LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy looks on ahead of the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at White Hart Lane on August 28, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Here's the requisite qualifier. Yes, this is a Tottenham Hotspur blog. Arsenal are Tottenham's biggest rivals, so it's reasonable for those reading this to assume some sort of bias on my part against Arsenal. I truly don't believe that this bias exists, but if you think it does, that's your prerogative. If you can't figure out that this post is not, in any way, shape or form an attack on Arsenal F.C., I'm really sorry.
It's almost impossible to imagine how far Arsenal would have to fall to outright fire Arsene Wenger. They might engineer some sort of scenario where they pay him to retire if the team finish in 5th place this season, but that wouldn't get him fired. He's Arsene Wenger. He's a legend, and even though he hasn't guided the team to trophies in recent years, he also hasn't necessarily done anything wrong.
He's failed to meet expectations for the last six years or so, however, and a lot of Arsenal fans are growing impatient, but only the lunatics on the fringes have actually advocated for Wenger's sacking. To most, Wenger is unsackable and has earned the right to leave the club on his own terms, whenever he feels it's time to walk away.
If it weren't for their stable finances, things would be feeling a bit Liverpool-ish at the Emirates. They have plenty of world class talent and a deep roster, but two of their three best attacking players departed last summer, and the remaining member of that group of three has refused to sign a new contract and is expected to be sold this summer. Arsenal have purchased solid replacements and will sign another player or two, but no one considers any of their new signings to be world class. Olivier Giroud isn't Robin van Persie, Gervinho wasn't Samir Nasri and Mikel Arteta was never even supposed to be a Cesc Fabregas replacement. Aaron Ramsey struggled so much last season that some fear he may never come all the way back from his horrible injury, and it's unlikely that Jack Wilshere is instantly back to the best version of himself in the early fall.
This is happening with a long-time, über-successful manager at the helm. He's guided them to trophies and, for a long period of time, was considered to be one of the best managers in the world. But the 2004-05 season was the last time Arsenal finished in the top-two in the Premier League, and was also the last time they won a trophy. They haven't been runners-up in an FA Cup since 2005 or runners-up in the UEFA Champions League since 2005-06. It has now been six seasons since Arsenal were even close to winning one of the three biggest trophies available to them.
At the end of the 2010-11 season, some Arsenal fans came to the conclusion that Wenger's time was finally up. No one expected him to be sacked outright, but retirement or some sort of mutual termination wouldn't have shocked anyone, and would have pleased a lot of Arsenal supporters.
While in the midst of a solid run of form, Arsenal threw away three points in the best game of that Premier League season, their 4-4 draw against Newcastle. They were fringe title contenders at that point, and that game was supposedly proof that they didn't have what it took to win the title. Incredibly, the title race was so weak in that season that they did get back into the fringes of the race multiple times, only to throw it away over and over again. They drew Tottenham and lost to Bolton on consecutive weeks, taking themselves out of the race, only to rescue their outside shot with a win against Manchester United. They lost their next two matches, then drew their final game of the season.
Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left during the summer. Fabregas' departure was justified as a desire for him to go home to Barcelona, while Nasri was branded as a money-grubbing dirtbag who was always going to leave Arsenal for the biggest paycheck possible. Arsenal got off to a terrible start last season, then rallied back to finish third, sparking optimism in Gooners for the upcoming season, and for good reason.
Then, the van Persie announcement. He won't be signing a new contract with the club because, after meeting with Wenger and the board, he does not see eye-to-eye with the club in regards what their goals for the future should be.
This should be a reality check for everyone in regards to the Nasri and Fabregas transfers, as well as Wenger's job performance. To assume that all three of these players left or are leaving Arsenal for reasons that have nothing to do with Wenger and the direction of the club is ridiculous. No one knows the exact motivations behind why those three players decided to depart, but Wenger and the board must have something to do with it.
At this point, you might be wondering what this has to do with Tottenham Hotspur at all. It has everything to do with Tottenham, because they were in a very similar situation this summer to the one that Arsenal were in two years ago, following their spring collapse in 2010.
Harry Redknapp never did anything wrong at the helm of Tottenham Hotspur. He took the club from a relegation place to the top half in his first partial year in charge, then guided teams to 4th, 5th and 4th place finishes in his three years as Spurs manager. He's the only manager to get Tottenham into the top four in the Premier League era, an era in which Tottenham was perpetually mid-table until Martin Jol showed up. He had more success than any Spurs manager since the 1980s.
This is, in theory, a man that you can't fire. After all, Redknapp did nothing wrong. Daniel Levy and fans might not have liked his posturing for the England job or the team's spring spiral downward, but he's obtained better finishes than any other previous manager during this era. Firing someone with his record is ridiculous, especially at a club like Tottenham, which hasn't had any success for over two decades.
