A tale of two artists – how analysis and learning can transform the way a game is played


If you are a regular reader of Untold you may recall my earlier writings, and from those find me something of a football fanatic, former professional referee and marginal footballer.  But as with most Canadians, my first and principal love is ice hockey.    Football became a passion to rival my love for the hockey rink when I was a teenager, but I first started to play hockey when I was 5 years old.

I am telling you this because I recently read an interview Wenger gave to L’Equipe in France that struck me as a perfect summary of the man and his life approach. What also struck me was that he is truly an artist and believes in the Art of football, not just the limited pursuit of success. This is significant to me because of another great dreamer and artist who transformed Russian ice hockey into the epitome of the beautiful game on ice.


Football as an art: the Untold Banner now on permanent display at the Emirates

There were some statements made by Wenger that truly struck a chord in me and when I compared them to what Tarasov said, it was like hearing an echo from the past.    Tarasov completely revised and remodelled International Ice Hockey into what we see today in Europe and to some extent in Canada, just as Wenger remodelled and renewed English Football. He never coached in Canada but visited Montréal and other North American cities to observe our game.

Tarasov always claimed he was an artist, not a technician and that doing things the traditional Canadian way was not going to work for his Russian team. He was right and thanks to him Canada subsequently adopted a more European style of play and improved the entire game, while at the same time learning to become the new power in the game.

  • It was said of Tarasov that he « analyzed games and leaned heavily on his rich imagination to come up with the perfect training process… won support with his common sense approach »  and this seems to reflect Wenger’s style as well.
  • Observers noted that he « squeezed every ounce of energy and performance out of his players. Even the slightest hint of self-importance was dealt with immediately » … Sound familiar?
  • It was said that , « He developed his own system, based on skating skills, speed, and precision passing » …… Wenger developed his own system as well, that everyone else adopted.
  • “I love my guys very much,” Anatoli Tarasov said. “That’s why I demand so much from them, as no one else would do.”…….certainly a Wengeresque statement.
  • His philosophy was that, « Hockey is a game not only of courage and speed, but of minds. A man can win only if he can make a flash decision at a crucial moment, only if he can orientate himself like a chess player in the most complicated ever-changing situations, only if he can choose the correct way out of all the possible combinations every second of the game, only if he can foresee the development of events on the rink. » …. Wenger constantly emphasizes mental attitude and mind and allows his players to be creative on the pitch.
  • Another similarity emerged, « Tarasov had inhaled Canadian coach and fitness expert Lloyd Percival’s revolutionary “The Hockey Handbook”, which argued that year-round training on ice and dry land, that precision drills, better nutrition, and a scientific approach would create winning hockey teams. » ….Wenger adopted better nitritional regimes and a very scientific approach at measuring a player’s preparedness.
  • Tarasov also said that, « Anyone who closely followed the training periods and games of the USSR team, could not help seeing how much the boys wanted to train and play. » …. Wenger often comments about how much pride and desire his players have when they train and how much they want to play for the Arsenal.
  • Tarasov displayed a controversial attitude towards errors, « He was probably afraid that I would become overconfident. “Don’t listen to compliments,” he reminded me. “When people praise you, they rob you! And if I criticize you, it likely means that I need you.”… « Wenger is known to be stingy with praise and intelligent in his criticism…his goal is to motivate his players to a higher level, like Tarasov did.
  • Tarasov, like Wenger, knew the value of supporting his players, « There are other drills which produce an interesting and psychological effect. A player who finds himself in an unusual situation in a game may at first feel lost. In this case,it is important to put him at ease, to give him practical advice, to support him. As he repeats the drill, the player acquires confidence and becomes better and better. » …. Wenger’s acknowledged skill in training and building up his youth players is based on this approach.
  • Finally Tarasov’s view of controlling the game is a mirror image of Wenger’s, « One player, no matter how good he is, cannot outplay a whole team. It is difficult and practically impossible for a single player to take the puck from his own zone all the way to the enemy goal, outplaying five men on the way. That is why the players, as they advance, pass the puck up the line in effort to outplay the opposing team by teamwork… the ultimate aim of a pass is to get a free player.So if our opponents make 150 passes in a game against our 270, this means we had 120 more playing opportunities, i.e., we had better chances of developing an attack. » … Arsenal outpass and out-control their opponents and have the highest ratio of scoring chances in the EPL!

My whole point is this, Wenger like Tarasov is both an artist, a scientist and a passionate advocate of intelligent, disciplined and artistic,creative football and his achievements are the proof of the pudding, just like Tarasov’s were. If any of you haven’t read the interview in l’Equipe, I strongly recommend it as essential reading


The campaigns



10 Replies to “A tale of two artists – how analysis and learning can transform the way a game is played”

  1. Don, the exploration of Tarasov´s comments was very illuminating, and it´s incredible that Wenger can rightfully be compared to such a giant of his discipline while still getting pilloried at large regularly (the media have a lot to answer for). I also agree with you that the extended interview is a must-read, just as fascinating as the first part we already mentioned on Untold a few days ago. Truly golden stuff.

  2. The media here have no cultural sense, so the comparison would be beyond them. It’s then more fuel for them because they can have a go at that which they don’t understand.

    They’re part of a “mob mentality” our media!

    Or thick to put it another way 😉

  3. Goéland…… Tarasov suffered a fate far more humiliating and sad than Wenger eventually will; he was fired from his coaching job as Russia’s head hockey coach and consigned to an early “retirement”in his home village basically because he refused to throw a match betweeen the Czech’s and his gold medal winning Olympic hockey team! Like Wenger he was a man of principals and honour…..another characteristic they both share.

  4. Thanks for that precision, omgarsenal. How depressing is that, for Tarasov, hockey, and sports in general. I´m thankful once again for the confluence of factors that has led to Wenger and Arsenal espousing a mutual destiny, and the fact loyalty has been entrenched as a central value in the club.

  5. Don,

    What is interesting is not that Tarasov took Russian hockey beyond Canadian hockey but that the Canadians, after being consistently outplayed, finally learned their lesson and adopted much of what he advocated and improved their game so that they are once again competitive at the very top of international ice hockey.

    There is a clear lesson here for the English FA!

  6. GGG………..well said and it sums up the moral of this article, when you have a genius at the helm, DO NOT EVER let the mental midgets denigrate or dismiss him/her on a whim or because of their overinflated egos. If we offered Wenger up tomorrow to almost ANY team in the world, they’d snap him up in a minute and laugh all the way to the trophy case as the aaa and the media lament his departure…..what hypocrites!

  7. I would also like to mention that Tarasov was an excellent soccer coach. As far as I know Wenger and Tarasov never met BUT I am certain that had they, both would have been enthralled by each other’s approach and philosophy.

  8. Another excellent article, and thanks, again.

    I’ve found the comparisons fascinating.

    Is anyone surprised that the FA want a “quiet meeting” with Arséne in order to check out what he meant when hinting about doping in football?

    Some folk muse that the long-standing multiple anti Wenger/Arsenal diatribes are to keep him quiet (in a ‘back to your village – house arrest stylee-thingy). Hence the English media in particular, only mention his outstanding achievements, perennial honesty and undoubted humanity – rarely, if at all.

  9. Nice one Don , an interesting insight . Thanks. In my country these mental midgets are known as Little Napoleons , and when confronted will play whatever card available ,eg, race , religion etc.
    Pathetic really .

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