While there have been a few rumblings about the Arsenal board quietly preparing a new contract for Arsene Wenger, it remains a possibility that this season could be his last at the club.
Inevitably – and in anticipation that the Frenchman’s tenure may come to an end – a number of candidates have already been discussed for the post-Wenger years, with Masssimo Allegri, Eddie Howe, and Diego Simeone among those touted for the role.
A candidate not so readily linked with the position, however, is current incumbent Steve Bould – who is preparing for his second game as de facto manager while Wenger serves the second of his four-game touchline ban.
The former centre back made more than 280 appearances for the Gunners in a career that spanned 11 years, before eventually taking up a position with the Arsenal academy in 2001.
Quietly, patiently, Bould worked his way up through the ranks, completing his coaching badges and passing on his accrued knowledge before he was finally rewarded in 2012 with the assistant manager’s job, following the departure of long-serving Pat Rice.
For five years, Bould has served as Wenger’s number two, gaining a unique insight into the manager’s methods, his way of thinking, and his style of management, while also getting to know the squad inside and out.
If ever there was someone who could hit the ground running as manager, it is Steve Bould.
Although Wenger would almost certainly have picked the team and outlined the tactics for the 5-0 FA Cup triumph at Southampton, it remained an impressive result for the team under Bould, in a period that may – or may not – outline his credentials as a possible long-term solution for when Arsene finally leaves the club.
Sterner tests await Bould in the next three matches of his mini-reign, starting tonight with the visit of London rivals Watford to the Emirates. While Southampton fielded a number of inexperienced youngsters, Watford will be playing to win with a side full of experienced senior footballers.
It’s a chance for Bould to get another victory under his belt and a similarly emphatic result could start to build some momentum.
What we don’t know for sure is how 54-year-old Bould likes his teams to play, what type of football he favours, or, indeed, how he sees his future in the game. He hasn’t been especially vocal – at least publically – in his time at the club but it is a fair bet to assume that he subscribes to the ethos that Arsene has made synonymous with the club. The Arsenal way.
While that may fill some fans with dread – particularly given the team’s fallibility in recent years – it also holds a few key positives over a fresh face at the helm.
Bould knows the club, the team, and the setup. His taking over as manager would, presumably, make for a smooth transition, with little disruption to the day-to-day running of the club.
While not always the case, a new manager can often take a season to really bring about the change in style and culture that is necessary to get the team playing and performing in his image. Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho have found this in their current roles.
Should Bould inherit the job in the summer, he would, one assumes, tweak the existing system, rather than overhaul it, to suit his tastes as a manager.
Whatever you think of Wenger, he has delivered trophies to the club over the years and his formula has kept the side in the Champions League for more than a decade. Bould wouldn’t need to go far to emulate and, hopefully, build on that formula using everything he has learned and a few of his own ideas, too.
His knowledge of the youth setup, of which he was a part for a long time, would also be a distinct advantage as the club looks to promote from within amid an increasingly competitive global transfer market.
Of course, there are disadvantages to appointing the famously hairless Englishman to the role – primarily, his lack of experience as a manager. While he has been involved in the running of a top Premier League club for five years, he has not been the one making the decisions and, ultimately, bearing responsibility for them.
Having made it five years in the job, one would assume Bould has shown an aptitude for the task, but he remains untried and untested as a manager. While the transition would be smooth, it would still be a gamble to appoint him to the role, particularly in an age where transitional seasons are no longer tolerated.
Ultimately, if Wenger were to leave and Bould appointed, he would at least have the backing of the fans, many of whom would fondly remember his days as a no-nonsense centre back and part of the famously frugal defences of George Graham and early-years Wenger.
Whether he would relish the chance to be manager and, more importantly, whether the club would be prepared to take a gamble remains to be seen, but maybe promoting from within would be one more example of the Arsenal way.