Wenger’s theory and practice of football – part 2

By Tony Attwood

I pointed out in part 1 of this article that Wenger brought to Arsenal a new approach to football, not just in the style of playing, but also in the style of coaching, of economics, and of running the club.

However the world changes, and football was not blind to what Wenger had done to Arsenal.  When he had joined us, the club had been in a poor way.  Bergkamp was putting in performances far below his magnificent best, Wright was playing out on the wing and wanting a transfer, and we had a manager who thought that the way to manage was to be a traditional hard man.  Only the Graham back five were still in place, and that was all that saved us.

We qualified for the Uefa cup on the last day of the Rioch season and celebrated as if we had just won the treble.

Then, after Wenger joined, in just a couple of years the club had become utterly different, successful, bubbling with a new style of football, and amazingly buying in a young Frenchman for £250,000 and selling him for £25m just a few years later.  Arsenal had set a new level, and everyone got ready to catch up.

The catch up came very quickly.   As Wenger said in one interview, when he arrived in England he could send a scout to a second division game in France and the scout would be the only scout there.  Now, he said, you have to fight for a seat.

So part one of the changes meant it was necessary to search further afield for talent, or study players in much more detail and find someone who had been overlooked.  This was not a total revolution, since Wenger had been looking as far afield as South America from the start, and there is a story that when Steve Rowley met Arsène Wenger for the first time, Wenger asked him to go to northern Brazil to watch a player, and Rowley was shocked – he normally tended to go no further than Luton.

But soon there were 12 Arsenal scouts in the UK, and the club introduced what has become known as world-wide scouting with individual scouts covering north America, Mexico, three in South America, one in each of Scandinavia, Iberia, France/Switzerland, Germany and central Europe, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, and one for the Netherlands/Belgium.

Arsène Wenger had worked from the position that all players who hold EU passports or are entitled through through a parent or grandparent, are eligible to play in the Premier League.

But not only did the EPL catch up with this notion, two other changes happened.   First Chelsea showed a new way of financing a club, and everyone knew that there was a world beyond England.  By 2010 over 260 foreign players were playing in the EPL (compared with 11 named in the starting line ups of the first Premier League weekend in 1992-3.)

Out of this development three more changes occurred.  First it became wholly obvious that  Chelsea could buy anyone they wanted and had no need of a youth policy.  Second the Home Office were doing their bit to make life more difficult, tightening the rules on bringing in players from outside the EU.  And third, as we have noticed, everyone was scouring France looking for the talent that previously Wenger was alone in watching.

Wenger needed a way around this and he looked at countries in the EU where players can get EU nationality with greater ease (in the UK it takes five years and a citizenship test).  Belgium, Spain and Portugal all fitted the bill, and experiments were undertaken.  One of  the most radical was the Beveren Experiment where the entire club was taken over and used as a developing ground for players from the Ivory Coast.   Uefa eventually passed a rule saying that this could not continue.

This was however not enough.  Several elements of the old theory (food, speed, lifestyle) were still in place, but we needed more.  Unfortunately the players from the opening of the new academy were still not ready for the transition – not because of any failure of policy, but because they were simply not old enough yet, and worse Arsenal’s reputation had now started to work against them.

Very early on Arsenal became known in France as a French club that happened to play in the EPL.  As such a lot of French players wanted to play for Arsenal, and as Wenger’s reputation grew, so that desire to work with him intensified.  That was in our favour.

But while almost every player under the sun wanted to work for Wenger, and would willingly go to Arsenal, as soon as anyone got a sniff that Arsenal wanted a player the value went up.  To be fair the same happened with Chelsea, but there it was for a different reason, and the consequences were quite different.

If Chelsea wanted a player the price could go up because Chelsea could afford it – and quite often they paid.  If Arsenal wanted a player (the selling club argued to itself) it was because the player was far better than the club had ever realised, and so the player was clearly worth a lot more.  Quite literally managers would think, “Goodness, that guy must be better than I thought – in which case I am not letting him go for a miserable £5m”.

It is often argued that within such a scenario there is no harm in paying the inflated price asked for just to get the player.  But the argument within Arsenal is, I believe, that once a club of the high international profile of Arsenal is seen to pay over the odds for a player then you not only pay more than you should on that occasion, you will pay an even more inflated price next time.  A selling club sells a £5m player for £8m to Arsenal.  Everyone notices, and the next £5m player Arsenal wants is put up to £10m and so on.  Price inflation.  Ask Chelsea and Man City – they know all about it.

In short the argument will be, the club will want more because Arsenal are asking, and since Arsenal did indeed pay way over the odds for X last year, it is worth holding out until the last minute because they will be the ones to blink first.

Worse, it became clear that Chelsea wittingly and unwittingly were changing all the rules of transfers.   Wittingly because they would on occasion appear to move for a player that they did not want, just to make life difficult for Arsenal to sign that player.   Arsenal scouts are seen watching X, so Chelsea come in with an enquiry.  Chelsea can always pay more than Arsenal, so the club hold out for the Chelsea figure, whether the offer is real or no.

