Mike Tyson was once a brilliant fighter, someone who could psychologically win a bout by merely staring at his opponent. Young, brash and extremely gifted the boxing world laid at his feet. Feared as much as he was respected, few wanted to climb into the ring with ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’. Yet this was in 1987. By the mid-90s he was good, but no longer great. In 2005 he gave up before the start of the seventh round against Kevin McBride. “I’m not going to disrespect the sport anymore by losing to this calibre of fighter.”
And when you look at Arsene Wenger at Arsenal there’s an air of Mike Tyson to him. No, I don’t mean he’s at the point of offering a zookeeper $10,000 to punch a gorilla but in continuing beyond his prime. When you look at the club and the lack of ideas on the pitch, someone should be telling Wenger to throw in the towel. Today he blamed the media, and fans, as if they were to blame for the debacle at Liverpool. “We want our fans behind the team. They can come to quick conclusions or they can see what’s happening and stand behind the team and that’s what we want.”
READ MORE: The top 20 best selling football shirts
READ MORE: Does changing stadiums ever really work?
Feeling untouchable isn’t a good thing
Wenger could do a lot worse than follow Diego Simeone’s lead. Similar to Wenger, Simeone is seen as more than just a manager but an icon at the club. Success came naturally to the fiery Argentine. It’s almost as if he were made for the club and vice versa. The connection to the fans, the players and with the board made it a match made in heaven. “Don’t ever leave us, Diego.” They can accept players leaving but Simeone was off limits. In many ways, he is Mr Atletico.
And while the current version of Wenger is less kind, he’s still an iconic name in the world of football. He’s spent over 20 years at Arsenal. His honours’ list is longer than any fan could’ve imagined back in 1996. Wenger challenged the immovable object that was Manchester United and won three league titles. This included the famous ‘Invincibles’ run in 2003/04. A feat we’ll probably never witness again now that the Premier League is a lot more competitive.
Yet with every major victory or trophy the bar is raised. If you challenge for league titles, domestic cups and reach a Champions League final then soon enough that becomes the new benchmark. It’s the same on Football Manager if you take Scunthorpe United to the Premier League and finish sixth. Next season the board – and fans – will judge the team on the previous season and not take into account what happened before. You need to keep evolving or become a victim of your own success.
READ MORE: Why Mourinho is the joker to Wenger’s Batman
Be ready for the challenge
Simeone knows that there’s little margin for error at Atletico after establishing them as the third biggest team in Spain. And what if the two sides ahead of him, who are richer, don’t falter? Will third place be forever acceptable or will the project become stale as key players want to win more? It’s a fine balancing act between expectations and reality. That’s why Simeone considered his options last season.
When his Atletico side lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final for the second time in three years, he re-evaluated his position. Simeone reduced his existing five-year deal to just three. “We have spoken with the club and made the best decisions for the club and the team. In two years’ time, we can renew and sign a new deal, it doesn’t mean it’s the end.” The deal was as much to keep Simeone on his toes as it was the club. Five years is a long time in football after all.
Never before has the term “You’re only as good as your last match” rang truer than now. Players can become legends in a season or two. And, on the opposite side of the spectrum, players or coaches can be cast aside and labelled ‘frauds’ if they fail to progress as quickly as hoped. Instant success is the only option for modern fans. If not, cue the protests in the street and flying planes over the stadium. We live in times when crisis and despair are seemingly more desirable than feel-good, rags-to-riches stories. Meltdowns are all the rage.
Past glories count for little once a new season gets underway
But whereas Simeone acknowledged and adapted to the change in football, Wenger hasn’t. Like a madman he clutches onto power and demands those around him remember his achievements. And, to an extent, he has a point. But at the same time he hasn’t won the league since the ‘Invincibles’ and that was 13 years ago. FA Cups don’t cut it, despite the initial buzz, and supporters want to see a side that can genuinely compete amongst the best around and not just make up the numbers.
The decision to extend his stay at the club for another two years was met with dismay and anger from fans. Some maybe aren’t old enough to appreciate the glory years under Wenger but that is the damning part. They were told about the team he created, this juggernaut. A team they could be proud of and which was the envy of their rivals. But this was a long time ago and Wenger is as equally accountable for the now as well as his past successes.
Under Wenger most of the stars he’s had on his books since that last league win have left in order to win major honours. Those who stick around are either cast-offs from bigger sides or aren’t good enough for the elite. Alexis Sanchez appears determined to get his move away, even if it means leaving for nothing. How can they still allow players’ contracts to run down? There will always be a pecking order in football but at least make sure you receive a premium if a star wants out.
Is there a clear vision of where Arsenal are heading?
Atletico are in a similar position to Arsenal in that breaking into the group of teams above them is difficult. It isn’t impossible, of course not, but it won’t happen in a season or two. It requires a long-term vision that the board, coach, players and fans accept.
Simeone accepts that Antoine Griezmann will probably leave next year but everyone trusts him to make the team competitive without the Frenchman. Can the same be said of Arsenal and Wenger? If Alexis leaves for 40m in January, or for nothing in the summer, does anyone believe Wenger can adequately replace him? Very few.
Sometimes that feeling of being untouchable can be a curse as opposed to a blessing. Simeone felt too safe on a five-year deal so reduced it so both parties could cut their losses sooner if need be. This week, after another solid season, Simeone signed a new deal keeping him at the club until 2020. The news was greeted by widespread support as they believe he’s still the best man to lead their charge. It wasn’t a gift but something Simeone earned.
Walk away with dignity before you lose it all
That is in stark interest to Wenger accepting his new deal. The connection between the coach and the fans is broken beyond repair. Yes, the protests will quieten down after a few good results but the damage is terminal. With each season Wenger’s legacy loses a bit of its shine and no one trusts him to deliver league titles in the near future.
And just like Tyson, Wenger needs to take a hard look at himself. When the Premier League title is once again mathematically impossible you hope he throws in the towel. He needs to accept he isn’t up to the job, times have moved on, and enjoy his retirement. Because if he doesn’t, and he decides to fight on, the KO blow will hurt him – and the club – a lot more.