A week or so back Untold published an article which revealed how a tiny group of people had created the doom and gloom movement at Arsenal by undertaking multiple postings from different email addresses.
In that article and others I’ve tried to point out what I think are the complex interrelated issues that need exploration if one is to debate if Wenger is the right or the wrong man for the job.
What is noticeable is that there has not been a single anti-Wenger post that has taken up either of these points in full. Perhaps with the personality disorder group that’s understandable – how do you explain such odd behaviour? But still, with the rest of the debate, one might have hoped for more.
Indeed, the one thing noticeable about catastrophist commentaries throughout is how they deal with just one part of the debate. Indeed many have no debate at all, but are just a statement of personal feelings presented as if they were facts.
So what I thought I’d do here is set out a simple summary of the debate as it seems to me. For simplicity I have broken it down into sub-sections, which interrupts the flow somewhat, but I think it also makes it clearer. These are, in my view, the key points that would need to be answered if one were trying to put forward a serious anti-Wenger argument.
1. The Chelsea / Man C issue
When Abramovich came along the world of football transfers changed, and it became clear that to cope with this pressure Arsenal needed a new strategy. For each player that Arsenal wanted to buy, the response is now, “hold on, we’ll just see how much Man C want to pay.” Indeed we have run here a story which suggests that Man C have on at least one occasion phoned a club and said, “don’t try to buy x – if you do, we will wreck all your purchasing plans”.
Several ways out of this dilemma have been proposed – David Dein and Mr Usmanov have one approach. The current Arsenal board have another. Whatever one proposes in terms of Arsenal moving forward, we need to consider how we will cope with the fact that Chelsea and Man C can buy anyone they want at any time, because there is no price limit, and can and will artificially up prices to stop other clubs taking up new talent.
2. Borrowing to infinity
Man U and Liverpool have sought to take on Chelsea and Man C at their own game but with lesser resources. I believe that this attempt to buy, buy and buy more by Man U and Liverpool played into the hands of those who wanted to buy out the clubs and put them into more debt. No one has successfully entered the transfer market on a large scale in England in recent years and done anything other than force prices up higher and higher, until they reach a level that only Man C and Chelsea can afford. Because of this, trying to buy our way to the title is not a viable option. Because of this neither club is seeming to do much in the transfer market, and Man U in particular is looking at a very old squad.
3. New stadium
I fully supported the new stadium approach from the off, and I love the stadium in every regard. I don’t believe it has restricted our spending power, except that if we started to borrow money to fund the mortgage, the interest level we would pay on that would be astronomic. People might argue that the stadium was not a good idea – but now we are there, I don’t think loss making through huge player purchases is an option, simply because of the reaction of the existing lenders.
But I believe the new stadium was utterly right – now 60,000 people can watch the team, not 38,000 – and that is what I want.
4. Vulnerability of ownership
So far neither the Man C nor the Chelsea ownerships have backed away from their tasks. But there have been many new owners who have failed to show the money they promised. Liverpool were promised a new stadium started in weeks, when the current owners came in. Instead the money was misappropriated. All of Portsmouth’s owners last season promised vast sums. QPR were said to be the richest club in the world, and are on their 8th manager in a couple of years (or something like that!) Birmingham announced that they would spend £40m this summer, and then couldn’t pay their bank fees and were sued. West Ham were backed by a bank – which went bust. Villa brought in a top American owner who seemed to be spending a fortune – only for the accounts to reveal that he was the one making a profit on the interest.
And so on – although bringing in a big investor as owner might promise the money, in the majority of cases it doesn’t deliver, and that leads to chaos. Arsenal have gone for diversity of ownership, which means no rich kid playing with our club. You can argue for that – but in doing so beware of the dangers.
5. New regulations
At the same time as all the issues about where the money comes from and the need to make a profit, we have the issue of the forthcoming Uefa regs and the new 25 players issue in the EPL. I know that many writers have said “It won’t happen” or “the big clubs will find a way around it.” Maybe, but that is hardly a strategy for the future. It is a bit like saying, “Royal Bank of Scotland won’t go bust.” It did. Or perhaps “we won’t pay over the VAT on the takings – HMRC won’t notice.” Not really the best way to secure the future of the club.
6. Players – avaialbility, price, wages
There is always much talk about players being bought, but the fact is, identifying a player who is available, and then securing him at a price we can afford, and at a salary we can afford is different – and all that assumes the club want to sell him. It must be remembered that England is an unattractive location for players in financial terms, because of the tax situation. This may of course change as Spain teeters on the brink of total financial collapse, but thus far this has been the case. Arsenal’s response has been to secure players on long term contracts and to invest in salaries to compensate a little for the tax situation.
