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Would You Rather Manage Arsenal or Barcelona?

Luis Enrique is on his way out, and Arsène Wenger might be, too. Do you take the opportunity to coach the best player in the world knowing that it always ends poorly? Or do you opt for the big paycheck and the low expectations of North London?

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Despite that game, Luis Enrique is leaving Barcelona this summer to go run an ultramarathon around the circumference of the moon. Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger’s 21-year tenure at Arsenal feels like it’s one more “player smiling at an inopportune moment” from crashing to a sudden end. It’s likely that come this summer, these will be the two highest-profile managerial openings across Europe. The Blaugrana are the better team, of course, but which club offers the better coaching gig next season: the treble-or-bust volatility of Barcelona or the lower, anything-other-than-this expectations of Arsenal?

Arsenal Is a Big Enough Fish

Michael Baumann: Four full-time managers ago for Barcelona, it was Pep Guardiola. Four full-time managers ago for Arsenal, it was Don Howe, who resigned before I was born. While even moderate success grants staying power at Arsenal, at Barcelona, absolute success in a certain style is the expectation, and anyone who fails to deliver it meets the wrath of a lunatic board and lunatic fans.

And yet there’s a way to live with it. I keep thinking of Richard Jenkins’s monologue from The Kingdom:

So do you want to take over a team that’s been the best in the world over the past decade, coach the best soccer player ever on the sport’s biggest stage, but know that it could end quickly and badly? Or do you take your shot at somewhere between the third- and fifth-biggest club in England, mold it in your own image, and bet that you’ve got the self-awareness/pragmatism/imagination Wenger lacked? Do you want to play under the brightest possible lights or be a big fish in a pretty big (but not threateningly big) pond?

I’d like to be the first kind of person, but I’m not. Give me Arsenal because deep down I know I’m a specialist in failure.

The Completely Biased Case for Barcelona

Paolo Uggetti: I grew up watching Barcelona games every weekend on a 15-inch TV screen with an antenna that had to be adjusted every five minutes or so. I idolized Ronaldinho as much as I did Carles Puyol’s hair as much as I did Frank Rijkaard’s all-black suits. If you expect well-reasoned rationale, look elsewhere because the answer here is Barca.

Would you rather coach a team led by a once-in-a-generation talent that’s a near certainty to be in title contention every year? Or a team that plays in a far more competitive league and uses moral victories as their lifeblood?

Really, though, it comes down to expectations. Barcelona won’t stand for anything but having a legitimate shot at the treble. That’s skyscraper-high expectations. Arsenal, well, they’re merely looking to win a title. That’s a three-story building.

One team has the tools, materials, and manual to build. The other can’t figure out how to get to the construction site. At Barcelona, you’d manage the expectations of a winning club with some of the greatest talent in the world. At Arsenal, you’d come in with the pressure of being “the guy” who has finally replaced Wenger.

Sure, you might not last for even a full presidential term at the Camp Nou, but when winning comes — and with a roster that features Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suárez, it will come — it will be worth more than any swift exit. At the Emirates, winning one title A.W. (After Wenger) will likely keep you around for longer, but I wouldn’t wish a prolonged stay in North London on anybody.

Neither job is easy, but talent always wins out. Just ask PSG.

Alexis Sánchez Deserves a Soothing Lullaby

Micah Peters: I imagine I could be at home coaching soccer in Barcelona. I lived there for a school term in college and learned 10 words in Spanish — three of which I remember — so I am, technically, Catalan by birth. But with a roster full of globally appreciated superstars, one of whom is the objective best in the world, finishing second in La Liga would qualify as a professional embarrassment and finishing third would be a fireable offense.

In Barcelona, I’d be expected to win things. But in North London, people would be mostly fine if I didn’t lose things I should supposedly win with ease. Or even just not concede 10 (TEN) times to the same team when given two weeks to figure out how not to give up five goals over the course of a single game again.

Hidden inside Arsenal somewhere, there’s an 11-man side that can both advance past the Champions League Round of 16 and maintain focus long enough to not drop points against Watford. I’d start with locking Laurent Koscielny in the changing room. Then I’d take Alexis Sánchez aside and tell him just how much both he and winning mean to me, and I’d probably do it in song.

The Completely Unbiased Case for Barcelona

Ryan Wright: I hate Barcelona. I don’t like Messi, I don’t like Neymar, and I don’t like Suárez — you can’t breathe without one of them diving. Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry are the only Barcelona players I’ve ever liked, and they’re all long gone. I can’t describe how happy I was when PSG demolished them a few weeks ago (and I’d rather not talk about what happened on Wednesday), and I love when Real Madrid or literally anybody else wins La Liga — but I’d still take the Barcelona job in a heartbeat.

Yes, I understand that Barcelona have gone through a ton of managers over the last five seasons, and I know their fans are hard to deal with. But c’mon. Even the most die-hard Arsenal supporter would have a hard time rationalizing the Gunners as the right choice. At Barcelona, you’d get to manage the greatest attack of all time. And who cares if I got fired after a single season? I’d rather manage Barcelona for one year and spend the rest of my career in MLS than manage Arsenal for 20 years. Plus, who wouldn’t prefer the Mediterranean climate over the rain of North London? Arsenal is a good club, but this is FC Barcelona we’re talking about.

Wenger’s Shoes Are Big, but They’re Also Comfy

Donnie Kwak: The answer is so clearly Arsenal. Over the last two decades, the ceiling for the club has gradually lowered from European glory and league titles to domestic cups and regular Champions League qualification, to “Let’s at least not get embarrassed by top opposition,” to “Oh please god, can we just try something different, anything at all, we beg you.” Many Arsenal fans — or at least this one — no longer even care about “beautiful football” and would rather happily return to the days of “one-nil to the Arsenal.”

Although a new Arsenal manager would be replacing a legend, this isn’t a David Moyes–type disaster waiting to happen. Wenger’s replacement would be inheriting an Arsenal team that is far from a league-winning side, with ample room for improvement on all fronts. So while the Professor leaves huge shoes to fill, he’s also leaving behind a splintered fanbase with lowered expectations and a rabid desire to try something different. The novelty of a new boss would last for at least a couple of seasons, I think, and that’s way more security than you’d get at the Camp Nou.

Job Security Is a Myth, and Messi Is Not

Ryan O’Hanlon: We could’ve titled this “Would you rather manage Lucas Pérez and Danny Welbeck or Messi and Neymar?” and we didn’t because that’s mean, but it’s also true.

If you’re given the opportunity to manage — yes — the greatest soccer player of all time, and you pass it up, then what’s the point? I get that the Barca gig is probably the most stressful managerial job in the sport, if not all of the sports. Luis Enrique competed in a 124-mile bike race through the Pyrenees called the “bone crusher,” and he’s leaving Barcelona because his body couldn’t handle sitting on the Camp Nou bench: “I get very few hours to rest, to disconnect; at the end of this season I need to rest.” But if you wanted to do creative problem solving, work easy hours, and get paid lots of money, you should’ve worked for Portfolio magazine in the early aughts. The days of the 20-year manager-as-sultan are gone; other than Arsenal, none of the top six Premier League head men have even been at their respective clubs for three calendar years.

So, you’re eventually gonna lose your job at Barca because the fans don’t like how much you counterattack or how your occasional use of vertical passing offends some deeply held Catalan sense of self; but for a few years, you’ll win a bunch of trophies and get to manage a group of players capable of doing things unlike any other in the world. Plus, it’s not like you’d go from managing at the Camp Nou to managing at Home Depot. You’d land on your feet. Who knows — you might even end up at Arsenal.