In 1996, the headline in London was Arsene Who? Could lighting strike twice with another manager from Japan?
A couple of years ago you might have got odds of a billion to one re Ange Postecoglou coaching Arsenal. Is it really so hard to believe now?
In 1996, the Arsenal board was looking for a replacement for Bruce Rioch, who’d not exactly set the world on fire after the lamented George Graham (even if he did buy Dennis Bergkamp – my favourite-ever player).
Out of nowhere, they opted for Arsene Wenger – a chap who’d had the briefest of professional playing careers, in France, and whose coaching career was not exactly what the pundits in North London might have seen as Gooner-worthy.
And yet, David Dein the visionary, believed in Wenger. He’d met him before his Japan sojourn and had been highly impressed by his innovative approach, not just to playing football, but to the entire way of preparing for a life in football – which started with diet.
He was also a damn fine judge of a footballer – insisting that Arsenal sign Patrick Vieira as a condition of his joining the club. Over his time at Arsenal (20 odd years) Wenger was notorious for buying young and selling high, something much appreciated in the boardroom but less so on the terraces. Nevertheless, though he outlived his welcome, Arsene Wenger will always be an Arsenal legend.
Ange Postecoglou, also, is a visionary. He has a particular way of playing which has occasionally polarised the fans, but there is no denying his success. He has won several national league titles and built numerous successful sides. His Brisbane Roar team of 2011/12 went on a 36 game unbeaten run which is yet to be equalled across any Australian football code.
As national coach, he was the first Australian-born coach to qualify for the World Cup finals and won the Asian Cup in 2015. I was there – my third favourite Australian football experience after Uruguay (16 Nov 2005) and Japan in Kaiserslautern.
Now, he’s taken unfashionable Yokohama to their first title since 2001. This is a seriously epic performance by a coach in just one and a half seasons. The J League is (arguably) the best league in Asia and a coach who does not speak the language must be a maestro indeed to get his message across – especially when the message entails a complex attacking system which is hard enough for those who speak English to understand.
Once the players get it though, Ange’s system is hard to resist. His Socceroos responded to the system in 2015 and 2017, and Yokohama got it in 2019. Why not Arsenal? Ange's system is very organised at the back and highly attacking - exactly the sort of thing the Gooner fans enjoy.
The word is that Unai Emery lost the dressing room mainly because he didn’t speak English. Ange speaks English, and is a good enough coach to get his message across even though he doesn’t speak Japanese.
I am an Arsenal fan and do not want to see another disaster at Ashburton Grove. I heard Ancellotti was just sacked at Napoli for wearing an Arsenal scarf, but is that what we want?
I strongly believe that anyone whose football vision is strong enough to transcend the language barrier in Japan is good enough to manage the mighty Gooners.
It’s happened before.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. He will have a new novel out shortly.