People who strive to be their best do not have this attitude. People who aren't afraid of losing their own jobs don't have this attitude. Levy, for all of his faults, never blinks and certainly isn't afraid of failure. He's more afraid of mediocrity and not doing the best possible job than he is of failure, which certainly fits in well with the club's motto. Levy doesn't think like the majority of people, who are afraid of failure. He's willing to take risks to help Tottenham reach their potential.
Under Harry Redknapp, Tottenham were never going to reach their potential. Redknapp is a safe manager, the guy you hire when things are going poorly and you need a quick fix. If you have the 17th best team in the Premier League, Redknapp will save them from relegation. If you have the 7th best team in England, Redknapp will get them to the Europa League. And if you have the 4th best team in England, Harry will probably get them to around 4th place.
But can Redknapp win a title with the best team in the league? Maybe, maybe not. But on a budget like Tottenham's, Redknapp is never going to build a title contender, or even a team that continues to compete for 4th place for a decade. Redknapp's right when he says that the game is more about players than tactics, and that the best tactics in the world won't work if the players don't play, but they aren't irrelevant at the highest level. The better players get and the better opposing managers get, the more tactics matter. And, of course, the right tactics can turn a mid-table team into a European contender, or the 5th most talented team in England into a Champions League qualifier.
Redknapp had hit a ceiling, and Levy recognized that. Refusing to make a change when someone has done nothing wrong, and when they've achieved more than others have historically, is a terrible way to run a business and a very good way to never accomplish anything in sport. It's a loser's brand of thinking. Redknapp should have achieved the best places of any Tottenham manager of the Premier League era, because this is far and away the best Tottenham team of the Premier League era. Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, over the last three seasons, have been the best two players to wear the shirt since the 1980s, and they have better supporting players around them than Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov ever did. Finishes of 4th, 5th, and 4th were very solid, but not the best that the club could have accomplished.
Two seasons ago, Tottenham had the team to finish in 4th and failed to pull it off. They were good enough to beat Inter Milan and AC Milan, and pull off a great comeback 3-3 draw against Arsenal, but not good enough to consistently beat mid-table and relegation fodder English sides. This past season, Tottenham had a 10-point gap on Arsenal and should have coasted to third place, but fell apart in the spring. Redknapp guided Tottenham to respectable finishes, but anyone who thinks that he had the club reaching their potential over the last two seasons is kidding themselves.
Daniel Levy thought complacency was unacceptable and made a tough choice to sack a man who had done nothing wrong. Meanwhile, Arsenal have stuck through their manager through a six-year period of what is, by their standards, mediocrity.
Of course, the clubs' situations are very different. Wenger is a legend, while Redknapp was at Tottenham for three and a half years. Additionally, independent of club affiliation, Wenger has accomplished much more than Redknapp in his career and deserves the benefit of the doubt much more than Redknapp. Arsenal also don't have to make any kind of snap decision to ensure that they remain an attractive job for whoever is going to replace Wenger.
Arsenal are a bigger club than Tottenham, sorry to say. They have a bigger stadium, more money, a better youth system and more trophies. Even if Arsenal finishes mid-table this season and all of their key players ask to leave, they will be an attractive job for a very good manager. The same cannot be said for Tottenham if they suffer that fate.
Wenger is unsackable, but it's hard not to wonder what might have been if he retired at the end of the 2010-11 season. Arsenal still had Fabregas, Nasri, van Persie and Champions League football. When this season starts, they will have one of those things, and if they don't adequately replace van Persie, it wouldn't be shocking to see them finish the season with none of those things. But if Arsenal made changes that season, with Wenger's blessing, perhaps kept on in an advisory capacity, would things have be different for them right now? Would they have all three of their best attacking players from this current era?
Maybe, maybe not, but things would only be worse if Arsenal hired someone truly incompetent. If there were no sentimental factors at play, the rewards of replacing the incredibly accomplished, but outrageously stubborn Wenger would have significantly outweighed the risks. Those sentimental factors did not exist in an otherwise similar situation at Tottenham, so Levy took a calculated risk and sent Redknapp packing.
Is Andre Villas-Boas the answer? The man to guide Tottenham to a comfortable top-three finish, to have them contending for the title, and to keep them from collapsing against poor sides? I have no idea. And honestly, my gut reaction is that he isn't. But that doesn't matter. What matters to me is that Levy is not okay with complacency, and that the moves he's made recently with the manager, the coaching staff, the training facilities, the stadium and transfers follow a logical thought process.
Complacency sucks. I'd rather finish mid-table trying to become one of the big boys in the most fiscally responsible way possible than settle for a 4th-7th place finish every single year.
Audere est facere.