My housemate is a lifelong Arsenal fan and a huge admirer and defender of Arsene Wenger, but even for him, the time is up.
Discussing the merits of a manager, who is really the only Arsenal boss he has ever known, our chat focuses on consistency.
Do you want to keep getting into the top four with not much else, or do you want to change it up and risk a few league places to start a complete overhaul that will lead to more trophies? For me, that is the crux of modern football: consistency versus risk.
Consistency denotes sticking by a manager and letting him build a club around his philosophy. Risk is being brutal, axing managers the minute the results start to sour. One might argue it’s also short term versus long term, but that is where the conundrum lies.
Is ridding Arsenal of Wenger looking at the long term or the short term? Perhaps it’s the former, in that it’s about creating a new, more successful Arsenal, that may take a while. Or is it looking at the short term, deciding that recent results aren’t good enough and some fans want a quick fi x?
All this brings us round to the Chelsea model under Roman Abramovich. I have always admired West Ham’s history of having so few managers: Harry Redknapp was the club’s eighth manager. Since then, the modern era has brought in seven managers. From eight in 106 years to seven in 16 years.
Still, in that period, which almost overlaps with the Abramovich reign, Chelsea have had 12 managers. But of course their success rate is completely different, seemingly heading for their fifth Premier League title, a string of FA Cup successes and that memorable Champions League victory in Munich.
So, is the answer then that if Abramovich – or even someone like him – had taken over West Ham, would we have been overjoyed by a decade of success or a complete altering of our history and identity? One can’t deny that the Russian oligarch’s riches and ruthlessness would have altered the character of the club and led to successes and trophies.
The issue is rather about whether West Ham would have become less of an historic east end club – no longer associated with Bobby Moore but billionaires. Undoubtedly that would have happened but, and I am biased, West Ham’s history and identity is so much more powerful and potent than Chelsea’s that it would be difficult to completely erase the club’s history in favour of a new-look, modern club with few remnants of the past.
But as the new move to the London Stadium shows, West Ham are currently dealing with that dilemma anyway, as fans debate the benefits of the move to E20 and whether something has been lost. Yes, the stadium has begun to grow more comfortable, but question marks still remain and for some, it will never feel like home.
Some fans, albeit a minority, have already said they will not renew their season tickets, some after more than 40 years at the club. One can’t help but go down the counterfactual route and put forward a theory for what might have happened if Abramovich had taken over West Ham. Not only would there have been a complete overhaul of the squad, but the amount of money he could pump into the club would not only rid us of our debts but it may have also totally changed the future of Upton Park.
While Abramovich did attempt to relocate Chelsea from Stamford Bridge, he has shown a willingness to revamp their current ground, using all of his own money, to create a world-class new stadium. The question is whether he would have relocated West Ham to the London Stadium or upgraded Upton Park? That’s impossible to know, and most businesses would choose the cheaper option obviously.
But one cannot doubt that Abramovich would have been more willing to use money from his own wallet to modernize and expand Upton Park. In fact, it would have been more likely to have been discussed and put on the table than under the current owners. Under Abramovich, the difficult first few months of the London Stadium could have been avoided.
To be a West Ham fan is to often think, ‘What if ’. What if we’d been bought by a Russian oligarch over an Icelandic biscuit maker? With all ‘what ifs’ and matters of the counterfactual, one can argue yourself into one corner one minute, and the other the next. If Abramovich had come to West Ham, much would be the same as with Chelsea: an overhaul, trophies, turmoil, managerial chops and changes.
West Ham’s identity and status would be different – perhaps for the worse, perhaps for the better if we’d stayed at Upton Park. Regardless, we are where we are and we must march on, and dream that even without Russian money, trophies and success are possible.