by Tony Attwood
Two years ago an unholy alliance of journalists and card carrying fans supported by the Arsenal Supporters Trust (who had previously claimed that the directors were setting money aside for their own use rather than making it available for transfers) pushed the club into getting rid of Mr Wenger and his staff, one year before their contracts ended.
That move cost around £17m – a cost that could have been avoided by letting the contracts run out. When people are removed from fixed term contract jobs, they get compensation, that’s how it goes.
Since then we have had two more managers with their entourages and bloggers and journalists are still saying the players are not good enough and we need new players. The cost to the club has been enormous. Money that might have been spent on players was spent on compensation – all thanks to the protesters getting their way.
Historically the club has had three managers who have picked up the club and turned it around: Chapman, Graham and Wenger. The club has also had an array of managers who have failed to pick up the club and turn it around. Men like Neil, Howe, Swindin, Wright.
So what did thse successful managers do in order to turn the club around?
Chapman used a complex tactical approach which had never been seen before. The trouble was it needed specific players to do it, and it took five years to those players who could deliver the tactic all the time. Then his team scored a record number of points and dominated football for a decade.
Graham used absolute discipline and brought in players who would work to his system exactly as he demanded. But he was ruthless in his treatment of players when he had had enough of them, and increasingly players did not want to be part of that system, especially when the rumours started that there were illegal transactions within the club.
Wenger used the fact that under EU rules English clubs could now sign EU nationals. While others laughed at the thought of players from outside the British Isles understanding English football, Wenger not only brought foreigners in, he also created a tactical revolution that again everyone laughed at. Then he won the double. Twice.
Of course the Wenger story is now told in other ways. Eurosport for example insist that Wenger made “a team full of players with bronca” – which roughly means filling the team with men of a negative attitude and quarrelsome nature, allied to supernatural fitness and technique never seen before in the Premier League. I am not sure that is right, but he did know exactly the players that he wanted, and he got them. And he was right.
And mostly he got them on a budget. New players, new tactics, on a budget. Is there anyone who can do that now? Because that is what we need (especially the budget bit, if Man City win their appeal this morning).
Leicester did that once, and of late we’ve analysed exactly how they have been trying to do it again with the incessant tackling approach through which they deliver far more tackles than other clubs, without getting yellow cards.
Interestingly since about the time we (alone) analysed that Leicester tactic their fortunes have started to slide – a slide culminating in a 4-1 defeat to Bournemouth. Did other clubs not actually know what Leicester’s tactics were before we published the data? It seems hard to imagine, and maybe our tables of tackles vs fouls vs yellow cards just happened to be published as Leicester started to fall apart. But on the surface it really does look as if the clubs had not done the analysis before we did – which is a bit remiss.
But such tactical thoughts all seem a bit to complicated for most writers who stick with “change the manager” and “change the team” approach to getting a club up the league.
Now there was a time about five years ago when readers of Untold were claiming that Einstein said that the definition of madness was to do something, see it didn’t work, and then do it again and again and again.
There is no record of Einstein ever saying such a thing, but certainly doing the same thing over and over again when it doesn’t work is generally pretty silly.
But the problem with that attack on Wenger was not so much with the attribution of the saying, but the fact that Wenger’s approach was working, in that he was getting Arsenal into the top four year after year after year for a record number of years for an English club, and he was doing it on a budget.
In fact if there are things that clubs do over and over and over again and find they don’t work, they are
a) keep on changing the manager
b) spend record sums on players all at once
Arsenal have been using both these approaches, and finding they don’t work, and now the experts and pundits are calling for Arsenal to do them again. That surely is madness.
We will very shortly see if CAS have the nerve to face down the threats of legal action by Manchester City, and maintain their ban from Europe for two years. If so, we’ll know that there is at least one small check on the massive spending of money on players without regard to the rules.
But whatever the result Arsenal’s way forward must be to return to the Chapman / Wenger system of finding gems, occasionally splashing out on a particularly brilliant prospect, and evolving new tactical systems that bemuse the opposition.
We also need a manager who can laugh at the press, and ideally a club that is willing to take on PGMO, as Wenger did in his early days with his famous appeal case in which a totally invented charge against him was knocked out like an annoying fly.
Whatever the club does, it needs to give its chosen manager the chance to do things his way, even if it looks at first like it might not be working, just as Chapman and Wenger were.
But what happens now in football depends on the CAS ruling this morning. After that Arsenal needs to adjust its approach to whatever the new world offers – but it needs to do so by being clever.
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