Communication matters so much.
To succeed as a top coach in elite team sport, you have to be a master of many things, but the native language is one of them.
Unai Emery never managed it with English.
Contrast his weekly stumblings in front of the media – and, we have to presume, daily struggles with his players – with the easy fluency Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have achieved at Arsenal’s Premier League rivals, not to mention Emery’s multi-lingual predecessor Arsene Wenger.
When the Spaniard was appointed in summer last year, Arsenal fans weren’t exactly cartwheeling in delight down the Seven Sisters Road, despite his three Europa League titles on a limited budget at Seville.
But most accepted he was among the leading available candidates – and were certainly unprepared for the level of stagnation in performance.
When Wenger left, I wrote: “An unheralded line from his final news conference was telling. ‘We want to finish in front of Burnley,’ he said. With all due respect to Burnley’s achievement in even entering that sentence, it is a measure of Arsenal’s slide that Wenger was reduced to aiming to avoid slipping below them into seventh place in the Premier League.”
Well, guess what. Emery leaves with Arsenal eighth in the Premier League, a place below Burnley.
Wenger should have gone sooner. Just two FA Cups since 2005 is not what Arsenal fans – still less the American owner Stan Kroenke – expect.
But lessons seemed to be heeded. The club’s operational structure was overhauled to include a director of football and avoid the manager having the all-encompassing authority Wenger had enjoyed.
This past summer, fans’ perennial frustration over perceived transfer parsimony was banished by spending approaching £140m.
Arsenal have excellent footballers, including the Premier League’s joint-top scorer last season Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
But Emery has failed to get value for German World Cup-winning midfielder Mesut Ozil’s expensive contract (seven appearances this season), and Granit Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy after his angry reaction to being substituted last month brought mass booing from the stands.
Xhaka had been first among equals among Emery’s five captains – a system which never proclaimed decisiveness.
And the long-standing defensive problems of the latter Wenger years have not been successfully addressed.
So now what?
Expect at least a short-term “bounce” under caretaker coach Freddie Ljungberg, a veteran of Wenger’s early glory years.
He is high on bookmakers’ lists for the permanent job, along with fellow former Arsenal midfielders Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira, and the likes of former Juventus boss Max Allegri and Wolves’ Nuno Espirito Santo.
No choice will guarantee success.
But it would be startling indeed if the Kroenke family sanction the appointment of anyone without sufficient command of English to give him a more assured presence than Unai Emery.
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