The trip to Emirates Stadium this weekend provides Chelsea fans with a unique window into what will make them successful. This does not refer to the match, or even the players on either side, but instead the managers that man the touchlines.
Guus Hiddink is unbeaten since taking over the Blues midseason, following the sacking of fan favorite Jose Mourinho. This is the second time that Hiddink has taken over Chelsea on an interim basis.
Conversely, the Gunners will be managed by Arsene Wenger, the man who has been in charge of Arsenal for the last nineteen and a half years.
“He might be one of the last to sit on the chair that long,” commented Hiddink when asked about the Frenchman’s tenure.
“Him being in charge in those years without a title means there is a lot of confidence from the board. It’s always good to have men who have a long period at a club.”
Wenger is an anomaly in the modern game. No current manager has been in charge for anywhere near that long, especially at a large club like Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson had previously accomplished an even greater feat at Manchester United, though he now is comfortably retired.
Despite the fact that Wenger has not delivered a title since the 2003-2004 season, the Frenchman remains confidently in charge in North London. He has won a few cups here and there, but for the most part, he has been ultimately unsuccessful in major competitions for some time.
However, while he continues to fail, his position never seems seriously in question. The media plays its part in creating speculation, but it never really feels like he is going anywhere.
This culture that Arsenal have created for their manager will probably never happen again. Not for this long.
However in Arsene Wenger’s extended tenure, Chelsea must learn their lesson. The strong vote of confidence that the North London side show their manager has to be replicated at Stamford Bridge if the Blues are ever to reach sustained success.
I am not saying that I particularly like Arsene Wenger. Much of his tactics are outdated and have proven to be a sign of stubbornness rather than brilliance. This concept can be reinforced in his lack of silverware. However, any man that can keep a team in the top four for so many years, always competing until the final day, must be respected.
It should not be expected that Roman Abramovich stand by a manager for over a decade without delivering a major trophy. That is just unrealistic in this day and age. However, sustained success will require long-term planning.
There are several factors that are absolutely paramount when targeting these type of results. The future has to be considered just as much as the present. The rebuilding process never ends. There is constant evaluation of each member of the squad. Youth talent must be integrated into the side gradually, and the older members have to replaced as soon as they show signs of slowing down.
A team that was well prepared for the future would not have John Terry playing the type of minutes that he has this season. This is no sign of disrespect for the captain, but an indictment of Chelsea’s long-term planning. Had this been done correctly, Chelsea would have had several centre backs waiting in the wings to take the captain’s place, limiting Terry to the occasional appearance and utilizing his leadership abilities to groom younger players.
Instead the Blues have forced him to play every weekend, and persist with Kurt Zouma as the other centre back. While the young Frenchman has looked strong throughout the campaign, he can definitely illustrate his inexperience at times. This isn’t a result of long-term thinking. Instead it’s making due with the options that are available.
Whoever Chelsea decide to move forward with this summer will have a unique opportunity on their hands. Chelsea’s old guard is all but gone at Stamford Bridge. Players like Ivanovic and John Terry are almost finished, while Cech, Lampard, and Drogba have all moved on. The newer, younger talents have become the backbone of the side.
The new manager will be tasked with integrating the youth talent that is emerging through Chelsea’s loan army and their academy. They will have to dip into the transfer market for a couple positions as well. However, the only way they can build towards long-term success at Stamford Bridge, is with a guarantee of sustained confidence amongst the board and ownership.
No longer can a Chelsea manager fear a run of poor results. It’s impossible to be successful while worrying about one’s job security. How are long-term projects supposed to be closely overseen, when most of the time is spent looking over one’s shoulder? This is not an environment conducive to hard work and success. It’s a climate of panic, uncertainty and ambiguity. It doesn’t it lend itself to results.
So while Chelsea travel to Emirates Stadium, suffering a slump that can no longer be papered over by a change in manager, Abramovich would be wise to learn a thing or two from Arsenal’s organization. Not from their lack of transfer activity or stubbornness in tactics. Not from their inability to put together a complete squad. But by the confidence they show in their manager. Give a smart, strong manager half the time that Wenger has had in North London, and they’ll build a dynasty at Stamford Bridge. It’s inevitable.