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October 2020

If Ferguson had gone to Man U in 2015 he wouldn’t have lasted a season.

by Tony Attwood

One of the points about Untold Arsenal is that it gives an outlet for those of us who want to explore specific issues with evidence, rather than just opinion.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with opinion, it is just that after a while, opinion on its own gets a bit dull, unless it can be backed up by facts and figures.

Of course those who don’t like the conclusions that are then reached will often write in and say “you can prove anything with statistics,”  (along with the famous, “98% of all statistics are made up,” first heard from Benjamin Disraeli, but quite possibly of earlier origin).

The interesting point about the attempts to debunk anything that we find using numbers is that for the most part they come from people who, during the years when Arsenal have not been at the top of the league, quote the league table – itself a set of statistics.  And the number of years that Arsenal have gone without winning the league.  Another statistic!

So I am not in the “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” school of thought, and indeed in my working life in an advertising agency my colleagues and I use stats all the time in order to gain increased sales for our customers.

And thus I’ve been interested this season to see a slight movement towards the use of statistics in football by football journalists.  They still want to keep taking transfer talk seriously (ignoring the fact that over 99% of transfer rumours don’t result in transfers).  But they are at least getting more grounded in reality.

But to return to statistics – even very simple statistics can help us debunk some of the nonsense spouted by the anti-Arsenal movement when they said, for example, that Wenger doesn’t spend enough on players.

These figures come from and show the amount spent and received across the last five years.

As the Guardian article says, “Perhaps it might even be time to acknowledge – and here’s a thought – that sacking your manager might just be the problem here not the solution. Getting rid of Van Gaal may even be the best option right now. But it also creates another set of problems, propagates its own failure, offers the next man the same set of pitfalls.

“This is not just a Premier League fixation. At Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane has now followed Rafa Benítez, who followed Carlo Ancelotti, who followed José Mourinho, who followed Manuel Pellegrini: different styles, different tactics, different training methods. The result is emerging talents get lost, tenderly nurtured careers come to an abrupt halt . Even star players – witness Gareth Bale’s tentative reflowering in recent weeks – need to start again.”

Of course there are some who can take it and keep going.  Despite the negative publicity and disgusting behaviour of journalists in his first days in England, Mr Wenger has kept going.  And let’s be fair, no matter what, Mauricio Pochettino just seems to get on with it and get decent results.

The curious thing is that although the very silly people in the aaa don’t like Mr Wenger, he is the exception.   He hit the ground running… and kept winning, very few others enter and succeed so quickly.  Here’s what happened at Arsenal…

Season Manager Lge pos FAC Europe
1994/95 Graham 12th R3 Cup Winners’ Cup
1995/96 Rioch 5th R3
1996/97 Wenger 3rd R4 UEFA Cup
1997/98 1st W UEFA Cup
1998/99 2nd SF Champions League
1999/00 2nd R4 Champions League
2000/01 2nd RU Champions League
2001/02 1st W Champions League
2002/03 2nd W Champions League
2003/04 1st SF Champions League

The complaint against Wenger that was made by the minority – the aaa – was not that he didn’t get going quickly enough (as is the complaint against most managers) but that having delivered absolute heaven, he couldn’t keep it up in the face of Arsenal spending its money on a stadium, and Chelsea and Man C being sponsored by people of unimagined wealth.

As the Guardian says, “Van Gaal took three years to win his first league title at Ajax, and four to win the champions league. It took Klopp three years to finish above fifth place in the Bundesliga.”  It took Arsene Wenger one season to build a team that won the double and four more seasons to do it again.

Assuming Man U do sack their manager this season, or at the end of it, there is no guarantee that their third attempt to bring in a manager to replace Ferguson, will work.

Simply because they would not put up with a record like this…

Season Lge pos FA Cup Lge Cup Europe
1986/87 11th R4 R3
1987/88 2nd R5 R5
1988/89 11th R6 R3
1989/90 13th Winners R3

That was Ferguson’s record in his four opening seasons.

Would any manager of one of the bigger clubs now get four years to win just the FA Cup?  Certainly not.  Had Ferguson actually started at Man U in the 21st century he wouldn’t have got past the third second, and possibly not the first or second.

