On Friday my daughter came home with a flier from school, inviting kids to join the chess club. I half jokingly asked her if she wanted to join. Her answer was a surprising, yes. “I can never find people to play chess with me” she said, as I knitted my brow in confusion – why is my eight year old daughter, who loves unicorns, interested in chess?
I read her the rules of chess club, which include punctuality, listening, focus, and taking directions from the coach. She said that it would be hard but still she would like to join. And then I told her the thing that would scare me the most about chess club, “It’s going to be hard. The other kids will be better than you. You will probably lose.”
I know why I said those awful things to her. That’s my dad’s voice. That’s my dad telling me to give up guitar because I’ll never make it and that all my other ideas were “pipe dreams”. I was passing this dysfunction of pre-failure on to my daughter, that it’s better to give up on your dreams than to try and then fail.
In my defense this came from a place of love. I just didn’t want her to be hurt by failure. In my mind, I saw her frustrated and crying, and wanted to protect her from that. Or at least warn her.
“Ok,” she said confidently, “I know and I still want to go.”
I’ve never been prouder of my child. She swatted away my little insecurities and took a bold decision to do what she wanted to do. She will join the chess club and I will encourage her to stick with it if things get rough. It will be a lesson in tenacity, which in a sense, it already is.
Arsene Wenger gave an interview to Rog from Men in Blazers which was broadcast before the game against Burnley on Sunday. Wenger said many familiar things such as his poetic way of saying that every defeat is like a scar on his heart and one thing that I have never heard him say: “tenacity is the most underrated quality in life. We always speak about talent, intelligence, glamour, but tenacity is the common thing for every successful person.”
Wenger was describing what it takes to be a football manager at the same club for 20 years. In his case, to resist the temptations of other clubs like PSG who came after him with a big money offer for a glamorous job, and to see out the project of his life, to be the manager of Arsenal Football Club through the lean years. It took tremendous courage of his convictions and strength to follow through, while beset on all sides by the moneyed teams and even his own internal detractors.
I have often said to others that tenacity is my flaw and I usually mean it in the way that I have too much tenacity. I can be single-minded, to the exclusion of other things that I love. I write every day. I might not publish every day but I write every day. And I spend hours on this endeavor. And yet despite that, my secret is that I’m not tenacious enough.
While I am obviously tenacious enough to keep trying at writing, despite my many setbacks, I’m clearly not doing something right or I wouldn’t be writing blog posts. My fault may be that I’m not setting goals and achieving them. Or I am setting goals, failing those goals, and then not re-evaluating the failures and redoubling my efforts. And, as Arsene would say, now that I know where I need to focus my energy, I need to follow through.
And if you think about it for even a second you’ll realize that what he’s saying is simple truth. You are going to fail at things but you need to be able to evaluate why you failed and then get back up there and try something different. In order to be successful you have to be able to analyze your failures, to be honest with yourself, and then you have to go back in and try again but with a different approach. Simply doing the same thing over and over is madness. Tenacity must be married with clear analysis.
Failure happens to everyone, especially the greats, for example, Pep Guardiola failed this weekend, spectacularly. It was Man City’s first loss of the season and they were comprehensively overrun by Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspurs.
It was a surprising match because typically when a less technical team faces a more technical team, the less technical team will rely on a stalwart defense, sitting deep in two banks of four and frustrating the opponent by crowding the valuable space in front of goal. And Tottenham, being the less technically adept of the two teams, did play defense first. But instead of letting the opposition come to them, they attacked with their defense and pressed City high up the pitch. They relentlessly hounded the Man City back line, forcing City into 100 bad passes. And they pressed the City center backs so much that Nicolas Otamendi accounted for 20 of those bad passes, completing just 65%.
The ferocity of the Spurs press should give every other team pause. Guardiola has built a team custom-made to play the ball out from the back and Spurs dismantled them with organized pressure. Whether Spurs can do that for an entire season seems impossible but they showed that they can apply pressure to the very best ball-control teams and win handily.
Guardiola is famous for his self-analysis and will certainly have another plan for Spurs when the two teams meet again.
Meanwhile, in Arsenal land, the Gunners played Burnley on the day after Arsene Wenger’s 20th anniversary at the club. It was a strange day, Arsenal’s away fans were delayed getting to the stadium when their train struck a cow. Well, eight cows actually.
The cow delay was an apt metaphor for Arsenal who looked like they didn’t get started playing until well into the second half. Dyche was credited with a brilliant game plan of neutralizing Özil but it was a plan which only looked brilliant because Arsenal were wasteful in front of goal.
Alexis was at the heart of everything good for Arsenal, creating 8 chances for his teammates and playing in 4 throughballs. He even had 4 shots of his own. But frustratingly, his best chances went begging. All totaled, Arsenal missed 15 of their 18 shots, Walcott missing all five of his and Alexis and Özil combining for 6 more missed shots. Iwobi missed one shot so bad that it went out for a throw. Alexis even missed a wide open, unchallenged volley from just a few yards away, right in front of goal. It looked like it wasn’t going to be Arsenal’s night. It looked like Arsenal were going to be left with another heartache and with more questions about whether the Gunners have “turned the corner” and whether they are “title challengers”.
But then in the last seconds of the last minute of the game, with the sun setting — its dusky glare reflecting off the camera and sending bubble flair across my screen — Arsenal did everything wrong and still won the match. They took a short corner, which would normally cause the ref to blow the whistle, and then Alexis lobbed in a ball, Walcott won a header and flicked on to the far post, there Ox challenged Koscielny for the ball and kicked it off his foot, sending it toward the Frenchman’s face, he instinctively put his hands up and handled the ball into the back of the net.
With the sun setting literally and figuratively* on Arsenal, they scored the winning goal. They weren’t the prettiest team. They had one of the very worst days you will see this season. And yet, they scored a goal borne almost entirely of tenacity. They could have given up but they were in the right place at the right time. They were first to the ball. They willed themselves over the line.
In that way it was the perfect goal to celebrate 20 years of Arsene Wenger’s tenacity.
*I can literally just say “literally” these days.