“I want to be among the best teams in Europe and be among the elite.”
They were the words of the Unai Emery as he became Arsenal’s new head coach in May 2018. A year-and-half on, the Spaniard has been sacked.
His departure follows a trend in recent seasons of top-flight football managers who have been dismissed after short spells in charge.
So is there any leeway for a modern-day football manager?
A cut-throat industry for short-term managers
Just down the road from Arsenal, Mauricio Pochettino was fired by Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month despite taking the club to the UEFA Champions League final in June.
Tottenham’s chairman cited “extremely disappointing” recent results as the reason, and Pochettino was replaced by Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho himself had been sacked by Manchester United in December 2018 after fewer than three seasons.
It was the latest in a series of short-term managerial appointments at Old Trafford following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson after 27 years in charge.
Even short-term success has not been enough for several Premier League managers, with Antonio Conte and Claudio Ranieri among those to have been dismissed just a year after leading their team to the Premier League title.
The cut-throat industry of modern football, often driven by social media fandom, heaps great pressure on those individuals at the top and, some would argue, has created a poisonous environment of managerial turmoil, where second chances don’t exist.
But the trend of short-term managerial reigns extends to Europe. Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari between them managed only seven months at Real Madrid last season. At Olympique Lyonnais, Sylvinho was given just five months before he was dismissed in October. Niko Kovac, the first person to win a league and cup double both as a player and coach in German football, left Bayern Munich in November after 16 months.
Meanwhile, Thomas Tuchel and Ernesto Valverde have also faced significant pressure in their roles at Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
In total, since 1 August, 20 managers have parted company with clubs in Europe’s five biggest leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1). More than half of those (12) had been in charge for less than one year, and only Mauricio Pochettino had been appointed before 2017.
The concept of managers ‘being given time’ in charge of successful clubs in Europe is now a modern rarity.
“Results and performances not at the level required”
It might not come as a surprise that Unai Emery was the latest of these to lose his job.
In a brief statement, the Arsenal board and owners said the decision had been “due to results and performances not being at the level required”.
Arsenal are currently experiencing a winless run of seven games, their worst competitive run since February 1992, a time before the Premier League had even begun.
The Spaniard had previously enjoyed success in Europe, previously leading Paris Saint-Germain to the French league title and cup success in 2018, as well as winning three UEFA Europa League titles with Sevilla.
And in the opening months of his tenure in North London, he enjoyed a 14-match unbeaten run. But he failed to live up to the expectations of Arsenal and the Premier League, and the frustration had been building amongst supporters.
In his first season, Arsenal failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League and were soundly beaten in the UEFA Europa League Final by Chelsea in Baku.
They went into this season having spent more than £130m in the summer, including £72m (79m euros) record signing from Lille Nicolas Pepe, but are without a Premier League victory since 6 October and sit eight points off the top four places to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
“The dismissal of Unai Emery was unfortunate but inevitable. Performances and results have been far below what is expected at Arsenal. But Emery’s departure is the easy part. The more difficult challenge is to recruit a suitable successor.
— AST (@AST_arsenal) November 29, 2019
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust released a statement saying Emery’s dismissal was “unfortunate but inevitable”.
But there are warnings that appointing a manager, especially one capable of providing long-term success, will be a “difficult challenge”.
The next Arsenal manager will be …?
And so the search for a new head coach at the Emirates Stadium is underway, and a range of candidates are rumoured to be in line.
Emery has been replaced on a temporary basis by his assistant and former Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg. The Swede had been an integral member of Arsenal’s title-winning sides in 2001/02 and 2003/04 but had only been appointed in a coaching role with the first team in the summer, and there are doubts he will be given the job permanently.
But some Arsenal supporters have been appealing for Emery’s successor to be someone with a history at the club. Former Arsenal captains are also among the favourites, according to Oddschecker, including current Assistant Coach at Manchester City, Mikel Arteta, and Nice manager, Patrick Vieira.
Other names high on the list include those with recent managerial experience in the Premier League, such as Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo, AFC Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe and Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers. But with all three enjoying success in their current roles, would they be persuaded to make the move to North London?
One name standing out from the crowd is Pochettino. It would be a huge statement for Arsenal to appoint the former Head Coach of their bitter rivals, and one that would be an enormous surprise to many in the world of football. Napoli Head Coach and former title-winning manager with Chelsea Carlo Ancelotti would be another left-field move.
Another manager well-known across Europe in the hat is Massimiliano Allegri, who led to Juventus to five straight Serie A titles from 2014 – 2019, but has only had managerial roles in his native Italy.