Arsene Wenger succession planning at Arsenal seems smart
For some, Arsenal without Arsene Wenger is difficult to imagine. He's been there since 1996, currently the longest reigning manager in European top-flight football, and his is an era that doesn't simply span one generation, but many.
However, time waits for no man -- even one as distinguished as the Frenchman -- and at 68 his tenure has got to be limited. Leaving aside people's opinion of whether he's the right man for the job, his time is finite, and the big question has been how Arsenal are going to prepare for it.
As we saw when Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in 2013, the departure of a legacy manager -- one who has such power within a club -- is not easy to deal with. David Moyes came and went quickly, and even a vastly experienced coach like Louis van Gaal found it hard to operate in the shadow of the Scotsman's success.
During the summer, Arsenal's chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, promised the previous season's failure to finish in the top four would be a "catalyst for change" -- words that many found hard to reconcile with the announcement of Wenger being handed a new two-year deal. Although it's well worth pointing out that the FA Cup final win over Chelsea was the third time the Gunners had lifted the old trophy in the last four years.
However, fans eager to see the club challenge for the Premier League title, or make progress in Europe, were left disappointed and agitated by another campaign that fell flat on both fronts. For the first time in 20 years they finished outside the Champions League places, and Wenger consistently dismissed the idea of bringing in a director of football to help share some of the workload.
It felt like the next two years were going to be more of the same, but perhaps now -- in addition to a couple of summer events -- we're seeing the beginnings of a restructuring which will future-proof the club and make it more ready for the day when the manager calls it a day and the Wenger era ends.
The first hint that work behind the scenes might bear fruit came with the appointment of contract specialist, Huss Fahmy. Although he spent time working on reserve and youth team issues at first, he's now in place and ready to deal with more pressing first-team matters, not least to try to ensure that key players are retained.
There was also the announcement that club captain Per Mertesacker would retire at the end of this season and take over as the academy manager. There were other candidates who were more widely tipped to take the job, people who have worked under Wenger for years, so although the German was a player brought to the club by the Frenchman, it's a more forward thinking appointment.
Recent weeks have seen names like Marc Overmars and former Barcelona director of football Raul Sanllehi linked with an executive role at the club, and this week the announcement that former Borussia Dortmund scout Sven Mislintat was to become head of recruitment was extremely interesting.
Not simply because it's an area Arsenal have needed to improve and revamp for some time, but because his title implies a certain amount of power. Wenger has always been the head of recruitment at Arsenal, he makes the final decisions about how comes in, and while that's likely to remain the case, it shows that as a club Arsenal are readying themselves for a time when someone else has to do that job.
What's especially notable about this appointment is that it has coincided with the departure of long-term head scout, Steve Rowley. He's been at the club for many years, and Wenger has always been extremely loyal to his staff. He rarely, if ever, makes any changes, and it's only ever natural attrition that forces that -- for example, Steve Bould took over as assistant manager when Pat Rice retired.
So all of that, and the arrival of former player Jens Lehmann as a first team coach, suggests that not only is there a plan to ensure that the club transition to the post-Wenger era as seamlessly as possible, but that he's on board with it plan too.
Given there have been issues between him and Gazidis in the past, if they are now working together and singing from the same hymn sheet, we're seeing signs that the future may not be quite as scary and precarious as some fear.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.