On Friday, Arsene Wenger announced that he will be stepping down at the end of the season, bringing to an end 22 years of managing Arsenal Football Club. Wenger, like Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, enjoyed full control over his club, from training to transfers and everything in between. In the most classic sense, they were football managers. They are also a dying breed.
The man who currently comes closest to matching Wenger’s 22 years in charge of a team in England* is Paul Tisdale at League Two Exeter City, appointed in 2006, almost exactly ten (10!) years after Wenger started at Arsenal. Tisdale will be the only active manager in double-digits after this summer, and one of only nine (9!) in the top four divisions to have been appointed before the start of the 2014-15 season. Exactly half of the 92 teams have changed managers in the past 365 days, which makes Conte, having just finished his 100th game in charge of Chelsea, the 35th longest serving manager.
*Wenger was (and is for a few more weeks) Europe’s longest-serving manager as well.
Any way you look at it, that’s absolutely ridiculous. But also accepted. It’s the nature of the job, to get sacked, part of the definition of being a football manager, as Carlo Ancelotti once said. And money, expectations, and pressures continue to rise, the average life of a football manager will likely to get even shorter.
It’s a small wonder any of them can get anything done. Conte got 65 wins done in his first 100 games — that’s good for second best at Chelsea behind Mourinho’s 72.
“For sure, this is a good stat, but I know that, this season, we could have done better.
“Mourinho was 72 in the first 100? We are talking about a great manager. Don’t forget that the first 100 games with Mourinho were many years ago. Now it’s not simple, I think. To have this type of results in this moment, in this present Chelsea. I must be pleased for the players, for the club, but, for sure, we could do better.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph
It could’ve been better, sure. It could’ve also been a fair bit worse
Conte got plenty done; some do not. A title and a tactical shift in the entire league already isn’t a bad legacy for a head coach. Many of his peers, if not most of them in fact do not come even close to that. The short timelines and the win-now mentalities are not exactly ripe breeding grounds for long-term goals, measured approaches, or sustained team-building. The select few who can implement their ideas quickly have a good chance of avoiding the sack for a while, but sooner or
later even sooner, the axe falls. The idea of establishing a dynasty, of putting down roots, of developing long-term masterplans should not be entertained these days, even if inevitably they are with every appointment.
The same goes for the coaches themselves, as Conte reflected when asked to comment on Wenger’s legacy.
“When you start to work for a new club, for sure your hope is to stay for many years because you bring your culture, you bring your football, you bring your methodology and your mentality. Sometimes this is possible because you find the right situation.
”Sometimes this is not possible. But we must be ready, for every coach, every experience you start in your mind, there is the hope to stay for many years. You have to know that, every time you change and go to another team, you have to restart.
“You have to restart your work and bringing your ideas, your football, your culture, your methodology. And to restart every time is very difficult.”
It gets even harder for the actual coaches, the coaches with “ideas” who go beyond just massaging egos and setting lineups. You need the right situations and still nothing is guaranteed. Even the mighty Pep Guardiola needed a mulligan to get his record-financed Manchester City side to all-conquering status, and even then only in the Premier League.
”But, at the same time, I can tell you that it’s not simple to work in a different country because you have to understand quickly and to adapt yourself to life in the new country. In Italy, we have different habits and a different culture. Different ways to have the training sessions. I’m enjoying [life in England] a lot but, at the same time, it’s not easy.
“It’s not simple to go into another country and bring your idea of football, especially if you have an idea of football. If you want to manage the situation, manage the players, it’s more simple for everyone. But if you want to bring your idea of football, it’s not simple to go into another country.”
Conte’s time at Chelsea will not be a dynasty. That much we knew heading in. That was assumed. In a way, his tenure exceeded expectations long ago. Most don’t even get two full seasons.
Will there be a third for Conte, which would make him the only non-Mourinho manager to achieve that honor under Abramovich? Not likely, according to the media and the narrative. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Either way, we had some fun, right, Antonio?
“I’m enjoying having this experience. For me and for every coach who has the possibility to work in another country, it’s a great opportunity.”
”I consider this experience fantastic for me, and now I’m stronger than before I was when I started this experience. I’m stronger as a coach and stronger as a manager than I was at Juventus and with Italy.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Goal
Life’s a journey, not a destination, right? That mantra does not apply in football, certainly not at the top level, and so the best we can hope for is personal improvement, learning, full experiences. If and when the separation comes, Conte will land on his feet and so will (probably) Chelsea.
And then the cycle restarts.