On one level, they are peers. They are at the vanguard of modern world-football commercialism, having focused on good financial housekeeping and book balancing even before the advent of Financial Fair Play (FFP). Their new stadium projects opened their horizons and deepened their pockets. Aspirational clubs aiming to gatecrash the top bracket themselves hold them aloft as an example, like Lyon, as their president Jean-Michel Aulas explained to Le Figaro this year (in French).
Yet on the pitch, Arsenal and Bayern Munich are poles apart. Win, lose or draw at the Emirates in Tuesday night’s Champions League match-up—and in the return match in Bavaria in 15 days’ time—the German champions will finish the current campaign higher up the ladder of European football than their hosts.
Over time, the gap shouldn’t be impossible to bridge, in theory at least. Despite Bayern’s superior position in this year’s Forbes list (fourth, compared to Arsenal’s seventh), the London club do have a number of avenues via which to catch up.
The Gunners have a greater operating income, an already more lucrative television deal augmenting further and greater matchday income—€119.8 million/£100.2 million against €88 million/£73.6 million according to 2015’s Deloitte Money League (based on 2013/14 figures), a gulf accentuated with the Euro having fallen, of course, since the study was finished.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to envisage Arsenal becoming a genuine behemoth like Bayern. Even if many figures within German football (as with other nations across the continent) worry about soaring revenues in the English game potentially crushing competition, many others believe that the Premier League’s wealth will make its clubs overlook strategy and planning.
Arsenal are one of the last English clubs one could accuse of this sort of behaviour. They will not be caught frittering cash instead of sticking to a long-term plan. Even if it is a club that has moved home and whose share capital has changed hands, with Alisher Usmanov and the more dominant Stan Kroenke coming into the picture, the stability that has characterised the institution down the years remains.
This is something they share with Bayern. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeness and Karl Hopfner (who stepped into Hoeness’ role as chairman after his imprisonment for tax evasion, per the Guardian) have all given decades of service to the club, each in a variety of roles.
It is the versatility of the club’s executives, for example, that allowed Bayern to cruise through the potential crisis of the Hoeness prosecution with barely a bump in the road.
Arsenal’s stability is Wenger (as, incidentally, Pep Guardiola himself noted in his pre-game press conference—see below tweet by Miguel Delaney), but this is simultaneously a blessing and a curse, regardless of what one thinks of his continued aptitude as a coach and leader. Whether you feel that the Frenchman is a genuine prophet or a tired, washed-up figurehead, it is entirely unsustainable to build a club so definitively around one man.
This was not always the case, of course. Throughout Wenger’s first decade in London N5, he had David Dein—a shrewd, experienced operator who got things done for his manager in the transfer market—as a de facto director of football. His departure in 2007 left a void that has never been filled.
In Bayern’s system, the first-team coach is an important employee, but just an employee.
In the time Wenger has held office at Arsenal, Bayern have had eight permanent coaches. Some, like Jurgen Klinsmann, have been failures, but Bayern have won 28 major trophies in that time. The management structure is just different. The coaches fit into the club’s policies and aspirations, rather than defining them.
Guardiola, who, at Barcelona, was fulfilling a role closer to Wenger’s than—for example—the one that his predecessor Jupp Heynckes had, has found it liberating.
In one sense, it’s a scaled-down role of his previous post. Yet he has found it liberating to work intensively with the team alone, while Rummenigge, Matthias Sammer and others keep parallel aspects of the club well oiled.
The idea that Guardiola could one day be Arsenal’s coach (floated again here by ESPN FC’s Tony Evans) is a seductive one from an aesthetic point of view. Whether it would be workable in practice is another question.
It certainly wouldn’t be as things stand. For the reasons mentioned above, Guardiola couldn’t (and certainly wouldn’t want to) bear quite the same extent of responsibility.
If there is truly a succession plan gathering pace—as many have assumed from Wenger’s recent comments on eventually leaving, per the Mirror—then it involves far more than the Frenchman anointing a successor and stepping aside.
There can be no like-for-like replacement. In terms of multi-functionality, Arsenal trying to replace Wenger is like Manchester United attempting to cover the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, or Borussia Dortmund doing their best to fill their Robert Lewandowski-shaped hole in 2014. No one person is able to. Profound restructuring is the only way.
Looking at it in this light, it’s easy to see why Arsenal’s directors might baulk at the prospect. Hearing Wenger talk about the future last week, one could have been persuaded that it will be a gentle evolution to the next stage when he goes, rather than a full-scale revolution.
It is difficult to see how this will be possible, at least without an extremely protracted handover spell between Wenger and the new man.
It is debatable, too, how healthy this would really be. In a successful, functional club management structure, it really helps if the director of football (or equivalent) upstairs has no top-level coaching background, removing the possibility of him coveting the post or meddling, thinking he could do better.
Wenger certainly falls into the latter category. He has such a strong involvement with the club that it’s hard to see how he could effectively weed out the faults that stop Arsenal really reaching for the stars.
These are, however, questions for another day, and subordinate to the main issue—the fact that Arsenal eventually need to move away from this one-man club culture.
They can aspire to be Bayern’s equivalent in so many ways, and have the financial muscle to even improve on the model, perhaps. Before that, they have much to learn from their German counterparts.