Five questions about Arsenal legend Marc Overmars, linked with a return
Speculation is growing that Arsenal may hire a sporting director to take some of the load off beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger if the Frenchman stays in charge after this season.
Former Gunner Marc Overmars, who is now the director of football at Ajax, has been touted as one of the most likely candidates, although Wenger said on Friday he wasn't aware of any approach from the club to the Dutchman.
For many Arsenal fans, Overmars needs no introduction. But for those unfamiliar with his career, here are five things to know about the former winger.
What did he do at Arsenal?
Overmars' contributions to Wenger's first title winning team may have been overshadowed by likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, but he remains a club legend in the eyes of many fans.
Known for his ability to take on defenders, score himself and deliver pinpoint crosses into the box, he compiled 40 goals in 141 appearances for the Gunners over three seasons. Wenger ignored concerns over his history of injury problems by signing him from Ajax in 1997, and it paid off handsomely as he helped the club capture the Premier League title in his debut season.
The speedy winger netted 12 league goals that year, including the winner at Old Trafford as Arsenal seized control of the title race by beating Manchester United 1-0. The next two seasons were blighted by injury problems, but he still scored in double figures in each of them and fans voted him the club's 12th best player in history in 2008.
Where did he go after Arsenal?
Overmars became the most expensive Dutch player ever when Arsenal sold him to Barcelona in 2000 for a fee of £25 million. But he struggled to live up to the price tag with the Catalan giants, where he never scored more than eight goals in a season during a four-year spell.
Perhaps the highlight of his time in Spain came against Liverpool in the Champions League in 2001, when he finished off a magnificent team move by scoring the third goal in a 3-1 victory. The goal was preceded by 29 passes between the Barcelona players and ended with Overmars running onto a perfect through ball from Xavi Hernandez and rounding goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek before slotting the ball into an empty net.
What did he do after retiring?
Having finished his career with one season at Go Ahead Eagles, Overmars took a job on the club's supervisory board in 2005 and then became a part-time Ajax youth coach in 2011. A year later he was appointed as Ajax's director of football.
He has received mixed reviews for his efforts. He has made a number of shrewd signings of late, including Brazilian attacker David Neres, Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez and Moroccan midfielder Hakim Ziyech, but he has also been accused of poor decision making -- including selling Christian Eriksen to Tottenham for just £11 million and taking Arsenal flop Yaya Sanogo on loan in 2015 -- and clashing with other members of staff. And while his reign at Ajax began with two straight league titles, the club have fallen behind PSV Eindhoven during the last two seasons and trail Feyenoord by a point currently.
Would he be a good fit at Arsenal?
Overmars certainly has the right pedigree for the Arsenal job, as a former Gunner who has already worked in a similar role at a major European club. An added benefit is that he might persuade Bergkamp, who is now an assistant coach at Ajax, to come with him back to Arsenal.
But questions remain about his inconsistent record on the transfer market, and there are serious doubts as to whether Wenger would be willing to work under one of his former players.
So is he coming back to Arsenal?
Wenger sounded quite dismissive when asked about the possibility of bringing in a sporting director, saying the club's internal structure doesn't need to be changed. Overmars himself said this week that it was natural for him to be linked with the job, but that he has not been in concrete talks about the role.
"I think there is a list with some names and I might be on it," he said, according to the Independent. "But it's not that exciting yet. I know the club pretty well, I have always kept in touch with Arsenal. So in that respect it is not surprising, because I've had a few good years. But right now we're focused on Ajax. I just signed here for four years."
In other words, this seems far from a done deal. But if Arsenal ever do hire a sporting director -- which may not happen until after Wenger is gone -- then Overmars is certainly a logical candidate.
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.