My point overall is that the rejection of all statistics along with context is completely wrong.  My hope is that when Mr Wenger does leave, Arsenal won’t fall into the trap of dismissing the next manager if he doesn’t hit the high spots as fast as Mr Wenger.  Even Herbert Chapman, our one other great reforming revolutionary manager took five years to win the FA Cup and six to win the league.

Two more anniversaries

8 January 1927: Sheffield U 2 Arsenal 3 as Arsenal started the journey to their first FA Cup final.  Prior to the arrival of Herbert Chapman, Arsenal had reached the cup semi-final twice – in 1906 and 1907, but had lost both times.

8 January 1949: Arsenal 3 Tottenham 0 in FA Cup round 3.  It was the first FA Cup match between the two.  McPherson, Roper and Lishman scored.  It was the first time in four seasons Arsenal had made it past the third round.

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30 comments to If Ferguson had gone to Man U in 2015 he wouldn’t have lasted a season.

  • Jambug


    “Of course those who don’t like the conclusions that are then reached will often write in and say “you can prove anything with statistics,””

    Or another favourite is:

    “Whatever the statistics say ‘I know what I see with my own eyes'”

  • Georgaki-pyrovolitis

    A pedantic point. Any reference to statistics is irrelevant. You have not performed any statistical analysis on the data you have presented. It’s just ranking on the basis of spend.

  • DingDong

    I like the piece but you have to factor in what Fergie did pre Man Utd. Took a small town team broke up the Glasgow dominance & beat Real Madrid in a european final plus clubs were not allowed into Euro competition following hysel. I’m sure this was used when he was interviewed , I’m sure he gave them a timeframe in which he would change things .
    Also you must factor in that Wenger inherited probably the best defence / back 5 of that time , bergkamp was there also so was wright so he had the bones of a very good team .
    But its much different now , the financial rewards for winning , tv money , sponsorships , commercial side has completely taken over .

  • colario

    Is this demand and expectation for instant success new or has it been in football for a longtime?

    One reason why I don’t bother with the present day pundits and commentators on the game in general is because they seem to me to be unable to think long term.

    All appraisal of the progress of a club/team seems to be based only on the last and/or present game. The press are just as guilty.

    Of course there is the all to rare exception which is what I look out for.

    Radio stations that cover football and should be providing us with news, (this is the claim that is made in their football coverage) instead flood us with opinions that have as much brain power as the tip of the tongue.

    However there is I believe a reason why they do this and its difficult to say they are wrong to do it.

    What they are doing is crowing to their listeners – the football fans.

    Time was the only place he/she could air their ‘informed opinion’ was the empty air of the crowded terrace. Today the airways are their terrace.

    It would seem that club owners are unable to ignore the demand of ‘sack the manager’ when he loses two games.

    Of course there is a secondary factor which did have a place when Ferguson took his seat at manure land (but I don’t think it was to the extent we have today) and that is ‘profit’ – money for the owners pocket. (We seem to be donating £3 million year to an action man from Wallmart.) The American government donates millions to Wallmart, but that is another issue.

    To get the profits demanded by owners means winning trophies, playing in the Euro Champions League or getting promoted to the Premier League.

    If after a few games it doesn’t look as if the new manager is going to bring in the cash, then throw him in the trash.

    The sense of keeping a manager and supporting him when at first its going down the pan while he puts his program for success in place is beyond the thinking of those whose brain is at the tip of their tongue.

  • Ando

    I agree with you regarding the short-term knee-jerk attitude to replacing managers but surely this is merely a symptom of the change in commercial attitudes as a whole since the ‘greed-is-good’ Eighties, when managers performance in all industries became measured in 1-2 year tranches, with monthly reviews; and then made actionable by employment contracts being based on the same time periods
    And I feel that if your net spend / league position tables above would have more meaning if the league position was averaged across the same number of seasons as the £ figure i.e. 5 seasons.
    Other than that, keep up the good work!

  • Pete

    I’ve written before that Arsenal’s huge, current, competitive advantage is that they have stability whereas all their major rivals do not – including Liverpool and the Totts.

