By Tony Attwood
Football is full of mythology created by journalists, clubs, supporters and individuals. Trying to get beneath it can be difficult – but not because the subject itself is difficult to grasp, but because so many people writing and talking about this field are pumping out nonsense day by day.
Anyway, since everyone else is doing it, I’ll have a go as well.
Obviously at the top of the list must come finance: Manchester City prove that. But finance alone is not enough – Manchester United have proven that in the past. When Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013 he did so having won in five times in the final seven years of his tenure. For the following 10 years have not won the league, Likewise Chelsea still have access to huge wealth, but they haven’t won the league for five seasons although to be fair they did win the Champions League in 2021 – although you would hardly guess from the way they are playing at the moment.
So finance on previously unimaginable scales is helpful although one still needs a top manager and top staff to handle the situation. Although again we have to realise that not all alleged top managers can deliver everywhere they go and it does help to have a club with a lot of money, and a willingness to allow the manager to spend it for a while before getting things right. Which brings us to point two…
2. The Manager
Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United on 6 November 1986. In his first three full seasons the club came 11th, 2nd and 11th, and won no cups. Although they then went on to win the FA Cup the club dropped down to 13th in that season, and the first league trophy did not come until 1993 – Ferguson’s seventh season.
These days, of course, managers whose club is not challenging for the title don’t get seven months in charge let alone seven seasons.
Arteta came to Arsenal in December 2019. In that season the club finished fifth, but the following two seasons came in 8th, before returning to 5th in his third complete season, and during that time there were many calls for him to be sacked.
But Arsenal chose not to follow in the path of Tottenham Hotspur by doing the media’s bidding and sacking him. But why? I would argue it was because he had a plan beyond buying, buying and then, just for a change, buying.
3. Underlying planning
As we’ve often pointed out on this site, Arteta arrived with a set of clear plans, which included moving the club from the top of the yellow card list to near the bottom, and giving players ultimatums in terms of changing their approach to work. As a result of this players like Aubameyang and Ozil moved on, and (unrelated to that) the number of yellow cards was cut virtually in half.
4. Ignoring the media and the fans with their short-term interest
The calls for Arteta to go started on 27 February 2020, when Arsenal lost 1-2 at home to Olympiakos and thus went out of the Europa League. Arsenal were unbeaten in their previous ten games and were ninth in the league but had 19 points fewer in the league than one year before. It was seen as failure.
Arsenal finished that season in 8th and won the FA Cup, following it up with another finish of 8th place in 2020/21, and a fifth place finish in 2021/22 – which of course didn’t look good and led to more demands for a managerial change. After all Wenger had been endlessly criticised for coming in fourth.
But I believe Arsenal held firm because Arteta had outlined his plan to transform the team into a low-tackling, low-fouling in the Manchester City style. In short I think Arteta had a clear plan and the owners bought into it. Getting rid of him in 2020 would have lost the reforms Arteta was implementing and I believe Arteta had already made it quite clear that his transformation of Arsenal was a long-term game.
5. Ignoring people who don’t have a clue.
Of course which leaders don’t have a clue is often a personal judgement – but there are such people everywhere. I’d include Liz Truss in such a list. But then I would also include people who simply react to situations and have no overall plan of innovation. Truss had such a plan – it was just nonsense.
On the footballing front I would say the owners of Chelsea themselves don’t have any sort of plan, and so are constantly taking wrong turns hoping that eventually buying more and more players and changing managers regularly will hit the right combination by chance.. And I’d suggest the same for Tottenham, who with all their resources ought to be doing far better even with a stadium to pay for.
One bit of a success and a manager is a hero. Three defeats and he’s a moron and needs moving on. And again the media is largely to blame for this short-term attitude.
But the fact is in football, fans and the media will turn on anyone. Many of us will remember the banner at Manchester United three years into the Ferguson reign: “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap… tara Fergie”. More’s the pity from an Arsenal point of view that he and the board never took the hint.
When Nuno Espirito Santo was sacked by Tottenham, PlanetFootball says, the decision “was taken because of a combination of mixed results, the style of play and fan reaction.” Taking note of the fans is often not a good idea.
To be continued shortly.
- What takes clubs up and down the league: attack or defence?
- Referee Extremism: the situation in Spain and in England
- Didn’t appreciate KO time, M1 is a disaster, but watching Arsenal is a joy
- Arsenal v Newcastle: the team and league positons AFTER the game.
- Arsenal v Newcastle: injuries, yellow cards and recent form