Are there lessons other clubs can learn from the now clearly premature dismissal of Roberto di Matteo by Chelsea last month? (Image | Getty)

Are there lessons other clubs can learn from the now clearly premature dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo by Chelsea last month? (Image | Getty)

One question in football has never been answered by the owners of the world’s elite football clubs: When is the right time to change your manager?

I’ll start with the obvious ones – probably not, say, within five months of winning you the Champions’ League title you have craved for almost a decade, not the day after claiming your club a league crown but doing so “in the wrong style” (a la Bernt Schuster), and probably not simply because you’ve just bought the club and you’d quite like a more high-profile manager.

The thing is, there doesn’t really seem to be a right time for change.

Chelsea’s managerial patterns in recent years have been strange. Roman Abramovich, if nothing else, cannot be criticised for a lack of pro-activity. Avram Grant and Carlo Ancelotti were both dispensed with following successful campaigns – Ancelotti came up just short of orchestrating the most outrageous comeback in Premier League history in 2010-11, while Grant was a Premier League and Champions’ League runner-up in his lone season in charge, was undefeated at Stamford Bridge and was within a John Terry slip of lifting the European Cup.

Jose Mourinho will be discounted since he resigned (albeit under duress), but what of the others? Claudio Ranieri was dismissed for not being sufficiently high-profile, despite the oft-forgotten fact that it was he who lured the likes of John Terry, Petr Cech, Joe Cole and Arjen Robben to Stamford Bridge. And Luis Felipe Scolari was given fewer than 25 games in charge before Abramovich decided he’d seen enough of the Brazilian. I won’t even mention the man who was supposed to be Chelsea’s Sir Alex Ferguson, Andre Villas-Boas. (Oops.)

Since Di Matteo was dismissed last month, Chelsea’s record under Rafael ‘Interim’ Benitez reads thus: played 5, won 2, drawn 2, lost 1. Not too bad? Well, one of the wins was over Norwegian minnows Nordsjaelland and the other over Martin O’Neill’s struggling Sunderland. The loss? Oh, that was against West Ham. From a 1-0 lead. But you’re right, it’s probably not so bad…

This picture doesn't actually show the sun setting on Arsene Wenger, but were he to turn around, that's probably what it would remind him of

This picture doesn’t actually show the sun setting on Arsene Wenger, but were he to turn around, that’s probably what it would remind him of

Still, at least Abramovich is capable of acknowledging when a change is required. By now, you’ve probably figured where this article is headed.

Last night’s historic defeat at League Two dwellers Bradford City, a withered shell of a formerly great club which, hopefully, might one day return to national relevance, was possibly the lowest point in Arsene Wenger’s 16-year Arsenal tenure. A starting line-up including Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker, Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski was undone by a Garry Thompson volley and could have lost the game in normal time, before Bradford’s remarkable penalty shoot-out record was extended to nine straight victories. This might be the most famous of the lot.

The night raised serious questions, again, over Wenger’s transfer policy and the Gunners’ recent form. When Olivier Giroud is left out, as he was last night, Arsenal are left with an enviable array of creators with no-one to create for. Marouane Chamakh is the only other natural target man in the Arsenal squad, and a quick look at any Emirates regular’s reaction when that name is mentioned will tell you all you need to know about fans’ feelings towards the erratic Moroccan.

Podolski, Gervinho, Cazorla, Theo Walcott (whether he likes it or not), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky are all capable of putting goals on a plate for teammates with greater finishing prowess; they’ve all shown it either at Arsenal around Robin van Persie, or at international level, alongside the likes of Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose and Wayne Rooney. But none of them are ideally suited to leading the line, although Podolski did his best impression in the early stages of the season.

Why, then, has Wenger not brought in the natural poacher his team was always going to be without in the wake of van Persie’s defection? The answer is simple – the veteran Frenchman doesn’t see the need to as he prefers the intricate build-up play his teams are famous for – but it isn’t enough any more. Wenger’s style is enough for Arsenal to dazzle and entrance football fans across Europe, but is no longer capable of delivering silverware to his deserving fans.

