Reducing football to simplicity says more about those who do it than about football

By Tony Attwood

So the downside is that Mkhitaryan is out for Sunday and the upside is that Ramsey scores goals of quality in important games – although I think we knew that from the FA Cup Final.

But as I was driving home last night I thought of something different; of how complex running an organisation of any size is, and yet how it is ceaselessly reduced to utter simplicity by those who write about it.

The largest business I’ve ever run had 35 staff, and none of those were great towering geniuses (apart from me of course).  They were regular, honest people, who, given the right encouragement and support would put in a solid day’s work.  But that business was far more complex than just simply hiring and firing staff – and still far less complex than a PL club.

And yet, faced with something as complex as football clubs, the media continues to get very worked up about empty seats, failing as ever to take into account any sort of historic context that I’ve mentioned before.  The closest I heard last night of any sort of analysis was someone who kept on saying that “Arsenal is odd” or something like that.  He seemed to say it 20 or 30 times.  I suppose when the club and players have been abused in every other way, that’s all that’s left.

Everything is reduced to simplicity as with all the negatives about Jack Wilshere from the bloggettas.  “‘Horror show’, ‘Woeful’ – Arsenal fans slam 26-yr-old for poor performance despite Thursday win” says Football Fan Cast.

But it has always been thus.  “Boring boring Arsenal” (when mentioned seriously by the media before it became an ironic chant from the north bank) was the ultimate simplicity, which is where we seem to be stuck.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon recently ran the story “Arsenal on the verge of greatness?”  and despite the question mark it gave a positive answer.  There was a twist at the end of course (because there always is) with the need to get rid of the manager, and their subsequent question, “People ask “why would a top manager want to come to Arsenal?”

“She Wore” answers the issue of by saying, “Well to work with the likes of Bellerin, Monreal, Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Aubemayang. A core of 7 top players that the rest of the team needs to be built around.”

But that is odd.  Very odd.   Indeed one might even go so far as to say “very very odd” (etc).

Because that bunch of players has been brought together by… well, Mr Wenger not to put too fine a point on it, operating on a budget far smaller than that of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Now we all know that it is possible to put together very good teams on the cheap.  Arsenal did it in the late 1990s bringing in players that were not on anyone else’s radar in Britain (Henry is the obvious example, Pires another, Ljunberg of course, Vieira… the list goes on).   Tottenham have done it, although they found out last time around (when dishing out the proceeds from the sale of Bale) that it is much easier to make a pig’s ear of the process than to get it right.

But there is more.   Maitland-Niles and Nelson (whom I still expect to come good next season) and Willock could all become important players for us next season.  And yet I have seen websites that suggest we need 22 top level full bloodied utterly developed international players in order to compete.  However the problem is that most such players demand to play every match.

Now they can be kept happy to some degree by having one team to play the cup games and one to play the league games, but even so it is hard to keep players of the top quality for very long, unless they get regular games.  Not only do they get mentally irritated the sharpness and quality of their play can go off.  If it was as easy as buying 22 top players, then the ceaselessly buying clubs would do just that.

The real trick is not just buying the players we need who are already at the highest level, but also bringing in two other types:

First the youngsters like Maitland-Niles and second the backup players who can grow into the club and can swap positions, and who don’t mind missing some games, such as Elneny.

And all this before we wonder about Wilshere – on the list of She Wore as one of the great players, but as noted above is being listed as someone who should be thrown out.  And what of Xhaka.  Endlessly defended by Untold and noted as a player of enormous ability and further potential it was only a few weeks ago when you couldn’t actually read a newspaper or a bloggetta without being told that his existence in an Arsenal shirt was proof of Arsene Wenger’s blindness and insanity.

Players are no longer recognised as people but are cattle without real human lives.  They are not men who might worry about their child’s problem behaviour at school, men who can be concerned about a wife’s fidelity, men who suddenly realise their financial adviser has been lining his pockets at the player’s expense, men who out of nowhere become convinced they are getting some dreadful disease, men who start drinking too much, men whose confidence on the pitch collapses after a terrible injury…

Football writing reduces phenomenally complex individuals and a phenomenally complex business operation to simplicity.  It is composed by and large by people who have never run an organisation of any size.  Maybe they should try it first, in order to learn just how hard it is to keep everyone happy and operating at full tilt.

It is not the case that because the manager doesn’t buy X he is a complete idiot.  Nor is Jack a useless player because of a few off-peak performances.  The players are people, the club is a complex organisation.  It might be a good idea to remember these things sometimes.

Europa League : Arsenal – CSKA Moscow : 4-1

Arsenal in November 1921: the fog, the goal rush, the resignation.


6 Replies to “Reducing football to simplicity says more about those who do it than about football”

  1. On the subject of empty seats I wonder how many of them are as a direct result of Arsenal cancelling a significant number of memberships following the Cologne game when ‘fans’ sold their tickets to visitors? If they were season tickets then they won’t have been sold on to someone new. If they were bought via silver memberships then the black market has been hit at least until new applications can be made (presumably in different names) in the summer.
    If true – I wonder how many people on the Spurs ‘waiting list’ are actually re-sellers who make a living out of the black market and who represent an accident waiting to happen for someone else?

  2. Great article Tony. It shows that Arsene(and to a slightly lesser degree AFC), has and shows empathy for his players. Just read the comments from ex-players if you doubt what I am saying. That is something to be proud of, in my humble opinion.

  3. “And what of xhaka, endlessly defended by untold”
    Wow! Tony. Last week untold didn’t have an opinion, untold didn’t have verdicts. Today Untold defends Xhaka. Just wow.

  4. On the matter of empty seats, Thursday night was the 7th Day of Passover, when many Jewish supporters would not have gone to the game.

    Whilst some may have been able to sell their season tickets on, others would not have been able to or interested to do so, so their seats would have been empty.

  5. I think Felix that your memory is perhaps not all it might be. Nothing wrong with that of course, happens to all of us, but worth noting. Or alternatively maybe you are giving opinions about Untold, without actually doing the research of reading the articles.

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