Staffordshire.
The Wenger strategy would also carry an element of a gamble for the FA – imagine the frustration if it sets its sights on Wenger, played the long game and then ended up missing out? The stakes are high after the Allardyce fiasco.
So many factors will have to fall into place and many will have to be convinced – including Wenger – before he can be entertained as a potential England manager.
The FA must decide if he is worth the wait and the trouble. Wenger’s pedigree suggests he is.
Who are the rivals?
The names in the frame are predictable and sure to come under consideration from the FA – Southgate, Howe, Bruce and Pardew.
None can touch Wenger’s record of success, despite the relatively fallow period of the last decade, but all are English and all will find support in some quarters.
Bruce was interviewed and impressed when Hodgson resigned. He, in many ways, would represent a similar choice to Allardyce given his age, experience around the leagues, his battle-hardened outlook and shrewd approach to man management.
Southgate and Howe represent the younger generation and will satisfy those wanting to make a stronger, more direct link between the England manager and the future importance of St George’s Park as the FA’s hub.
Do any compare to Wenger in terms of experience and achievements? No.
And this is one of the factors the FA must weigh up as it attempts to avoid a repeat of the chaos that has swamped the organisation this week.