By Tony Attwood
The headlines over Ivan Gazidis’ interview were exactly those we have seen so many times before. “Arsenal fans will be worried…” and “Wenger urges Arsenal fans not to panic after Gazidis transfer comments” and particularly simplistically “Ivan Gazidis spits the usual transparent fan placation rhetoric”.
It is sometimes difficult to work out whether these correspondents have either decided what to write before hearing the interview or reading the transcript, or haven’t bothered to read the transcript, or find it hard to accept that the issues of the modern world are complex and require complex solutions. But for anyone who seriously looked at the interview there was more to it than these simplistic headlines suggest.
I have had the opportunity to have a couple of meetings with Mr Gazidis and exchange some thoughts with him in those meetings and by email, and have found him not just courteous in the face of such endless hostility but also extremely insightful and hugely more knowledgeable than those who would attack him. Of course I haven’t wasted such meetings having a chat to discuss what the aaa were up to (I was there to propose the building of the statues around the ground and other matters relating to Arsenal’s history). But we discussed other matters too and I got a bigger picture of who the man is, and how he works.
In his recent interview Ivan Gazidis put forward were ten inter-related points about how football has changed, and how these changes affect Arsenal – which made it particularly tough for the people who love there to be one simple answer (normally buy this player, sell that player). I’ll run through them quickly.
1: The differential has changed
“The big clubs can’t financially bully the smaller clubs in the way they used to, so I think a lot of the differentiators between clubs become more subtle now.” A simple but important opener – because it certainly used to be the case that if one of the top clubs saw a player they fancied at a smaller club they could, through a mix of money and the promise of glamour, be sure to get the player.
But players have seen clubs supposedly guaranteed to be in the top four not make it to the Champions League. And they have seen managers sacked, sacked and sacked again, (with the average managerial tenure coming down year by year) which can mean that a new man can arrive who doesn’t rate last week’s star, and thus leaves him on the sidelines. So players working for a manager who likes the player are less likely to jump up and leave when a big club clicks its fingers. Why take the risk? Many still do of course, but increasing numbers are less inclined to.
2: It isn’t just one simple issue
“It’s how well you can identify talent. It’s how well you can develop talent. It’s how strong your club philosophy is. It’s how together you are as a football club, what your support services are like in the medical field, fitness, analytics, psychology. All of these things become differentiators.”
That of course is the story that the bloggettas with their eye catching headlines and 150 word one-topic articles can’t handle. For them everything is simple: buy a new player. It is noticeable that Untold’s series of articles showing the multiplicity of reasons why big transfers mostly don’t work, are just ignored by those who insist it is all about buying, buying, buying. Just as the way that the issue of the number of coaches per 1000 people is rarely taken up as one of the real causes of a nation’s success or failure in football. It’s just that bit too complex.
3: We can always learn from everyone
“Leicester identified players from the French second division, so maybe there’s talent that we’ve been overlooking,. They did their talent identification, they had great unity within the group, as well as quality. It wasn’t built on money. It was built on the great fitness work they did. It was built on all of these other elements. I think that’s going to be a continuing trend within the Premier League.”
That has been taken to mean, this is the model Arsenal will take – and that is the game the aaa and their fellow travellers always follow. But it is just one point from ten – although a valid one. The model Leicester used is the one Arsenal invented at the end of the last century – and it worked. It is not bad to be reminded of that. Where do Arsenal fans think Koscielny came from? The point means, “we used to find more Koscielny’s; let’s redouble our efforts”.
4: Arsenal’s particular strategy
As we know Arsenal combine the purchase of big name stars (Ozil and Alexis) with players suddenly available at bargain prices (Santi Cazorla and Monreal), obscure bench warmers (Laurent Koscielny), and young players (Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi). That is the Arsenal player policy. As Mr Gazidis said, “It’s about having a strong core philosophy and values within the club that players buy into and our fans can be proud of.”
5: The squad is getting better year on year
“We’ve got a squad now that we believe is capable of competing to win the premier league. We came in second last year, which was disappointing. But we’re on the right track.”
Clearly it is the right track because in the last three years we’ve won the FA Cup twice and come second in the League. That’s not the League title that is now demanded (just as previously it was x years since any trophy and later will be demands for the Double and Treble), but it is progress. The same can hardly be said of Chelsea, Man C and Man U in the last couple of years for their’s is the route of decline rather than progress.
6: We don’t have as much money as them either from rich owner or revenue stream so we work in different ways
I don’t know why this annoys some bloggettas so much, for it is obvious and true. Man City had its stadium gifted by one state, and has another state now paying its bills. Chelsea has a multi-billionaire. Man U has its worldwide marketing that it started to develop in the 1960s – and full credit to them for that foresight, it is not something that is easy to catch up with. West Ham has a stadium granted by the state (again). There has never been any point in chasing such adventurers so other approaches are needed.
It is all a case of philosophy. Those who do not find the use of the revenues from a state that appears to continue slavery, has no women’s rights and promotes Sharia Law, or who approve of the way the state in the UK hands over stadia built with tax payers money as it does, will of course ask for Arsenal to go down the route of clubs like Man C and WHU. It is just a matter of different ideologies.
7: Arsenal have the highest aspirations
Building the stadium was part of this, as well as doubling the marketing revenue. If you don’t believe it, you don’t. I see evidence of this all around – if you don’t, then there isn’t too much I can do about it.
8: We are entering a new highly competitive market
“Every single club in the league, all the way through, all 20 have top-class players that if you’re not at 100 percent of your game will hurt you and make you pay,” Mr Gazidis said. “The level has gone up, there are no easy games. There are very few games where you have a runaway, comfortable win.”
Indeed this was self-evident last season with Chelsea and Man U failing to reach the Champions League. A few years ago they could both have had off seasons and still been guaranteed to come in third and fourth. No longer.
9: Leicester was not a one off
“I think Leicester are the vanguard of a changing dynamic within the Premier League. I don’t think general perception has yet woken up to that.”
This isn’t to say that Leicester will win the title again, nor that one of the promoted clubs of last two seasons will challenge, but we can expect teams from outside the group of top clubs of recent years to push top clubs down.
10: In this new world there is no one simple solution, like financial muscle. It is much more complex than that.
“I think it’s good news for fans of Arsenal because I think the keys to success will be how well you do things, and not just about financial firepower.”
If it were about money only then the league table would have been Man City, Chelsea, Man U as a standard 1-2-3 for years and years. But it doesn’t go like that, any more than the money spent on transfers tells us how well a team will do (as we have shown in our alternative league tables all through this summer.)
Reading these ten points above I really can’t see that there is anything that warrants argument, except from people stuck in a notion that the only way to success in football is spending on players. And people with single answers will never be convinced otherwise because in reaching the notion of the single solution, they have already ignored the multiplicity of alternative evidence.
It the real world there are no single, simple solutions. The imagined world of “if only we could do this everything would be fine” (or “if only I could have this everything would be fine) is not the real world, but huge numbers of people live in it. It is a curious world because it seems to reinforce itself, even though everyday experience shows that it is palpably unlikely to fulfil its promise.
Simple answers to complex questions never work, but plenty of people still want to believe in them. So when someone like Mr Gazidis proposes a range of approaches to a complex issue, such people can find it impossible to take. Believing in the simplistic world of one-action solutions, as bloggetta writers and many journalists do, as Donald Trump and some other politicians do, makes for simple articles, but doesn’t get close to analysing reality.
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