It was, perhaps, only a matter of time before Mikel Arteta’s name got mentioned as a possible successor to Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager.
The Spaniard is, by all accounts, doing an excellent job as an assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, where he’s learning from the best manager in the game.
So it was no big surprise when the Telegraph reported on Tuesday that Arsenal are keeping close tabs on their former club captain with the feeling “he will eventually be the perfect candidate for the job of manager.”
But surely “eventually” is the key word here. While there is a good chance of the Arsenal job opening up in 2019 when Wenger’s contract expires, it’s unlikely that Arteta would top the list of candidates at that stage.
Let’s not forget the midfielder is only 35 and has never held a head coaching job. The day Wenger does step down, that vacant seat will be the most coveted managerial job in football. The Arsenal hierarchy will be able to pick and choose from a massive pool of talented young (and not so young) managers, and there are many whose credentials far outweigh Arteta’s.
There’s no doubt the Spaniard has a very bright future as a coach and he is already highly regarded by Guardiola and the rest of City’s staff, partly because of his ability to work with players on the training ground. And this season he is getting a first-hand look at what it takes to build a title-winning team. If Guardiola’s perfectionism, attention to detail and tactical acumen rubs off on Arteta, he has every chance of emulating his countryman and taking the step from successful player to successful manager
But going from being an assistant at a top club to managing a top club is a journey that will likely require a few other steps in-between.
Guardiola was only 37 when he took over Barcelona — the same age Arteta will be in the summer of 2019 — and that it was his first senior management job after coaching the club’s B-team. And that he won the treble in his first season in charge.
But Barcelona had made 10 coaching changes in the 20 years prior to Guardiola’s appointment and had a history of hiring former players like Johan Cruyff, Carles Rexach and Frank Rijkaard. In 2019, Arsenal will have gone 23 years without hiring a new manager, and Wenger’s shoes will be a lot harder to fill than Rijkaard’s. Not to mention the fact that Wenger’s successor will not inherit a squad that includes Lionel Messi.
While many fans would love to see a former player take over, Arsenal will surely have learned from Manchester United’s struggles to replace Sir Alex Ferguson that a more experienced hand is needed to fill such a massive void. The United job was too big for David Moyes, who had spent more than a decade managing a Premier League club. The Arsenal job will undoubtedly be too big for anyone who hasn’t spent a day managing any club.
This is by no means a dig at Arteta. The Spaniard is getting the best education any young coach could hope for at City, and will put it to good use in what promises to be a long and successful coaching career.
When the time comes to take the next step, he’ll have no shortage of suitors among clubs who are hoping to unearth the next Guardiola. But he would be wise to start out at a slightly smaller team in England or Spain where he can learn on the job — a luxury that Arsenal can’t afford to give him.
If that’s the path he chooses, he could indeed become the perfect candidate for the Arsenal job. Eventually.