I’m not going to lie, it’s quite hard writing about Arsenal at the moment because things are so… you know, normal. I need tension to write properly and right now there’s no goddamn tension. Which is an odd feeling, but also, a testament to a club that is very well run at the moment. Quite incredible really, results have a good way of masking issues at every level, because there’s no interest in probing problems when things are going well.
Liverpool has had 5 years of things going really, really well. There have been problems there, but no one has paid attention because who wants to have a conversation about LFC issues when they are the best team in the world on and off the pitch? No one. I wrote about them coming unstuck at the start of last season, I was BADLY wrong, but the basis of what I wrote was ‘all is not as it seems, and when it goes to shit there, it will really go to shit.’
Well, I was a year late to the party, but we landed there in the end.
Liverpool has said goodbye to two backroom leaders this week. Director of Research, Ian Graham has left. Sporting Director, Julian Ward, has also exited.
Liverpool will say they have succession plans for these people and that no one is bigger than the team. Standard chatter big American corporates say, ‘no one is bigger than the team, life goes on, we have a plan.’
Reality? At the highest level of sport, the backroom team has the same rockstar special sauce rules any creative organization has. When big names leave, it’s problematic beyond just the job duties these people carry out. You always want to have a high functioning TEAM but do not fall for the idea that individual talent is not the absolute KEY ingredient in some of these jobs.
Michael Edwards wasn’t just a sporting director, he was a leader behind the scenes that had a very specific personality with a very specific set of skills, that were embedded in a very specific organizational setup/culture that worked for LFC. Not only that, the man wasn’t a robot, he was a human with a very specific skill that few had… talent ID. Sure, he had spreadsheets, NASA data guys, and a team of sharp analysts behind him, but what he really had was excellent decision-making when big investments were on the table. He convinced Klopp to pass on Julian Brandt and sign Mo Salah. That decision brought him credibility and a voice at a table of bonified winners.
LFC lost Edwards then promoted from within. You think Julian Ward is going to have a voice at the table with Jurgen Klopp? No chance. Now he’s out with no explanation.
Klopp is a different person to the one who joined Liverpool. Going into an organization that is building towards a winning machine is very different than going to an organization that IS a winning machine (take note, Mikel). Stakes are higher, people have more ego, and there’s a specific way of doing things. You are far less likely to lean into help when you have a Champions League medal and you are far less likely to doubt your greatness.
Very few clubs do succession planning well because it takes discipline and requires looking 5 years ahead in a sport that lives week to week. The best succession planners were the Barca execs Manchester City nabbed. They had a style of play, a roster of managers they knew could play it, and things never really dipped when they made changes.
LFC are losing major execs, their succession plans are failing, and there has clearly been a dip in decision-making. Dias and Nunez is hardly Mane and Salah.
What further exasperates this issue is LFC now has a power vacuum and that will be filled by… Jurgen Klopp.
This is a rerun of David Dein exiting Arsenal. There are no checks and balances because no one can out alpha the biggest manager in world football. He’ll be dominating every decision. He’ll have control over anyone who comes in. LFC will not hire someone in and recreate the brain trust they had before.
Klopp is the biggest brain in the building now.
Let’s be honest, there’s a clear reason why Edwards left without a job, and it’s probably to do with his reduced standing at Liverpool.
What makes this all the more delicious is LFC ownership don’t have their eye on the 5-year plan because they have the club up for sale.
It’s all very destabilizing and the only answer for a fix you’ll get to is… let’s hope Klopp can manage it all.
So what can Arsenal learn from all of this?
Look at your weaknesses when you are winning because they will be exposed when the tide of decline goes out. Don’t be on the beach with no trunks on.
Who succeeds Mikel Arteta if City comes calling? We should be analyzing the best young managers in Europe so we can have continuity like Barcelona had back in the day.
Who replaces Edu if Barca pick him up?
Who is capable of making the jump in the backroom team and what is the club doing to make sure they have good standing if someone exits?
How is the club going to manage their executives when we start winning so we don’t get into Jurgen Klopp-like power battles? Make no mistake, Arteta IS the power structure at Arsenal. He was the only solution we had. Are we going to manage that?
All BIG questions that need answering NOW.
Ok, that was fun to write. Hammering other clubs’ misgivings is good times. See you in the comments.