We can’t assume that every player wants to come here, nor that they will want to stay. So a list of players to replace those not liked is not a good idea.
7. Need for a new approach – Worldwide scouting
Wenger decided that the way to approach the situation at first (before Chelsea morphed into the KGB) was through worldwide scouting. It was stunningly successful – although sometimes we had to wait a while for players to develop. For every Vieira who came along and was dominant from day one, there was a Pires who took a year to settle in.
But the revolution of Worldwide Scouting took us to the top.
However it then ceased to be so powerful simply because, as Wenger himself has said, you can find half a dozen English scouts at each second division match in France these days. Ten years ago there weren’t any at any of the first division clubs.
Also, our attempt to own a second club (Breveren in Belgium) has been stopped by Uefa, so another useful supply of talent has gone.
I suspect most of the clubs watching French football don’t know what on earth they are looking for, but still they are muddying the water and putting up the price.
Worldwide Scouting is still a viable option, but its power has diminished as others have caught up.
8. Second approach – Youth Project
So, after a year or two, Wenger revitalised the youth section of the club and started the youth project. It might be amusing to read that the youth project has failed, if it weren’t for the fact that some people say it every week and others start to believe it.
The youth project is the follow up to World Wide Scouting, and started about seven years ago with the first crop of 11 and 12 year olds who started work at the Academy in the New Approach. These youngsters have been kept together, and they and their immediate successors have won three trophies in the last two years. If you want to read about them, the review of next year’s squad has quite a few details there.
So the youth project is just now coming to fruition, and we will be seeing more and more of these players come through. If the production line is being followed year on year (and it is hard to get information – and we must respect the fact that we are talking about children here) then our dependency on world wide scouting and big name signings will become a thing of the past.
Certainly the achievement of this year’s and last year’s under 18s outstrips anything that has ever been done before in any Academy club in England.
9. Putting it together
Worldwide scouting, plus the youth project, with occasional forays into the transfer market are a solution to the problems caused by the arrival of unlimited money at two clubs, the forthcoming regulations, the imbalance of taxes, and the predatory power of clubs supported by banks and big industry in southern Europe (which I’ve not gone into here, but we’ve talked about in recent articles and commentaries).
Like it or not the new stadium has given us a need for financial caution and a lack of borrowing (you try telling a mortgage company that you will pay for the mortgage by borrowing the monthly repayments elsewhere), and these give us the solution.
I find it hard to think what else could be done other than to put ourselves in the hands of a rich oligarch – which doesn’t appeal to me as it would be dangerous and I have some moral scruples about such matters.
One thing that strikes me is that not only are the anti-Wenger posts not arguments which combine answers to this range of complex factors they are also repetitive personal points of view. Indeed reading back through the posts on this site during the past few months, I think it is fair to say that we have read all these arguments a dozen or more times each. After all, how many times do we need to read the point of view that there are five members of the first team who are not up to it, and should be sold at once and replaced by top players? I think we’ve got the hang of that one, and noted the fact that never is it linked to any economic realities.
We have also read the endless, “I hope I am wrong but…” and the wild predictions (everyone’s leaving) or simplistic statements (he hasn’t won anything, so he’s clearly no good) or even more simplistic statements (you want to know why Wenger is no good? I’ll tell you – he plays Denilson)
My view is that we’ve heard this debate so often there’s really no point hearing it again, and so I am changing my editorial stance a little, by saying that anyone who posts simplistic anti-Wenger views about Arsenal which we have heard numerous times before, will be cut. Not because I disagree with them but simply because they are too boring. Indeed boring statements don’t become less boring the more we hear them.
21st century football at the highest level is a complex business, and if we are to debate it properly we need to embrace that complexity in our commentaries. In my own small way I try to do that, and I am delighted by the way my fellow contributors both to articles and commentaries take aboard this idea.
My fear is that readers who enjoy and value the complex analysis will be put off by the childish “Wenger clearly doesn’t have a winning mentality” argument, and I am hoping that this minor change in policy will encourage everyone to join in with this site, and embrace the complex issues we try to debate. It would, I think, be desperately sad, if we let those who believe in simple monothematic solutions take over, and force the real debate out.
But, as before, I am very willing to post anything that represents a coherent anti-Wenger argument which is not mono-thematic. If it takes in the points that I have outlined above, or in some other way constructs a firm theoretical base for the argument, or can put together a coherent argument as to why this analysis is wrong (rather than just making simple points that anyone can see that Wenger won’t buy, so he is stubborn, so he should go) then I think we can all benefit from seeing it and debating it. If you want to write such a piece email it to me as a word document at Tony.Attwood@aisa.org
Next Season: a set of articles about the squad, the transfers, and who is moving up from the reserves – not to mention a definitive analysis of how the 25 player system works.
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