    I think we can all be fairly confident that Hiddink and Pellegrini will definitely be gone by the end of the year and van Gaal’s future is distinctly dicey. One would expect Klopp and Pochettino to still be around – but woe betide either of them if they get a poor run of results and/or get knocked out of some cups unexpectedly.

    This advantage will hold as long as Arsene remains (so at least for next season) but we do run a risk that, if the next manager is a poor appointment, then we could end up in the same boat. Let’s hope the Board (i) make the right appointment and (ii) give him time. Only Ken Friar remains, I think, from the last time round. So optimistic re (ii) but not as convinced about (i). Hopefully Arsene can have some input? I’m pretty confident his will be better than ol’ Redface’s was…

  • Pete

    Georgaki – It depends how you define statistics. Technically you are right. But, colloquially, I think if you defined statistics as “the publication of factual numbers and some limited analysis” most people would probably accept?

  • Pete

    Wouldn’t it be funny (and deserved) if Pellegrini did a “Don Howe” and resigned during the run-in on the grounds that MC had approached (and probably signed) his successor behind his back?

  • Chris

    What they are not inventing to put MU on top, or Arsenal not on top.

    Not only was the 4th place not a trophy, now a trophy like the FA Cup is not a trophy, but the average of results is the trophy and this only over a part of the time this trophy has been in competition.

    So over 70 years (so we handily erased half a century of finals or so) MU won 10 – and none since 2004 – , we won 10 yet they are the better team…

    Shouldn’t we claim the title of calendar year champion after all ?

    Moving the goal posts….we should give out a yearly ‘Goal Post Movement’ trophy……

  • Jambug

    I know Tony and others at Untold have for some time been behind the thinking that ‘it’ is not necessarily all about the money. The ‘it’ in this case being the winning of trophies.

    Well I have to say I don’t see it that way, especially when you are talking about the top end spenders.

    I believe it is ALL about the money.

    Since Roman Abramovich landed in West London in June 2003 this is a list of the Premiers leagues top Net spenders over the 12 years since then, up to and including last Summer:

    Man City £800 Million = £66 Million per season PL/FA/LC = 4

    Chelsea £632 Million = £52 Million per season PL/FA/LC = 11

    Man Utd £450 Million = £37 Million per season PL/FA/LC = 9

    Liverpool £283 Million = £23 Million per season PL/FA/LC = 2

    Arsenal £98 Million = £8 Million per season PL/FA/LC = 4


    PL = 0

    FA = 2

    LC = 4

    So out of a possible 36 domestic trophies a mere 6 have been won by Clubs that are not one of the top 5 Net spenders.

    This is a breakdown of the trophy distribution:

    30 of 36 (83%) have been won by the top 5 Net spenders.
    24 of 36 (66%) have been won by the top 3 Net spenders.

    If you only count the PL and FA Cup it’s even worse.

    22 of 24 (92%) have been won by the top 5 Net spenders.
    20 of 24 (83%) have been won by the top 3 Net spenders.

    So what does all of that tell us?

    MAN CITY are the top net spenders but with just 4 domestic trophies over the 12 years are only the 3rd most successful trophy winners. BUT, this is easily explained by the fact that the oil money only arrived relatively recently, and of course they entered a battlefield already inhabited by 2 mega spenders in Chelsea and United.

    CHELSEA are the second top Net spenders but the most successful with 11 trophies. This is easily explained due to the fact they had there windfall at a time when nobody, and that even included United at the time, had resources anything like those that had suddenly became available to them.

    MAN UNITED are the 3rd top net spenders and the 2nd most successful with 9 trophies.

    Those 3 have easily spent the most and as a consequence have TOTALLY dominated the domestic scene.

    Behind them, spend wise, we have Liverpool and Arsenal. And this is quite telling, because despite Liverpool having a Net spend almost 3 times that of Arsenal, it is arguable they have been nothing like as successful as Arsenal, at least domestically.

    Liverpool 1 FA Cup 1 LC

    Arsenal 1 PL 3 FA Cups

    So Arsenal have won double the domestic trophies Liverpool have, as well as 100% CL qualifications compared to Liverpools inconsistency on that score.