Roberto Mancini has a problem - he's winning, but still losing at the same time. And eventually, the imbalance is likely to catch up with him (Image | Sky Sports)

Roberto Mancini has a problem – he’s winning, but still losing at the same time. And eventually, the imbalance is likely to catch up with him. (Image | Sky Sports)

Roberto Mancini has a different problem. The suave Italian has proven himself more than capable of delivering the trophies, with an FA Cup and a Premier League already under his belt, but on the continent, Manchester City are yet to make a dent. This year saw them drawn in the most difficult group in the Champions’ League, but there is little doubt that City had the manpower to qualify ahead of Borussia Dortmund and Ajax. Instead, Mancini’s usual containing tactics were eviscerated by a timeless Ajax performance in Amsterdam which will have reminded older viewers of the heady heights of Total Football. Three away defeats and three home draws were good enough only for bottom place, meaning Mancini’s men even miss out on the chance for Europa League glory this time around.

In an isolated incident, this might be acceptable. But put it into context: a last-second moment of magic from Sergio Aguero won City the Premier League title last season. The club then spent over £50million in the summer on Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell, Matija Nastasic and others. Oh, and in their two previous Champions’ League encounters, City have fallen at the group stage on both occasions. They’ve now registered just three wins in 12 Champions’ League fixtures under Mancini, despite a net transfer spend of well over £200m in the last three years.

If Mancini keeps plugging away in England with league and cup triumphs, would it be enough to mask indefinitely the extent of his European failures? No, of course not. City need to qualify from the group stages if only to boost their FIFA co-efficient and prevent themselves landing in so many ‘groups of death’ in future. Eventually, the club’s Arab masters will expect to see continental and world trophies adorning the corridors of the City of Manchester Stadium, not just domestic prizes. So the question is: if next year’s probable Champions’ League assault is repelled as emphatically as this year’s, will Mancini’s time start running out?

Perhaps it’s indicative of the damage Brendan Rodgers did in his first two months at Liverpool that I’m coming to the Reds almost as an afterthought in this piece. Although the Scotsman has secured two straight wins in the league, and three on the bounce in all competitions, that run has lifted Liverpool to tenth in the Premier League table. Yep, Liverpool really did need lifting to tenth place in the league. In December.

Rodgers has, in his defence, engineered the odd impressive result, including the recent 1-1 draw at Chelsea in Benitez’ second game in charge and the 2-2 home draw with Manchester City back in August. But there have been too many games where Liverpool’s dire lack of firepower has prevented them converting draws into wins. There’s no Danny Graham to save Rodgers this time – he allowed the potential candidate for that role, Andy Carroll, to walk out the door for the year in the dying embers of the summer transfer window, meaning it will now be January before Liverpool can bring in a desperately needed striker.

The giant burden of Liverpool's stellar history is hanging over Brendan Rodgers' very modern experiment like a death knell waiting to be sounded (Image | SNS)

The giant burden of Liverpool’s stellar history is hanging over Brendan Rodgers’ very modern experiment like a death knell waiting to be sounded. (Image | SNS)

Has the Rodgers experiment failed at Anfield? Not yet, clearly. This man has taken lessons from Guardiola, manoeuvred a small Welsh club into one of the surprises of the Premier League season last year, and is only 28 games into his Liverpool career.

His is an overhaul that needs two to three seasons to produce results, which the Liverpool ownership must have been aware of when they appointed him. To the Fenway Group, of course, the notion of ‘bottoming out’ to ultimately improve your club is nothing new. Then again, there’s no relegation in American major leagues.

So which of these managers has outstayed their welcome? Rodgers would probably be the favourite to get the sack first, even if there’s actually the biggest argument for retaining him. Mancini’s success at home is plastering over his deficiencies abroad, while Wenger, alongside Ferguson, may be one of the world’s two unsackable football managers – even if it looks increasingly as if his philosophy has run its course at Arsenal.

If Football Chairman 2013 came out tomorrow, which club would you take over – and who would you fire? Just remember a Roman lesson – don’t be too hasty…

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