I love these days. The days after a good win where there’s not really any news. A good win doesn’t even stir any controversy which is why there isn’t any news; no one on Arsenal was unfairly awarded a penalty, no fights, no arguments, nothing. Plus the transfer window is closed and so the press really have to stretch to link Veloso to Arsenal. Ahhh… the sound of silence.
I did find some info from a few days ago kind of amusing. It cropped up in my reader again this morning when the Telegraph published an article about Wenger’s Quit Threat. Oh yeah! I almost forgot.
It turns out that Wenger really, really wants to do things his own way. We already knew that, somewhat, from his much maligned statements this summer about his ambitious youth project. But I can’t recall a direct threat to quit before he lets some rich guy like Usmanov dictate who he has to buy. Speaking to the press before Saturday’s match he had this to say about City’s new owner’s surprise £30m signing of Robinho:
What is very important for me is that I decide who we buy. I am not against money but I feel I should decide what happens on the technical front. It looks like managers have less of a say but I will go on my way if that happened. Foreign owners bring their own culture to the game and that doesn’t just affect the managers but also many other aspects of the game. It will be far more dangerous if they are picking the team.
There are only two managers in the world right now who could get away with this kind of statement: Wenger and Ferguson. Manchester City’s new owners won’t hesitate for a moment to fire Mark Hughes if he gets out of line with their new philosophy. A look at what happened to “the Special One:” Chelsea’s owner was such a meddler that when he wasn’t out buying big money players, he was showing up at practice to help pick the starting XI, and when that failed, he fired Mourniho. There’s no doubt that’s who Wenger is talking about in past tense, and there’s no doubt that City’s Mark Hughes is who he’s talking about in future tense.
It’s a perfectly rational, reasonable, and even expected thing; rich people want to see some return on their investment. Whether that’s trophies or personal satisfaction or showing off how smart they are or just trying to impress their rich friends with their shiny toys, it’s all the same, it’s a return on their investment. But then what role is the manager in that system? It seems to me that if your squad selections are made for you, the manager is reduced to the guy who gives good speeches at half time. Instead of building a team, training them and making something, the manager is little more than skillful orator or at best a sort of team psychologist.
I can see why Wenger would quit. This is a guy who came in to the league and has already revolutionized it many times with his fitness and diet programs, implementing a fair wage structure, and with the beautiful football that they play and now he’s trying to push that final boundary: he wants to field a youthful team and win it all.
I also felt the best way to create an identity with the way we play football, to get players integrated into our culture, with our beliefs, our values, was to get them as young as possible and to develop them together. I felt it would be an interesting experiment to see players grow together with these qualities, and with a love for the club.
When Wenger revealed this idea last month, the pundits in the press were actually accepting of the idea while the Arsenal fans and bloggers were highly critical. Some folks, like Arseblogger, even went so far as to say that Wenger had no right to experiment with this team, he had this to say after the loss to Fulham,
We have known for months that we need a central midfield signing yet the manager has sat on his hands and done nothing about it bar buying a kid from Cardiff who he obviously feels isn’t good enough to play over a right back in that position. It’s almost dereliction of duty and at this point Arsene can derelict my balls. It’s massively frustrating to find ourselves in this position when the club is essentially in profit in it’s transfer dealings for the second summer in a row. The money is there, there is no reason not to spend it other than the manager’s apparent hauteur.
Hopefully this will force him to rethink and to get his priorities in order. Arsenal Football Club is not a creche and his job is not to develop young players. His job is to win trophies and at the moment he’s making that job very difficult for himself.
As we all know now, Wenger “tried” to buy a defensive midfielder after that Fulham loss, which at the time I saw as an admission of guilt by the manager of what people like Arseblogger were saying. In retrospect, it wasn’t an admission of guilt, rather it was part of the plan.
I came to this conclusion when my friend Alex told me about how he was surprised to learn that the younger the team was during Euro 2008, the more successful they were, generally. Obviously, not all young teams in that link were successful, but it is striking that Russia, Spain, and Turkey were some of the youngest teams and they did the best in the tournament, while Italy, Germany, and France were some of the oldest and they did petered out at the end.
But it’s not just youth that’s the key ingredient, and this is where Wenger’s plan is brilliant, experience matters too. Austria and Switzerland had two of the worst teams in the tournament and two of the youngest. But they were bad because not only were they lacking talent, but they were also lacking in top level experience for their young players.
If Wenger cannot sign experience for the price that he thinks is fair, what Wenger does is, like he did on Saturday, takes these enormously talented kids like Wilshere and Ramsey, and introduces them to top level competition. When he does that he is able to produce a player like Cesc Fabregas who, at age 21, has already played over 200 matches in all competitions, which includes a Champions League final, a Carling Cup final, an FA Cup final win, and a Euro championship. This blending of youth and experience, of love for the team, and dedication to the manager and his philosophy is a special experiment and ultimately one that has the power to overcome the destructive influence of money that is currently plaguing the league.
Arseblogger did have one thing right: it is the boss’ job to win trophies. Spending £30m right now, might even bring in a trophy, maybe like Chelsea, Arsene could spend £1bn and win some Carling Cups with a player like Sheva scoring on 3rd division teams. But, if Wenger gets this experiment right and Arsenal have 10 twenty-five year olds with 400 games under their belts I think Arsenal will win more than just one trophy. It’s Wenger’s job, after all, to build a team that will win many trophies, not just one, which is exactly what he’s doing.