What constitutes failure? By Tony Attwood
One of the most interesting issues raised in correspondence about the “philosophy of Wenger” articles was the question, “what constitutes failure”. I was asked whether seven years without a trophy would be a failure? Or ten years?
And that led me into thinking that really that was far too simple a question. What we should be asking is: would there be a price that is too great a price to pay for a trophy?
I have to say I found that quite a difficult problem for me to resolve – so the thought of trying to divine what Arsène Wenger thinks about it all, is doubly daunting. But here goes.
The point is, winning a trophy is wonderful, but are there situations in which one would genuinely feel that the trophy had been won in such a way that it really is not right?
In sport, does the end always justify the means?
Style of play – a totally defensive approach in which the club aims to go one up and then shut up shop would lead to a lot of press criticism – but we always get this. I can’t see Wenger ever doing it, but supposing he did, how would I feel. Of course I want the triumph, but at the price of boring football which is a pain to watch? I am not sure. I watched a film of a game in the Rioch year a week or so ago, and by and large it was awful – unwatchable even.
I remember a season once (back in the 70s I think) when we scored one and only one goal in every home game between August and April. It was one of the few times in my Arsenal watching where I said, “enough” and I stopped going to all the games. There was no joy in the play, just the joy of winning, and that started to turn sour.
So I am not sure. I suspect I would still go, and I would celebrate the win, but I think in my heart I would be desperately sad, and find it hard to continue a blog like this.
Deliberate cheating – the rotational fouling of Blackburn, combined with rotational time wasting: in other words anti-football created out of endless minor infringements. Could I watch that? Could I defend that to supporters of other clubs? Would I feel that the end in terms of winning a trophy justified the means? No, for me I couldn’t do that. While I half think I would watch the game if the style of play was utterly defensive and going for the 1-0 all the time, I really think that if we had a team that played in that dreadful negative and illegal way, I think I would say no, not for me.
Violence on the pitch. On this one I can be sure. If Arsenal played in the violent, confrontational manner of the old Leeds United during the Revie era then I would say for sure, “this is not my Arsenal” and I would direct my support to my “other” club, Torquay United, and if I couldn’t watch them I would go and watch my local club, Corby Town (Conference North). Even if Arsenal used the technique to win everything under the sun, I could not bring myself to support deliberate violence as a form of football. If Arsenal had a player who sought to emulate Shawcross then I would hope very much that the club did not play him, and got rid of him post-haste. Whether the existence of one homicidal maniac is enough to put me off totally I don’t know, but a whole team load, and I would be out.
Match fixing, bribery in the Italian or Chinese style. Of course the problem here is that you never know about it until it all comes out in the wash – and then it is too late. I am of the opinion that there probably is corruption within English football but of course I only have circumstantial evidence. I have however seen nothing to make me feel that it exists within Arsenal. I don’t think this is really an issue to worry about because so much seems to go against us in terms of injuries and odd decisions that it is most likely that either the refs are largely incompetent, or there is corruption but it is acting on behalf of other clubs. As things stand I don’t think it is likely that we are going to win the league through being corrupt.
Racism and nationalism rather than selecting players for ability. The Scottish manager of Birmingham City gave an interview on Sky on 12 September in which he openly admitted that he tried to sign British players rather than foreigners, on the grounds that with British players “you know what you are going to get”. The implication is that foreigners are pesky creatures that you can’t trust.
I find that form of discrimination utterly appalling. I know that in the UK nationalism is not illegal in the way that racism is, but I still find it disturbing. I have a small number of friends who are nationals of other countries, and I feel embarrassed when UK citizens have this dreadful inward looking attitude.
This approach is of course the opposite of that of Wenger who repeatedly states that he wants to bring in the best players irrespective of their nationality.
Would rampant nationalism stop me supporting Arsenal even if it resulted in winning a trophy? Yes. I have no doubt. I find it disgraceful. I thought we were getting over it when we joined the EU and began to distance the UK from the horrors of the idea of the Empire as a civilising institution, but it seems old attitudes are deeply embedded within British society.
But what if the world turned upside down and a new owner came in with finances of the Chelsea or Manchester City type. What then?
By the time this development happened we would be into the new financial doping regulations, so that would take us out of Europe and that I would deeply regret. But unless the man in charge was utterly repugnant to me personally, then I’d still be there. However I have no doubt that there are people who would take over Arsenal whose presence would distance me from the club. Neo-nazis, members of the BNP, Stalinists, dictators from certain countries who have raped their own land for personal gain, gentlemen who have been found guilty of rape, pornographers, people found guilty of embezzlement, people who have used administration as a business tool rather than a last resource once a company has failed, racists, the fox hunting fraternity…
Well perhaps not the latter, (although I really don’t like people who participate in fox hunting) but it turns out there is quite a list of personal attributes that I don’t like too much. Seems I am much less of a live and let live person than I thought I was.
So would I walk away from Arsenal in certain circumstances, even if the club won the league? Yes I would.
But is it likely that Wenger would fall into any of these groups that I personally don’t like? Clearly not. I love the fact that he wants to play the best players in the world in our team, irrespective of of their nationality. I love the fact that he wants teams to attack all the time. I love the 25 passing movement leading up to a goal.
I count myself so lucky to have been present when trophies have been won, but even more lucky to have been at those moments which were achieved with exactly the style of football I want Arsenal to play.
It is a delicate balance, but there is a balance. The end cannot always justify the means – and if you want to see something obvious that is part of the philosophy of our manager it is that.
The footballing philosophy of Arsene Wenger
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