And unwittingly through the action of agents, and their allies in the popular press and in the blogs, who endlessly talk up possible transfers of players.   The agents tips off the journalist that his player is talking to a big club, and the club that has the player under contract immediately inflates the price.

Money was available for the players, but not an infinite amount so it became a balancing act – continuing keeping the club at the top, while finding ever more obscure players to join the team without having to pay insane prices, and waiting for the first bunch of talented youngsters to come through.

In other words the key elements of the Wengerian philosophy remained true, but key elements, were under attack on all fronts.  Players were much harder to find because everyone was now scouring Europe, the Home Office was making it harder to bring in players, Uefa closed down the Beveren experiment, Chelsea could afford everyone and drove prices up, while every club that heard Arsenal were interested increased the value of the player on the grounds that he was “better than I realised”.

Indeed there are even stories (although of course they might just be stories) that suggest that every time an Arsenal scout is seen at a ground, the club immediately phones Chelsea and Man City and asks if they want to buy.

Of course Wenger had never seen the transfer as the solution to all his problems, but this assault from all sides was probably greater than Wenger imagined might happen.  Although very early transfers such as Ljunberg and Kanu had been successes, there were always transfers that didn’t work out (Pennant, Wreh…)  For every Henry, Lauren, Wiltord, Vieira, there were players who had problems of one sort or another (Edu with his passport, and then a family that could not settle, Jeffers…).   Compared with other managers Wenger was a wonderful manipulator of the market, but even he couldn’t always get it right.  Reyes and Van Persie both joined us at the same time, remember.

I believe that Wenger has always known how blunt an instrument the transfer window is, and with the extra competition for overseas players, and the intensified scrutiny that all his moves come under it became impossible to find too many great gems.

So from here Wenger introduced a whole series of reforms which modified his philosophy and the whole outlook of the club.  It was in fact probably the biggest reform ever in the history of any first division club.

I’ll describe it in the final part of this account of the philosophy of Wenger.

Part 1:  The Wengerian philosophy

Part 2: Theory and Practice

Part 3: The Total Revolution

33 Replies to “Wenger’s theory and practice of football – part 2”

  1. AFter reading this second part and the first part, one can only wait impatiently for the third part….

  2. that was a wonderful and insightful article. one cant help but eternally remain grateful for who arsene stands for us.

  3. I should study for my microeconomics exam but Tony are producing so many good articles that I can’t focus on anything but Arsenal!

  4. Tony, just came across your blog after reading a posting on arsenalfcblog.com, it’s tiptop mate! Clear, concise and surprisingly unbiased. Why can’t writers like you get jobs in the tabloids??? I’m completely bored with reading the same thing rewriten by hacks who clearly have no understanding of the subject and just want to create hype with headlines that are rarely true. Take the summers FabFest as an example of telling the same story repeatedly without any real fact, or the latest Rooney “headlines”. Nothing to do with football, all to do with selling papers. Wasters! Can’t wait for part 3 🙂

  5. Very Good piece, Tony. I wanted to wait till I read the second part before commenting but now, I can’t wait for the final part. Spot-on mate.

  6. Words escape as to how much venomous hatred I have for international football.

    Walcott injured but England are fine. He should just about be fit for when they need him to get crocked again so the FA can line their pockets.

    I was watching it online on a netbook which is now in smithereens in the corner.

    I am fucking sick of it.
    2 starts 4 goals and thanks to international football out injured.

    A week or so ago as the end of the transfer window I suggest on ACLF that we were actually light in the attack department given RVP has just got injured and the NB52 had one of those mysterious injuries that could take anything from a few weeks to forever to cure. I pointed out that were were potentially one injury short of a crisis.

    I was laughed out the gate for suggesting that for the money Huntelaar would be a nice acquisition.

    I was laughed out the gate.

    Not so much now i’m thinking.

  7. I feel your pain Terence – it’s just so predictable and so upsetting. Maybe, however, we have to accept Walcott is yet another injury prone player? It all looked rather innocuous and could have equally happened playing for The Arsenal. Obviously it hurts all the more when it happens on International duty but in this instance it isn’t as though he was ‘taken out’ – he just twisted his ankle.

    The sickening thing is that he was just starting to look like the real thing. Let’s hope it isn’t serious and that this is not the start of another series of injuries.

    In spite of this I’m not sure Huntelaar would have been the answer – he hasn’t impressed for anyone for a looong time and that is clearly why he was available at such a knock down price – I feel we should have sufficient cover with Chamahk, Vela, Arshavin & JET.

    I hope Wenger now has faith in Vela, gives him a run in the team, and that he starts to fulfil the promise we have heard so much about. TBH, if not, then questions have to be asked why we are keeping him and what for.

  8. If that ankle is twisted I would hate to twist mine any time soon.

    That ankle is FUBAR’d unless theo has a genetically superior joint that allows it to ‘bend’ at a complete right angle to the verticle bones in his leg.
    There is a picture up on other sites showing this clearly as a defender catches him on his standing leg(sound familiar) off the ball I might add.

