Why Arsenal should look to River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo in their hunt for a new manager

Marcelo Gallardo after winning the CONMEBOL Recopa Sudamericana 2019
Marcelo Gallardo after winning the CONMEBOL Recopa Sudamericana 2019

Arsenal continue in their hunt for a new manager following the sacking of Unai Emery.

The Spaniard was dismissed following their home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League - with a sparse Emirates crowd there to witness his final humiliation.

Freddie Ljungberg has taken the managerial reigns on a temporary basis and is reported to be a serious contender for the job. However, given his two results so far have been a draw to Norwich and a home defeat to Brighton, it would be fair to conclude that his audition period isn't going to plan.

It's important the Gunners get this appointment right as they look to return to the top-four in the immediate future. Champions League football was a regular occurrence under Arsene Wenger's guidance, but they've been stuck in Europe's second competition for the previous three seasons - and even that place is now at risk.

Brendan Rodgers had been towards the top of Sky Bet's market prior to signing a new deal on Friday. He has put Leicester back on an upward trajectory but their current rise, and his new deal, surely rules out a move at this stage of the season. The Foxes are title contenders; Arsenal are not.

The likes of Massimiliano Allegri, Eddie Howe and former player Patrick Vieira have also been placed in the frame. In an age where 'knowing the club' is seemingly among the most vital requirements, Vieira, Mikel Arteta and indeed Ljungberg all have a chance, while Allegri is among the biggest names on the market and Howe has impressed everyone at Bournemouth.

Arsenal are in crisis territory for a club viewed as one of the iconic institutions of English football and where they turn next could be huge in determining both their short- and long-term future.

They've slumped to tenth in the Premier League standings and will finish a decade of failure on a low note. Unless the club rethink their vision, it could be a few more decades before they return to the summit again.

They need a manager with a strong identity, someone who can wake up a sleeping giant. Arsenal should look no further than Marcelo Gallardo.

Marcelo Gallardo is the perfect fit for Arsenal
Marcelo Gallardo is the perfect fit for Arsenal

Gallardo has firmly established himself on the world stage due to his remarkable efforts with River Plate in Argentina - a club where he made over 100 appearances as a player.

He took over the role in June 2014 and his impact was almost immediate. That summer saw key players depart and only two come in, but Gallardo's style of play provoked an instant impact.

By November of that year, they'd matched the club's all-time unbeaten record of 32 consecutive games - 24 of which came under Gallardo.

His tenure has brought nothing but success. Since arriving, Gallardo has won three Recopa Sudamericanas, two Copa Libertadores', two Copa Argentinas, the Copa Sudamericana, Supercopa Argentina and the Suruga Bank Championship.

His efforts during his time at River led to the ultimate compliment from club president Rodolfo D'Onofrio in late 2018 - who stated that he's the best coach in their 118-year history.

"Gallardo definitely established himself as the best in River's history and will continue with us," D'Onofrio stated.

"Gallardo not only knows football, he also knows how to form excellent human groups."

Prior to River Plate, Gallardo won the Uruguayan Primera Division when in charge of Nacional in 2012 - finishing five points clear in the aggregate table.

Marcelo Gallardo after success in the 2019 Recopa Sudamericana
Marcelo Gallardo after success in the 2019 Recopa Sudamericana

Success is an obvious big positive for any managerial CV, particularly with a club who should hold significant ambitions like Arsenal.

However, in the short-term, they need to get back on track and re-establish the reputation they held in the past, one that saw teams afraid to travel to Highbury or the Emirates; the feeling of knowing you were likely to leave empty-handed.

This is perhaps where Gallardo holds a huge advantage over the others mentioned with the role.

Success at River did not come easy as Gallardo had to rebuild a squad capable of embarking on that long unbeaten streak.

Their Club World Cup final defeat to Barcelona in 2015 signalled the beginning of that process. They had come to the end of their cycle and the next steps proved crucial in securing the future and the triumph that has come with it.

The process ultimately ended in the right way. Leonardo Ponzio, Jonatan Maidana, Gonzalo Martinez, Camilo Mayada and Rodrigo Mora were the only players who won the 2015 Copa Libertadores to then remain a part of the squad who won it again in 2018.

What we saw during that 2018 run, and indeed throughout his time back in Buenos Aires, was Gallardo's ability to adapt his tactics.

River opted to go for a 3-4-1-2 formation in the away leg of the final against rivals Boca Juniors, which finished in a 2-2 draw. They would then switch back to something that resembled more of a 4-2-2 in the 'home' leg which was enough to secure an aggregate victory.

So not only has he rebuilt this squad to maintain their elite status, he's created an environment that allows him and his players to modify and change and adapt.

