This article was initially published on football.london
The football world has only just stopped shaking from the revelation that Arsenal managerial legend Arsene Wenger has a son that we did not know about.
It was only seven days ago that Lee-Ah Wenger announced that Arsene was his father in the press conference unveiling him as the new manager of Nagoya Grampus in Japan’s top flight.
Nagoya Grampus last hit the UK headlines back in the early 1990s when then England star and current Match of the Day anchor stroke political Twitter activist Gary Lineker signed for them to help launch the J-League to the world.
Lineker’s time in Japan wasn’t the most successful in his career, playing only a handful of games due to a pesky big toe injury that led to his retirement.
Now, over 25 years later, Nagoya are on the virtual back pages once more as the ‘Son of Arsene’ looks to emulate his famous papa in the world of football coaching.
Wenger Jr has not walked into the perfect storm in Nagoya. Despite all the media clamour around his appointment, it cannot disguise the fact this is a 23-year-old rookie head coach being promoted from within at a club who has consistently sought titles in unrealistic fashion – after all, Wenger Sr only managed to finish second when in charge and it was one of his former players in Dragan Stoijkovic who led the club to their one-and-only J-League title in 2010.
Wenger Jr, who officially started yesterday, has many things to address quickly if he is to celebrate his 24th birthday still in the hot-seat.
#1 Get the best out of Jo
The Brazilian striker is best known in the UK for a massively disappointing spell at Manchester City years before the club realised that all roads point to Sergio Aguero. However, he has managed to flatter to deceive in his time in Japan as well. Despite averaging a goal every other game which is a decent lick for most players, you can’t help but think Jo should be doing so much more at this level.
He is big, strong, still relatively quick and, when he fancies it, lethal in front of goal – attributes that suggest he should really be the striker in Japan, tearing up the goal charts.
Wenger Jr will have to quickly decide how to get the best out of his best player – ask him to play on the shoulder of the last man or give him a freer, more roaming mandate? Partner him with another out-and-out striker or find someone creative to play in behind him?
If the young coach can suss this one out first of all, then Jo should buy him enough time to sort out everything else.
#2 Fix the recruitment
Up until now, Wenger Jr has only ever had to work with youth team players and has never been in charge of recruitment.
If he was walking into a club with a well-formed recruitment structure, this would not be a major issue – but he is not.
Currently, Nagoya have no scouts whatsoever – previous recruitment has been managed solely by the Director of Football, club legend as a player Masayuki Omori.
When quizzed on this in his first press conference, Wenger Jr alluded to the fact that he wants to have 100% control of scouting and recruitment at the club – which is fine if he is bringing in a clear philosophy and strategy.
Over the past decade, Nagoya’s transfer policy has been notoriously scattergun which has then played out on the pitch. Wenger is walking into an unbalanced squad born from the lack of strategy off the field.
Fans of the club will not care whether they are spending big or small, but they will expect to understand what direction he is taking the club in the transfer market.
#3 Improve the style of play
Similar to the above, you would be hard-pressed to be able to explain Nagoya’s playing style over the last few years. There has been much chopping and changing – one week possession-based, the next counter-attacking, the next Japan’s answer to Burnley with all the direct balls played in.
Again, the fans don’t seem to be demanding any particular club philosophy but they do want to see consistency and something they can get behind.
This will be a challenge for Wenger, given the squad he is inheriting. If he wants to bring in a possession-based philosophy, he does not have the players. If he is looking to be well organised defensively and hit teams on the break, he does not have enough defensively disciplined players or enough pace to counter. If he wants to go direct, they only have Jo with the ability to dominate physically.
Wenger might be best to make an early call on where he wants to take the team and then coach/recruit accordingly rather than try and pick a style based on the current playing squad.
#4 Make the most of the foreign player slots
In the J-League, each matchday squad can have up to five foreign players. Common sense would suggest that each of these five players, often on much higher wages than the homegrown players, would be the best players in the squad. Not in Nagoya.
Outside of Jo and Aussie goalkeeper Michael Langerak, the other Brazilians in the squad – Joao Schmidt, Eduardo Neto and Mateus – are not guaranteed starters by any stretch of the imagination. Once again, this is another challenge for the inexperienced Wenger Jr – they will be hard to move on due to their wages so he is going to have to decide whether he gambles by making them key men or gambles by sidelining them and fast-tracking some of the younger players he has worked with previously.
Given that Nagoya don’t appear to have any world beaters coming through their U23 squad right now, it is more likely he will look to build a team around the Brazilians.
#5 Review his backroom team
Wenger Jr has not been promoted with a blank piece of paper – he has taken over an existing squad that needs an overhaul as well as a backroom team that appears to have got a bit stale.
Last season, players talked of ‘boring’ training session led by the assistant manager Kazuya Mori and it is not thought that anyone else coaching the first-team squad is overly forward-thinking.
Wenger, despite his age and inexperience, is only one of nine other Japanese Continental Pro level coaches – meaning he’d be allowed to manage a Premier League team tomorrow if appointed. What he may not have in years, he might have in innovative new coaching ideas but it is vital he has the right support team around him to let him flourish.
Will he have a clear-out in preseason or will he go with what he has inherited?
Either way, the real work for Lee-Ah Wenger starts now if he wants to become known for more than just being Arsene’s son.