Arsene Wenger needs to lead Arsenal to the title and then hand over reins to Pep Guardiola
Ending this whacky Premier League campaign on top would be the Frenchman’s crowning glory – then he could give way to the only manager worthy of taking over the role
Unpredictable, bizarre and fascinating – three words that sum up the English Premier League title race.
Even fans who do not support the top five clubs are finding themselves gripped by the dotty campaign, a season so wacky Louis van Gaal even claimed fifth-placed Manchester United – playing their worst football in 30 years – could still finish top following his team’s lucky win at hapless Liverpool last weekend.
You’d be a fool to doubt him.
Impressive over-achievers Leicester – joint-top with serial under-achievers Arsenal – are threatening to deliver the biggest-ever shock as they continue to punch above their weight playing enthralling football.
Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes winning the title would not only be celebrated by neutral fans for proving one don’t need pots of money and big names to win the league; it would also constitute complete humiliation for elite managers, especially for Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City – but in particular for Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger.
The country’s longest-serving manager has not won the top prize for 12 years and will never have a better chance of doing so than this season.
Not for a long time have the stars aligned so favourably for Wenger. German World Cup hero Mesut Ozil has come into his own and Chilean goal dynamo Alexis Sanchez is about to return, while Petr Cech remains a sublime custodian in goal; his dynamic squad has finally clicked,
Antagonists Manchester United are struggling, hit-and-miss Manchester City have a manager destined for the chop, and though dark horses Spurs pose a credible threat, they rely too much on top scorer Harry Kane.
Surely, then, this is the season for 66-year-old Frenchman Wenger to seal his legacy with another title – and allow him to bow out from the travails of management as a legend.
That he should, win or lose, step aside after this season is gaining traction in some circles.
The Emirates board and supporters, as well as Wenger, know his day of departure will arrive sooner rather than later, and all are determined to avoid the chaos that followed the departure of Alex Ferguson from Manchester United after a long and illustrious reign.
If a cack-handed managerial transition and subsequent implosion are to be avoided, appointing a replacement of the same calibre as Wenger to take the Gunners to the next level is vital.
But pedigree options are limited. Coaches of Wenger’s intellect, desire and experience are rarer than a bull run on 2016’s global stock markets.
The only standout candidate is Pep Guardiola, who announced last month he is to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season.
Manchester City are regarded as favourites to land the most sought-after manager in the world, though it’s not a given. After all, three destinations kept cropping up when he was poised to leave Barcelona: Bayern, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Chelsea and Manchester City are also positioning themselves in the race to land the Spaniard.
The 45-year-old, who wants to try his hand in the hurly-burly EPL, is understood to be attracted to clubs on whose history and heritage he can build, not to those with wealthy investors impatient to see a fast return on their investment.
Manchester City, for all their recent glory and limitless oil money, might prove too plastic and gaudy for the high-brow Guardiola, while Stamford Bridge’s revolving door, moody owner and fractious squad, and Old Trafford’s weakened stable and apparent wane, would be a concern to any manager.
Arsenal seem a perfect match, then. Guardiola is known to be a huge fan of the Gunners’ artistic, possession-oriented attacking style of football under Arsene Wenger, a man he has publicly praised in the past.
He wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel if he were to take over the Gunners’ current squad, which includes the same youth integration philosophy which marked his time at Barcelona.
And as pleasant a city as Manchester is, the lure of cosmopolitan London and its culture and refinery might be a deal breaker for Guardiola and his family; it is worth noting managers are paid so well that taking a pay cut to head south rather than north to experience the EPL is not an obstacle.
But would Wenger, a force of his own at The Emirates, be willing to make such a sacrifice in the interest of the club, and put the call in now to the outgoing Bayern manager to seal the deal?
Perhaps not – though Arsenal winning the EPL, Wenger then resigning and handing the baton to Guardiola, is one of the sanest scenarios to imagine so far this season.