    Rooney scored though so all the pundits are happy and already waxing lyrical about Adam Johnson because who cares about walcott now that he is of no further use.

    Imagine a sport where they could ring you up, confiscate your aston martin, drive the shit out of it around silverstone and other circuits globally and then hand it back crashed with instructions to please see if you could have it repaired in time for the next race.

    Until National Federations are made financially accountable for the medical and wage upkeep for players injured on international duty for the duration of their injury, there will simply be endless pointless internationals.

    The clubs should grow some balls over this and take them to the European court for sports arbitration.

  9. Fair enough that looks worse than I first thought.

    I actually ‘went over’ on mine in a similar fashion 6 months ago and it’s still not right now. I can run on it but striking a football would be out of the question.

    Hard to say from a still but unless it is worse than that picture suggests I would guess with extensive rehab we could be optimistically talking 2-4 months.

    Interestingly enough the doctors told me I would have been better off just breaking it.

    You are dead right about the attitude of the commentators – they really did not give a fuck. I was thoroughly incensed.

  10. Cheers mate. Makes for depressing viewing eh

    Looks like JET who apparently scored tonight against blackburn reserves in a 4 3 win is going to get his chance on the right of an attacking 3.

  11. Just showed the picture to my missus… I always consult her whenever a football injury comes on telly and most of the time she diagnoses it on the spot and most of the time she is right. She’s a physio (peadiatric) but still had to do all the anatomy.

    Anyway. Broken ankle – hope she’s wrong and it’s a hyper extension, but that will have it’s own problems and cause reoccuring injury for a long time after.

    So – ‘bollocks’ I think the word is.

    My commentators are all talking chinese – which is actually better than Sky.

  12. I better shut up because if I had to speak out what I was thinking one could write an article about the use of bad language on Untold Arsenal and that it should have a banner that warns people to stay out if you don’t like bad language.

    F****************************** c***ts ****$%£*%¨*
    Sh*t, S$it, *hit, Shi*, and over again….

  13. v.Persie out for at least 6 weeks with the ankle injury. Clichy, Diaby and Sagna played 90mins and Fabregas 57mins (friendly).

  14. Well it will be interesting to see how we have survived the international break when it comes to injuries and to compare this with the other teams…

  15. The early news seems to be no break – but as ACO says hyper- extension can bring it’s own problems. I can concur – sometimes I wonder of my ankle will ever feel fully the same again.

    Still it will all depend on severity and how well he responds to treatment – no two people or injuries are the same.

    Sadly nothing about RVP will surprise me any more – such a shame – it’s just one thing after another.

    Between injuries, tiredness from playing and (in some cases) jet lag the Bolton match will be far from easy this weekend.

    Should we fail to win we can expect the AAA to be out in force. :0P

    I would so love it if JET steps up to the plate and has a great game.

  16. I do think in years to come many a book will be written about Wenger, Not very often does a person come along that has such an immense impact within their chosen field. Wenger is a very constructive and artistic man whom would have been a great success in whatever endeavours he chose to undertake.

  17. All,

    You all seem to think AW will leave at some point? I humbly disagree! This question has yet to be answered: Is it in AW to just pick up and leave? I know he has stated the obvious many times. What is that you ask? He doesn’t want to manage of course past a certain age.. But, don’t you think it is in his inner parts to be associated with Arsenal forever (until his last breath)? All the things he has built and all of BS media and UK have forsaken him for wouldn’t he just stay and see things out?

  18. Very insightful.
    I was a regular reader of Le Grove, Avenell Road and the like and I actually got infected with the hatred they had for Wenger. I even started writing and sharing similar thoughts on one major Arabic Arsenal forum. However, that feeling for Wenger started to vanish gradually as I got to read your blog Tony.

    Your (and your wonderful team) articles have had my eyes open on things I could never see mainly for I was as I said a regular on AAA sites. Now I don’t think your blog has really gone over the top in praising Wenger for I think he is not getting a praise that he does not deserve.

    You have every right to give the man the credit for almost everything at the club; the financial situation, the world wide reputation, the academy, the Arsenal way, the scouting network, etc. It is about time only and we’ll see Arsenal a club that will dominate UK and EU.

    It would be an honour if I can meet you next time I am in UK. Can’t wait for part 3, and forgive my English.

  19. Great article. I am just curious what Wenger`s theory about injured players actually is.Can you write an article about it as well ?

  20. Q8 – I get to Arsenal quite early for most games – because I travel from the Midlands to London and have to allow for bad traffic. Just email me when are coming over and we’ll try and meet up.

  21. LOL – Tony, me too – I’ll wave at you as I’m belting it down the M40… I’m near Ludlow – up until a year ago I was living in Holloway N7 and it was 5 minutes from sofa-to-seat – still got the residents permit though!


  22. Good website.

    The rest of this email didn’t seem to have anything to do with the article – but I thought I’d leave the first two words in. Tony.

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