Thierry Henry as Arsene Wenger’s replacement a huge gamble for Arsenal
Arsenal’s planning for the post-Arsene Wenger era appears to have accelerated, judging by reports of a seven-man managerial shortlist that emerged in the wake of the Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester City. But if the mere fact of succession planning is to be welcomed, some of the finer details are not.
The list of managers said to be on Arsenal’s wishlist, should they finally summon the courage to take a decision which has been years in the making and sack a manager who is actively holding the club back, is a decidedly mixed bunch. The prospect of Brendan Rodgers, his envelopes and his catchphrases turning up at Emirates Stadium rather than, say, Germany coach Joachim Low, is unlikely to fill many supporters with confidence.
But there is one name who would be even less suited to the task, at least at this stage in his career. Even if that man is Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s record goal scorer and quite possibly their greatest ever player, depending on which side of the argument you fall when trying to separate him from his strike partner Dennis Bergkamp.
It is not just a candidacy advanced in the newspapers. Speaking on Sky Sports after Arsenal’s humbling loss at Wembley, Jamie Redknapp said of his fellow pundit, “Arsenal need someone young, fresh and hungry… And I think that man is sitting in the studio beside me.” Henry even took up the invitation, talking about how, “it will be a dream for me, but I’m still with Belgium. Interested? Yes, who wouldn’t be?”
It was a distasteful coda to a disappointing afternoon. Henry openly angling for his former mentor’s job. And yet beyond reasons of taste, it was a concerning development too. As they search for a replacement for a manager who has been in place for 22 years, are Arsenal really considering handing the reins to a man who has not yet managed a single senior game?
Henry has previous experience of working in Arsenal’s youth ranks and now as Belgium’s assistant coach, but nothing suggests he would be ready for a job of this magnitude. Worryingly, that does not appear to be a reservation shared by one increasingly influential man at Arsenal, at least.
Almost exactly 12 months ago, as Arsenal became embroiled in another crisis of Wenger’s making, it was reported that owner and director Stan Kroenke’s son, Josh, had singled out Henry as his preferred candidate to replace the man in situ. It was said that Kroenke and Henry had discussed the latter’s “plans to move into management.”
Kroenke Jr, 37, is assuming more influence having arrived recently to get “closer to the club and immerse himself in all things Arsenal,” as a source told ESPN FC, with a possible view to eventually taking over day-to-day operations at some stage. The prospect of a Henry candidacy is not as far fetched as it might seem.
Especially not when Joan Laporta, the former Barcelona chairman, is also making Henry’s case in the media. In an interview with the Telegraph, Laporta, who elevated Pep Guardiola to the Barcelona job in 2008, made some very favourable comparisons between the man who just demolished Arsenal’s cup final hopes and Henry.
“He knows football, as one of the best players in the world. These kinds of people, like Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff, they know football very well. They don’t need the extended period maybe that other coaches need to be a great coach,” Laporta said.
Guardiola had, though, managed Barca’s B team for a season, earning promotion and allowing him to develop his ideas about management and explore tactics and strategy in a senior league. Henry has had no comparable experience whatsoever.
Maybe he is Arsenal’s Guardiola-in-waiting, and after getting such a chasing from the team constructed by Pep, the comparison is certainly compelling. But at the moment it would be a huge gamble, based almost entirely on Henry’s aura as a player. Fifteen years ago you could have seen a similar argument being made for Tony Adams, who last season lost seven games out of seven during a brief stint in charge of Granada in La Liga.
It is welcome that Arsenal are giving serious thought to who will replace Wenger, they just need to think more seriously about Henry as a potential candidate. espn.com