    The big saving grace for Liverpool of course is a Champions League triumph.

    In closing I think the unavoidable conclusion is, although not infallible, the correlation between Net Spend and trophies is utterly undeniable.

  • Gord

    Sorting requires analysis. Summing up purchases is an arithmetic operation. What Tony is doing may not be complex, I would still call it statistics.

  • colario

    From the text above:
    ” It took Arsene Wenger one season to build a team that won the double and four more seasons to do it again.”

    I have it on the good authority of a long time Arsenal fan that, the first double wasn’t Arsene Wenger’s double that was Pat Rice’s double.

    I thought he was joking when he said it to me but no he was serious.

    Now I am sure that Pat helped Arsene in every way possible and I am certain Arsene made use of Pat’s knowledge of the game in England but as for saying the double was due to Pat! The mind boggles at such blindness.

  • Dingdong – the point I was trying to make was that the two managers before Wenger had the same teams, but it was only Wenger who could use that team to create even more dominance than Arsenal had in 1991.

  • insideright

    Unfortunately for all the other managers now have to live up to the standards of return on investment set by Wenger. They can only afford to ‘fail’ if they haven’t spent anything doing it. Even ‘success’ has to be achieved at a cost seen to be reasonable and sustainable. Otherwise is actually seen as failure – hence managers can win things but get sacked because they spent too much achieving it.
    It would appear that no one else can live up to these new measures – although Spurs actually might manage it by changing their spending policy and at long last hiring a decent manager. Their problem will be maintaining this change over the long period and holding on to the manager that has put them there.

  • Jambug

    Also, weight is surely added to the argument, that ‘it’ is all about the money, by the fact that 1 of Arsenals 4 trophies was our last PL triumph that was actually won back in the first year of this 12 period, arguable before Cheleas money had really had a chance to kick in, and 2 of them, the resent 2 FA Cups have been won since we where able to start spending big.

    Of course by ‘big’ I mean relatively speaking, because compared to United, city and Chelsea, what Wenger has spent is still very little.

    But that is the skill of Wenger and if he/we do manage to win the title it will of been an absolute work of genius on his part.

    But the fact remains the resurgence of Arsenal does correlate with a massive increase in Net annual spend an Arsenals part over the last 3 years.

    And I contest that no matter who is in charge at City, United and Chelsea come next season and the season after, if they maintain there Net annual spend, or losses if you prefer, at or around £50 million mark every season, it will be those 3 vying it out for the 3 domestic trophies, year in year out, and if Arsenal maintain a Net annual spend of around say, £20 Million per season, then we will struggle to wrestle any of the 3 trophies from there grasp.

    If we do it will solely be down to the genius that is Arsene Wenger.

    And if we do indeed get a change of manager then we better hope and pray he is as good as Wenger, because without him, given the likely financial cavern that is still going to exist between us and them, it is going to be very very tough to grab our piece of the pie.

  • Andy Mack

    Tony, I come from a business background which is pretty much 100% statistics base and I almost always agree with the way you use them. However it’s 100% true that statistics can be seriously misused. The worst example is if you use it as the basis of democratic agreement, where the majority of participants saying they enjoyed ‘gang rape’ would suggest it’s OK, which obviously doesn’t make it right.
    It’s the old issue of statistic used correctly give a great insight to the right option but used wrongly then they lead to chaos.

    I would add that you also use opinion regularly as well.
    For example, although I feel sure ‘vapour transfers’ are a real ‘thing’ it’s pretty much impossible to prove so it can only be an opinion, and I disagree with at least one of your examples (my opinion)….

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Ferguson wouldn’t have lasted at dis-united for more than a few years if he’d joined them in a similar situation this century. Also it’s difficult to know if Arsene would have lasted longer than a few years if he hadn’t inherited the bones of a good team and the brilliance of Bergkamp. But I’m 100% certain that no other manager would have kept us ‘in contention’ during the Stadium Wenger construction/financing years, and that’s without using statistics…..

  • serge

    “If we do it will solely be down to the genius that is Arsene Wenger”

    Which will make it all the sweeter & not to mention honest.

