At the time of writing, most Arsenal fans are in a state of depression (at least as far as football is concerned). Less than a month ago, Arsenal were in four competitions, they are now in just one, and arguably the most difficult one at that.
Not for the first time, short-termism has crept in and many short-sighted gooners and non-gooners are calling for Arsene Wenger's head.
Arsenal supposedly make over £1m on match days and are well in the black when it comes to the transfer balance books, yet he refuses to spend money, despite seemingly obvious deficiencies in his team. On top of that, he has let star players move on to (generally unsuccessful) careers beyond Arsenal and has replaced them with players who are perceived to be inferior. All this after having a winning formula with three title-winning sides earlier in his career.
For those of you who don't know, the legendary Bill Shankly was Liverpool manager from 1959-74. When he arrived at Liverpool, they were languishing in the second division and going nowhere fast.
Their fans were particularly upset as they had been five-time champions before 1950, yet had fallen spectacularly. After Shankly was appointed they slowly began to improve and won the league in 1964—Shankly’s first trophy. In 1965, Shankly guided Liverpool to their first F.A. Cup when they beat Leeds United 2-1 in the 1965 final.
However, they were unable to replicate their domestic form on the continent, and were dumped out of the European Cup 7-3 on aggregate by Ajax. Shankly then decided that what worked in England did not necessarily work in Europe and endeavored to turn Liverpool into a European-style side, as opposed to an English one.
This transformation took time and a seven year trophy-less run ensued between 1966-73. However, Liverpool fans remained calm despite Matt Busby's Manchester United team consistently out-performing them, as they knew that Shankly was no dummy.
Their faith was repaid when Shankly took the club to its seventh title in 1973, as well as the UEFA Cup the same year. In his final match at Liverpool they won the F.A. Cup for the second time in 1974.
Many comparisons can be made between Shankly's reign at Liverpool and Arsene Wenger's at Arsenal.
To start with, the teams were a shadow of their former selves, with Liverpool in the second division and Arsenal struggling to break out of mid-table mediocrity after winning the league in 1991. Like Shankly, Wenger provided the team with immediate improvement, finishing 5th straight away and third in his first full season. He has also won his fair share of titles and F.A. Cups, although, interestingly neither had tangible success in the European Cup/Champions League.
Perhaps most interesting, however, is the fact that both were unable to take their domestically successful sides far in Europe initially, and both saw it fit to risk barren transitional spells in exchange for potential European success.
As mentioned earlier, Shankly's trophy-less spell was seven years; Wenger's stands at six. However, both Liverpool and Arsenal consequently fared far better in Europe, with the North London side getting to the semi-finals twice, which they had never achieved before, and in 2006 became the first team to represent London in the final.
Bob Paisley succeeded Shankly in 1974 after the latter's unexpected retirement and ended up bettering Shankly's record. In nine seasons at Liverpool he won the league six times, the European Cup three times (he is still the only manager in history to accomplish this), the UEFA Cup once and the League Cup three times. Paisley retired in 1983, having arrived as a player in 1939, competing almost half a century of uninterrupted service to the club and is rightly considered a legend.
On paper, most fans would say that Paisley is clearly the better manager of the two. However, most Liverpool fans (particularly the ones who are aware of the history of the club, rather than just the current team) hold Shankly in higher regard than his successor. This is because they realised that Shankly took the club further than Paisley ever could, and was the one who set the foundations for Liverpool as a world-revered footballing giant—a legacy that still exists almost 40 years after his departure. Were it not for Paisley, Liverpool may not have won as many trophies or have been the most successful British team in European competition, but they still would be amongst England's elite, constantly in and around the top.
Were it not for Shankly, however, Liverpool may never have even reached the top league of English football and who knows what division they'd be in now. Paisley may have beaten Shankly in terms of quantity, but Shankly absolutely massacred him in terms of the quality of the job he did.
Most managers today such as Jose Mourinho, Louis Van Gaal and Carlo Ancelotti almost universally follow the Paisley model of management, opting to arrive at a team which is close to domination, but hasn't quite reached it, taking the club that extra 10% and leaving at the top of their game, instead of building the team from scratch.
What Shankly did is altogether more remarkable, and managers who can accomplish such feats are far harder to come by. Wenger is one of the few modern day Shanklys: a man who doesn't take the easy option and leave after moderate success, but instead tries to do it all over again, using a knowledge of the game that most can only dream of possessing to unearth talent, take the club from mediocrity to worldwide fame, effectively keep the club as running as a self-sufficient business, and most importantly keep the club challenging for honors, even during transitional periods.
I am not trying to excuse Arsenal's trophy-less run, but I implore Arsenal fans to remember Shankly's period of transition which culminated in Liverpool assembling the best team in Europe. In my opinion, what Arsene Wenger has done at Arsenal has only been replicated by Sir Alex Ferguson's job at Manchester United, and as a result Shankly, Ferguson and Wenger will be immortalised by their fans more than mercenaries such as Mourinho ever will be by the numerous clubs they have spent a short amount of time at.