With the transfer window flung open, the songbirds of scandalous rumour have escaped into the winter sun, and the back pages will be filled for the next four weeks with tall tales of big-name signings and perhaps the occasional deal. Yet it's a management move that could be most important: the suggestion that Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger could trade his spot in the Gunners dugout for a job at Real Madrid.
The Spanish club are reported to have offered Wenger a €26 million package to revive their fortunes - they are languishing in the middle of La Liga under caretaker boss Juande Ramos, fired just two months ago from his job at Spurs. North London as a training ground for management at the Bernabéu? Stranger things have happened.
Wenger's departure would be a seismic event. In his 12 years at the club, the Frenchman brought about a huge change in Arsenal's style and fortune, transforming them from a tight, tedious team who ground out gritty results, into one of the continent's most attractive attacking units, imbuing his side with a pure, attacking spirit that at its best was simply awesome to behold. And he also brought success, particularly in the early years: by 2002 he'd racked up two Premier League titles and three FA Cups, while in the 2003/04 season, the "Invincibles" won the league title without losing a single game. Furthermore, Wenger caused a sea change in English football when he arrived. His ideas on diet, nutrition and training, mocked in the early days, were quickly and quietly adopted by clubs across the country when the fruits of such labour became evident.
Yet Arsenal haven't won a major title since 2005, and in the last three years have slipped further and further away from the top. This season the club are in a fight to even secure a spot in the lucrative top four, and the team seems brittle, devoid of confidence, beset by the loss of key players and rumours that more may leave in the summer. Wenger himself has cut an ever-more irritated figure on the sideline, raging against perceived injustices while his team has succumbed again and again to technically inferior opposition. The received wisdom is, like their manager, Arsenal are a psychologically flawed team who lack the confidence to adapt when not playing at their best, and fans have reacted in increasingly despondent ways, even turning on one of their own during a bad performance. The Gooners legendary faith in their manager could be on the verge of drying up.
Yet it's difficult to imagine a club less suited to Wenger's monomaniacal style of management than Madrid, who have a well-earned reputation for giving bosses the boot if results aren't instantly favourable. While at Arsenal he has control of virtually every aspect of the club — he even had direct input into designing the new stadium and training facilities — at Madrid his influence would be circumscribed. Yet he may see the opportunity as his last chance to capture the one major trophy he's yet to win in London - the Champions League.
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