  • nicky

    Agree entirely with your 2.57. The whole edifice of professional football is now founded on money. The successful clubs are now big business, with the accountants and economists in powerful governance positions.
    A bête noir of mine is the disgusting con trick that clubs foist on the poor fans by way of issuing home and away kits with increasing frequency.
    Then there is the costly franchised catering, invariably of poor quality. An additional income to the club
    with the poor old captive audience paying through the nose.
    Advertising via global satellite commercial television
    started it all, post WW2, and clubs and players alike leapt on the gravy train which today is speeding towards an inevitable financial calamity. Wages are chasing costs to an obscene degree and so are transfer fees. Corruption and sharp practice from FIFA at the top is world-wide.
    The bubble will one day burst because the way the beautiful game is descending cannot continue.

  • nicky

    My comment above should have been addressed to Jambug.

  • colario

    @ Jambug

    My thinking that all the new TV money is going to do is inflate prices. A £5 million player will be £8 million. Agent’s fee was £1 million now £2 million. My numbers are random and used to give an idea of what I mean.

    Everyone in the business will demand as much money as they think they can get from the buying.

    The extra money might make some difference but I don’t think it will be as much the brain in tongue experts are claiming.

  • colario

    *From the buying club.

  • Jambug

    To use a childish vernacular, whoever has the most money, and currently that looks like it is still going to be Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea for the foreseeable future, are still going to have first ‘dibs’ on any available player, and only after they have passed on there option will the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs have there opportunity to land the player.

  • Jambug

    My above comment was to colario.

    Seems it’s catching nicky. At least we have the excuse of age. 🙂

  • Jambug

    Slightly of topic but in one sense but not in another, has anyone heard how Martinez at Everton has been going on about how much more important 4th spot is than winning the FA Cup if he wants to hang on to his best players.

    Seems that ‘Non Trophy’ is gaining more importance by the minute, at least when it involves anyone other than Arsenal.

  • goonersince72

    While money isn’t the only factor in winning, it is the most important stat in the modern game. I agree with jambug’s analysis of the last 12 years. So much money has warped everything without a meaningful FFP. In addition to the oil teams’ wealth, the amount of television money going to the EPL is staggering. The teams in the relegation places have more revenue than all but a handful of clubs in Europe. And with the new contract the discrepancy will be greater. I’d like to see a comparison and analysis based on revenue around the leagues, if possible. If it’s been done could it be reposted?

  • GoingGoingGooner

    If the big TV money disparity between the Premier League and other European domestic leagues stays in the UK’s favour, I think the day to day PL results will become even more unpredictable. The overall finish in the PL should remain similar to the last decade or so but the separation between the teams should be less. Smaller clubs will be able to compete for some top players in Europe. They won’t be able to have a squad as deep as the oil teams but through wise usage of the big money they should be able to attract 2 or 3 quality players. On any given day a squad with 3 quality players can nick a game. The Law of diminishing returns means that if Chelsea spends another 50 million quid, it won’t improve the team as much as another team, say, Stoke were to spend 50 million.

  • thierryhenry22

    Wow, in all those years Wenger never finished outside the top 2. Winning 6 majors in that time. Wow.

  • Al

    I think the only manager that deserves the sack is mourinho. The rest have been mainly victims of the win now mentality.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Do Man Utd fans in their various blogs argue that the success of SAF was down to the groundwork laid by Ron Atkinson , or that goal by Lee Martin , or that Eric Cantona changed the attitude of the then players ?

  • austinpaul

    I did say sometym ago dat d media, pundits nd refs were all seemingly biased toward Arsenal nd Arsene Wenger; I also submitted dat I smell racial bias bt above all its all down to ENVY! Humans hve bin Known in all ages to struggle to bring down achievers whose achievements dey cannot match or are incapable emulating nd re-enact; hence such achievers are proned to passionate hate nd bring him down machinations by d envious group; AW Is an eminent victim ofdis scenario in d EPL nd possibly Europe! Honestly speaking, how many of present day managers can manage club affairs as AW has done in Europe? Bravo AW, continue ur gud works at Arsenal, we appreciate U!!!