Off the Crossbar: Ferguson, Wenger and replacing legends

What a whirlwind three months it has been for Quique Sanchez Flores. After being reappointed as Watford boss in September, the Spaniard was fired just 81 days into his second spell, following Liverpool’s  2–1 loss to Southampton last weekend. It was a cruel decision by the club, which is now looking for its third manager not even halfway through the season, and yet, this is the new reality for Premier League teams. The managerial merry-go-round is in full force with, shockingly, just five clubs today who have managers in charge of their sides for more than three seasons — Pep Guardiola, Chris Wilder, Jurgen Klopp, Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche.

It’s hard to imagine ever seeing another 20-plus-year stint at a club by a manager, as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger did for Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. But as we see the struggles of these clubs following the departure of a legend, perhaps managers should be given a longer leash.

After Ferguson’s shock retirement in 2013, United has been in disarray. Under the Scot, the Red Devils were rampant, winning 13 Premier League titles in 20 attempts. But following his departure, United has failed to add to that total. Even under renowned, successful managers like Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, United has struggled to replicate the heydays of Ferguson.

It’s easy to forget that back in 1990 — four seasons into his tenure as boss — United was prepared to fire Ferguson. Despite making progress, Ferguson hadn’t won a trophy during his first few seasons, and patience was wearing thin at the United camp. But better sense prevailed, and Ferguson rewarded the club with his 38 trophies over the next 23 years. After sifting through several managers, United seems to have finally found its man in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the club publicly stating the long-term goal. But will they stick with him if short term results are not good?

For Arsenal, Unai Emery was hired in 2018 to serve as the replacement for the legendary Arsene Wenger, who had been in charge of the club for 22 years. Wenger once led “The Invincibles” to the only undefeated season in Premier League history and was known for the attractive brand of soccer his Arsenal teams played. But by the end of his time at the Emirates, Wenger was unloved and unwanted, with his last seasons at the club marred by “Wenger Out” banners all around the stadium. In the year since his departure, though, it’s difficult to find where Arsenal has improved. Emery was fired last week after a dismal start to the year, with the Gunners lacking any sort of identity or ambition.

If United’s struggles are anything to go by, Arsenal’s search for a new manager will be one of the most important decisions in the Gunners’ history, and one that is likely to prove quite difficult.

Replacing a legendary leader like Ferguson or Wenger is never easy, but clubs can help themselves by at least granting their successors more time to get things right.