Should Arsene Wenger go? If so who should replace him? In considering these questions we must remember three important economic principles.
One is that in hiring someone what matters is putting round pegs into round holes. Productivity often results not from the intrinsic quality of a worker, but from the match between his skills and the job. What matters is getting the right man for the job, not necessarily the best.
Boris Groysberg has shown this (pdf). He looked at 20 former managers of General Electric – a company with a reputation for producing good bosses – who moved to senior positions in other firms. He found that their performance varied enormously even though all 20 had similarly impressive CVs.
This variance occurred because the matches differed. Hiring a cost-cutter, for example, is a good idea for a firm facing stiff price competition in a mature industry. But it’s a bad idea if yours is a fast-growing newer firm. And conversely, a man whose good at managing growth won’t fit into a mature firm.
What Arsenal must ask, therefore, is two questions. First, what precisely is the problem we want to solve? And second, who has the skill-set to do so?
The problem seems to be one of mentality: how to ensure that good players don’t collectively under-perform in big games. Also, we’d like someone who’s good at managing up – who can get money and competence in the transfer market out of an “absentee owner with no knowledge or interest in football” and a board which has been occasionally clueless.
So, who fits this bill? There are few stand-out candidates. There’s nothing in the CVs of Eddie Howe, Thomas Tuchel or Ronald Koeman to suggest they are capable of taking a team from the top four to the top one. Yes, Diego Simeone or Max Allegri have a proven record to suggest they could do so – but the former at least would entail a massive and therefore risky cultural change at the club.
But here’s a problem. A CV tells us what a man has done – which might of course be just “got lucky”. It doesn’t necessarily tell us what he can do.
Which brings me to the second principle: nobody knows anything. Success is to a large extent unpredictable. This is as true in football management as business. For example, Sir Alex Ferguson was on the brink of the sack in 1990, and Bill Shankly failed to get Liverpool promoted in his first two seasons on charge – something which would get a boss the boot in our more demanding times. Nobody then foresaw their great achievements – just as nobody’s reaction to Claudio Ranieri’s appointment at Leicester was “this guy will take them to a league title”.
The converse, of course, is also true. Countless managers have failed to live up to fans’ or board’s hopes, even at the minority of clubs that aren’t run by egomaniacs or idiots: David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were both the right man for Manyoo once.
So, what can we expect of a new Arsenal boss?
Here’s my third principle: perhaps not much. We’ve got reasonable evidence (pdf) from top European leagues that changing manager does not in fact make much difference on average. This is perhaps consistent with the fact that any organization’s success often depends more upon organizational capital than upon single individuals. For example, some teams will always be near the top, and others won’t: last season was an outlier in this respect.
Maybe Great Men can make a difference. But the thing about Great Men is that they are very rare.
I guess the only point I’m making here for Arsenal fans is: don’t get your hopes up.