By Tony Attwood
The members of the North Korean branch of the Arsenal supporters club tend to consider Arsène Wenger a renegade running dog who can’t admit his mistakes, who clings to power when all the world that victory is inevitably theirs.
Their world view is a simple world view.
First, they set up a simplistic vision that says that winning now is everything and nothing else matters. Winning at any cost is the motto.
Second, they analyse the situation at Arsenal through this narrow vision and say, hey, look, we ain’t won nothing, so by our own analysis this is failure. Therefore it is failure because we have said so.
Third, they build into this analysis the notion that they can see what Arsène Wenger can’t see (what with them being intelligent and him being stupid and intransigent) and hey presto and QED (except they don’t speak Latin in North Korea, so they don’t say that last bit.)
Fourth, they tend to believe what they read in the papers and hear via radio and TV. Even now there are people who believe that we once signed a keeper just by watching him on video, only to find when he arrived he was only 5’6″ tall.
As a result of the collapse of our great club, they say, the ground will soon be empty, and the club will, well, collapse.
I am of course parodying, but I do so to make a broader point. Within the anti Arsène Wenger camp, as in North Korea, there is such a simple philosophy (“we know best”) and no theoretical base or perspective) that proper debate cannot happen.
What is rarely discussed however is how much are we willing to pay for a trophy? Would the North Korean Arsenal Supporters Club accept a Ridsdale model in which money that it is assumed we will earn in the future is spent on one big push to gain future success in the league – with the risk that if it doesn’t come, everything is wrecked for the future? Or would they accept the Chelsea approach in which one rich owner comes in and does it his way? Would it matter if we won the double next year, but in so doing bankrupted the club?
Because the monoliths have such a simplistic theory, there is no debate, only ranting and abuse. Indeed I think this is why some web sites alter the comments of readers, or ban them all together if they expound a point that the Great Site Leader doesn’t like. (And if ever there were to be a justification for calling the monoliths the North Korean Arsenal Supporters Club, it is that policy). (And yes Untold does ban some people but at least we have a page up that says that we will ban a writer who is a plagiarist, who uses multiple identities, who uses a fake email address etc).
Thinking thus I thought I would try and define the Arsène Wenger philosophy of football in as simple way as possible (in case any members of the North Korean politbureau are reading. Just for the hell of it. It is not complete, but it is a start.
1.The world changed when Chelsea were taken over by Abramovich and regenerated as the KGB in Fulham with unlimited funds removed from the poor of Russia. The likes of Arsenal, and any other club that did not want to be beholden to such a form of economics would never be able to compete with the KGB’s approach, of “if it moves buy it” and so had to do something else. Arsène Wenger realised that if it happened once it would happen again, (as it did) and if Arsenal were to compete we would need a new system of getting the top players. Simply trying to outbid the KGB and the Arabs would just bankrupt the club, not least because (as Man C have since shown) such clubs could issue edicts which told other clubs who they could sell on to. I have heard Rangers and Celtic do this in a simple way in Scotland (“We’ll sell you X but with a clause that says you won’t sell him to Y”). Man City seem to have gone way beyond that now in their transfer dealings, and such a development has to be taken into account when planning the future.
2 That to run a football club you have to set up something that will be sustainable year after year. At the time the KGB took control at Chelsea there was no mention of the Financial Doping Regulations of UEFA and therefore it was certainly true that Abramovich could buy a team, and win the league, and then buy another team and win the league again. The only way around this would be to set up something quite different, rather than try and compete in the transfer market. The first move was to bring in obscure players from elsewhere in Europe, but this was a temporary solution as other clubs quickly caught on. And with Financial Doping being on the horizon it was clear another system was needed.
3. This new approach, which Arsène Wenger invented, involved bringing in a range of young players (aged 16 to 19) from further afield. It was recognised in advance that many of them would not work out, but over a period of years a number of them would start to mature into players that the KGB and Man Arab would be after. Although one or two of the less intelligent players would be willing to move to the KGB most would be bright enough to realise that they would have a greater chance to develop their football to the highest level if they stayed. Such an approach would have a high fall-out level, since it is hard to judge at 16 or 17 just how a player will develop but even with a 70% drop out rate, it would still be a lot cheaper way of buying in new players than the KGB approach. When silly young players with no brains did decide to leave it ought to be possible to get some money for them – either through the first transfer, or through the re-sale fee. The notion that the Tiny Totts had to pay Arsenal for Bentley was noted by many and still causes amusement.
4. At the same time a new long term youth project should be initiated in which a group of 11 year olds should be brought together, who would then move through the club, and begin to emerge into first team contention when they got to 17 to 19. The combination of this “youth project” and the bringing in of the 16-19 year olds would form the basis of the new team. What’s more, once set up the youth project should be maintained year after year – you have a bunch of 18 year olds coming through one year, and then the next year, and the next. The fact that Arsenal are the only team to get three youth trophies in two years shows how this is working. Players joining at 11 are easier to mould into a playing style than those who join at 17, so the drop out rate is lower.
5. This approach would have the benefit of keeping salaries down since the club would have a sizeable chunk of young players earning less than the average wage in the top clubs. This would free up money for the top players who were brought in to fill any gaps left by the youth project.
6. Such an approach would also have the benefit of enabling the club to play a very high speed game – a game which most of the older defenders could not stand up to.
7. To make this work the club would also need to have the very best training facilities, and so before the group recruited aged 11 got much older a special training facility had to be installed which could accommodate both the older established players, and the youngsters.
8. To maximise this approach the club needed its own ground with the latest facilities for both the players and the fans. Although the two years of playing Euro games at Wembley was an important experiment in order to to prove that the club could attract crowds of 75,000 the key was to have the games played in a new stadium which had all of the most modern facilities. So while other clubs risked everything on players who might, or might not, be any good, Arsenal invested in a project much more likely to be a financial success. The size of support was tested, the waiting list for seasons was there for all to see, and there was the income from Highbury. Even if part of the project went wrong there was enough variation in the project for success to look very likely.
9. Again, to make this whole project work it was necessary to find the very best players in the world who could be brought in to play at the highest level. This would mean having scouts in every country in the world – and hence World Wide Scouting was taken to a new level. The key was not just to bring in 27 year olds at the height of their ability, although that could be done. Rather it was also to provide a constant stream of talent from whom the best could be picked, even in countries like Brazil which were swarming with scouts.
10. Attitude was defined as a key element in a player’s approach, and if the attitude of the player was not one that will allow the player to listen and understand what the manager is saying, the player should go. And some did go. The club became the master, not the players.
And that was it. I have expressed all this rather inelegantly, but in essence this is the Philosophy of Arsène Wenger as I see it. To reach its fulfilment will take years, but once done it will place Arsenal at a point that is beyond the reach of all other teams.
And that is the overall point: that it takes a long time to put into place a project as complex and long lasting as this. During that time one needs faith that the fans will not desert the club. While members of the North Korean Supporters Club have turned against the management and the philosophy, the ground is still full, with the view that there is already success (year after year in the Champs league for example) and there is more to come. Meanwhile there is a real expectation that those who are about to fall from grace never to recover.
To members of the North Korean branch of the Arsenal supporters club I bid you greetings. And if you do all want to give up your season tickets because it is all so awful at Arsenal just now, I know a hell of a large number of people who would like them instead.
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