I don’t like Arsene Wenger. I never did. The way he carries himself looks uneasy and cold to me. I feel he reserves his smiles for the occasions when he makes a particularly smug retort to the press. Whilst the Arsenal players drench each other in champagne (remember those heady days), Arsene seems to prefer to stand and observe, awkwardly embracing those around him. His behaviour on the touchline manifests itself in aggression incongruous with his generally perceived balanced personality, a sure sign he feels the pressure more than he would ever have us believe. The embarrassing ‘poor eyesight’ he has become synonymous with, is now part of footballing folklore. Perhaps his epitaph will read, ‘He never saw it coming’.
I don’t want to stick up for Arsene Wenger. The calls for him to be sacked from some fans do seem a tad previous. He has earned with his record for the club, at least this season, with all his promises of new players, the opportunity to turn it around (again). Yes, on the surface maybe … but like I said I don’t want to stick up for Arsene Wenger.
One of the consistent arguments pro Arsene Wenger’s management style is that he is perpetually trying to do things ‘the right way’. The way the team plays, the investment in youth and the bank balance and financial security of the club are all held up as examples of Arsene’s exemplary ‘moral’ approach. That’s lovely but since when in recent years has the Premier League had its benchmark set by the clubs with an ethical business model? Top flight football in this country is a now grubby finance driven, results driven monster. Even our very own SAF, a man of reputed socialist leanings, has learned that the success of a football club relies on, in the most part, it’s ability to ”dance with the devil’ (as per usual feel free to substitute that cliche for one of your choosing). You win at all costs, you invest in the squad at all costs.
I’m not saying this is the way things should be. This is the way it is. Doing things ‘the right way’ can only ever exist within a context. Your business has to move with and adapt to the market you are in if you want to succeed. That’s not to say Arsenal and Wenger’s vision will not potentially see them flourish in the future especially if the ‘market’ crashed. But do you expect fans to happily forgo success now for a small chance of success in the future based on a whole rake of unfounded assumptions. I don’t. You can’t indefinitely build for the future. This lesson has been learned particularly hard this summer, with Fabregas and Nasri growing tired of the wait.
Put another way … You wouldn’t expect to become a successful owner of a lap dancing club believing that sexually objectifying women is wrong. Yes, of course that may be your moral position, sorry that should be your moral position, actually wait a minute if that’s not your moral position then please do not read any further and get well away from this website it will save us a lot of time in the long run. You wouldn’t succeed unless you put your personal ethics to one side for the good of the business, or alternatively from the company’s point of view if you selected an appropriate candidate for the job at hand. Do the IMF employ a Muslim as their CEO? Of course they don’t. The brand of morals Arsenal, through Wenger, have adopted don’t work in the current football climate.
Of course Arsene Wenger’s title haul at Arsenal is impressive. Leading a team to a Premier League title unbeaten is more impressive. But, it’s convenient to forget while showering Wenger in plaudits that the foundations at Arsenal were firmly in place when he arrived. The back four and goalkeeper and arguably one of Arsenal’s key figures, Dennis Bergkamp (a purchase made by Bruce Rioch the previous year), were already at the club. When Martin Keown left in 2004, the last of the clubs defensive ‘foundations’, this coincided with the beginning of their steady decline. Wenger never managed to instill in the new players the values that the likes of Adams, Winterburn, Seaman, Dixon and Keown were naturally endowed with (I’m not just talking about the ability to professionally cheat). This could possibly have something to do with the fact he never really knew how. He’d relied on the players to do it for him.
Maybe an explanation for this can be found in Wenger’s career path. Arsene chose to educate himself first and foremost, his footballing career was possibly somewhat secondary to this. He never played at the top level, a couple of hundred career games in the lower leagues of French football is all his C.V shows. Not saying there wasn’t pressure and pride in playing for these teams, but he was hardly cutting his football teeth in the high pressure environments that would empower him at a later date to impart his experience in a dressing room wracked with doubt. As a player in a highly competitive league you potentially have a greater opportunity to learn how to deal with the pressures of the game. You know what it feels like to be a player in most given situations. Wenger, I’m sure people would agree seldom appears to be someone who knows how to deal with the pressures of the game effectively. Throughout his managerial career he’s had success so possibly he never developed a coping mechanism for failure. Wenger’s only apparent way of dealing with any sort of pressure is to absolve himself and his players of all guilt by externalising the problems with excuses. In this Wenger floods the egos of the Arsenal squad with a victim complex that inevitably leads to failure, that he again can’t cope with.
Now to go on a little bit more before I wrap this up, This is the science part (you can say that bit in your head like Rachel from Friends in that advert if you like). This science will not be in any textbooks. This is really, really clever stuff. He has been described as the ‘The Professor’ by colleagues and players, which alludes to his style as being ‘scientific’. A scientist comes up with a theory and at first the theory seems strong (In the science of football you would possibly substitute the word ‘theory’ for ‘philosophy’). They then have to try and prove their theory and other scientists may decide they don’t agree with the theory and attempt to disprove it. Unless the original theory is tweaked and adapted to cope with the many ever changing variables brought about through the evolutionary nature of things the other scientists may soon find fault in this original theory. Science teaches us that nothing remains the same infinitely. That’s not to say that ‘The Professor’ hasn’t been smart enough to adapt his methods but he seems to be struggling more than most to cope with evolution. Other scientists with other ideas come along with other theories that challenge these further. Wenger applied his new science to Arsenal and this initially worked very successfully. But without the players that the science was formulated on or the ability to cope with the environment efficiently he has been found wanting.
On the strength of Arsene’s achievements with Arsenal he probably has to be given an opportunity to prove his footballing philosophy (theory) can again bring success to the club. The amount of success that the club has experienced under him has inevitably caused some fans to expect too much. However, Arsenal can’t continue showing apathy towards Wenger and their current plight. They don’t just need a professor, they need a manager who is relevant to the existing football zeitgeist. Wenger needs to prove he can be both.