A rebuild can often be costly, but Gallardo has proven to hold a sensible approach to the transfer market.

The 2015 window did bring a host of new players but not with the bill that usually come with 11 new additions. Less than £9m was spent in a season that then yielded two trophies, a final appearance and a spot in the final four of the Copa Sudamericana.

This season saw one new addition - Chilean defender Paulo Diaz. River went onto make the final of the 2019 Copa Libertadores.

There's not only the signings, but also the ability to use River's academy which would provide great appeal to a club like Arsenal and the host of talented youngsters they possess.

During his spell in charge, Gallardo has given 31 youth players their debut with the senior side.

Marcelo Gallardo pictured at Estadio Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Gallardo pictured at Estadio Marcelo Bielsa

It's no wonder he's been praised in Europe as well as back home.

When links to the Barcelona job emerged, Pep Guardiola outlined why Gallardo should be viewed as one of the best coaches in world football.

"I cannot understand how Gallardo is not nominated among the best coaches in the world, not just this year, but for so long," he recently told TNT Sports after Gallardo's absence from FIFA's The Best shortlist.

"What Gallardo has done at River is incredible, with regards to results and delivering consistently year after year. The players leave, but he is still there.

"There are things I cannot explain, in the lists of coach of the year he is never there, it seems only Europe has a place in the world."

Guardiola is one of many influenced by Marcelo Bielsa - a legendary figure of South American football and current manager of Leeds.

Gallardo isn't shy to admit the same as the Manchester City boss. He revealed that working under Bielsa changed how he viewed football and management, ultimately shaping how he has approached the position in the dugout.

"I had always thought that good teams started with good players who came together and voila, things happened naturally," Gallardo said.

"But listening to Bielsa I realised, when I grew up, that there was something else. With him I discovered the influence that I could have as the coach of a team."

Bielsa's famous 'pupils' also include Mauricio Pochettino, Jorge Sampaoli and Diego Simeone, among others. Gallardo has graduated with esteemed company.

If that wasn't enough, it was revealed that Barcelona star Lionel Messi voted for El Muneco (Gallardo's nickname, meaning 'The Doll' in English) as one of the top coaches in world football back in September.

Marcelo Gallardo is a hugely popular figure at River Plate
Marcelo Gallardo is a hugely popular figure at River Plate

His time at the club has not always been all-out success though and critics will point to the league being Gallardo's biggest weakness.

River's second-placed finish in the Argentine Superliga in 2017 is their highest during their manager's five-year stint at the helm - matching the same achieved in 2014.

Around the 2017 season, River have finished ninth on two occasions, eighth on another before hitting the heights of fourth in the previous campaign.

While he has revolutionised the River squad, the number of competitions they participate in led to him often viewing the international tournaments with a higher level of priority.

That has seen key players rested for league games and that is where they have ultimately suffered. When there are Copa Libertadores fixtures upcoming, River will often field a weaker team in the Superliga game before.

There could be an argument made though that the priority for those at the top of the River hierarchy has been results in the other competitions, and that Gallardo has met expectations and more.

Season after season, River suffer in the league but reach the latter stages of the other tournaments they are involved in. It's clear to see what they consider success and they ensure the majority of their resources are placed in the right areas as a result.

For Arsenal, there's little doubt that a real presence in the league is their main aim in the long-run. The two domestic cups could be cast aside, although they are seemingly becoming easier to win for a top team who take them seriously.

The fact remains that Gallardo consistently hits the targets set for him. If Arsenal tell him the priority is on results in the Premier League, the emphasis will be placed on their league campaign.

Marcelo Gallardo: Linked with Barcelona but better for Arsenal?

The ultimate aim should be the return of silverware to the Emirates and that process starts with restoring pride to the dressing room, finding a unity in this hour of struggle which, together, Arsenal's player can use to escape from it.

No club is too big to fail - we've seen that in the past. With home attendances dwindling, Arsenal are firmly on the decline in multiple departments and a strong managerial appointment can galvanise all areas of the club.

Gallardo is the man to tick all the boxes, both for their aims over the next few months and in five years' time.

Of course, it wouldn't be straightforward - no managerial appointment is. The man from Buenos Aires is in charge of the club who he enjoyed a lengthy spell playing for and it is going to be a hard sell.

Then there's the negotiations with those above. Gallardo would have to quit as opposed to D'Onofrio allowing him to depart. The regular season finishes in March and it's unlikely he'd want to walk away prior to the conclusion of this campaign.

There's also the issue that his contract at El Monumental doesn't expire until 2021.

If Arsenal are serious about returning to their former glories though, this difficult avenue is one worth going down.


Odds correct at 1130 GMT (06/12/19)

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