Tenacious T

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.

 

Qq

41 comments

  1. “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.”

    What’s wrong with writing blog posts?
    Is it your intention to become a published author? Or to move into journalism?

    I read a book about novel writing once, it spoke about all kinds of stuff like networking at conferences and writing to an particular audience and finding the right editor. A whole bunch of things that were not-writing.

    Pfft. Who can be bothered with that?
    That to me is tenacity, not doing all the bits you love, but doing all the bits you don’t and sticking with it even though you appear to fail.

    Still, does the fact you’re still writing blog posts mean you are doing something wrong? Sometimes you have to pay your dues, sometimes you have to spend time in the wilderness.

    And as the man himself might say:

    “First you need the talent, but also you need to meet someone who believes in you and gives you a chance.”

  2. The story about your daughter reminds me of something that happened in the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.” This scene specifically: https://youtu.be/dPEdwaLQLag

    Basically, the main character tries to tell his son to not get his hopes up on becoming a pro athlete. Realizing his mistake, he tells his son to never give up on his dream, even when other people tell him to give up.

    Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of title challenging and ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  3. The story about your daughter reminds me of something that happened in the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.” This scene specifically: https://youtu.be/dPEdwaLQLag

    Basically, the main character tries to tell his son to not get his hopes up on becoming a pro athlete. Realizing his mistake, he tells his son to never give up on his dream, even when other people tell him to give up.

    Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of title challenging and ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  4. The story about your daughter reminds me of something that happened in the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.” This scene specifically: https://youtu.be/dPEdwaLQLag

    Basically, the main character tries to tell his son to not get his hopes up on becoming a pro athlete. Realizing his mistake, he tells his son to never give up on his dream, even when other people tell him to give up.

  5. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’ just yet. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  6. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  7. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  8. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  9. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  10. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

      1. Sorry, there was something wrong with my internet service that day, I kept thinking that my 2 comments never got posted.

        1. It’s also my fault. Your stuff got spammed and I have to unspam ALL the comments or you will keep getting stuck in spam.

  11. The theme of tenacity is an interesting one. Your daughter, Son-of-1-Nil and Arsene Wenger all certainly have that quality. There is too, a tenaciousness required to be a Gooner. To outlast the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunate and to screw out courage to the sticking place.

    Apologies for welding those two Shakespearianisms but there is a desperate drama in being Arsenal fan that seems particular to our club. If that sounds like I’m living in a self-absorbed bubble then I plead guilty.

    Regale us with more stories of your offspring during the interlull. It’s way more fun reading that than stories of how England will cope without Big Sam.

  12. League has been left nicely poised, Arsenal are certainly the form team despite the fortuitous win.

    If we are to win the league this season, I think it will be built on our defense which has all the pieces in place and really looks excellent. The contenders outside of Arsenal and Spurs all have somewhat suspect defenses, which will cost them points at some stage.

    The team certainly has a new determination this season, epitomised by Theo’s regneration thus far. When the inevitable injuries do strike we have options as well, we’ve barely seen anything of Perez, Wellbeck returning, Ramsey, Giroud etc.

    There have been a lot of false dawns previously, but this does feel a bit different. The games against City and Utd are going to be absolute monsters and critical to our chances. No fear now, actually cant wait to see how we do..

  13. Also, apparently Chamberlain never touched the ball. Koscielny kicked it towards his own head. And while the goal was hilarious and relieving, I feel sorry for Burnley. It was a shitty way to lose a game.

    We should also avoid getting carried away with talk of ‘stuff of champions’. It’s just 7 games in, and the last time we saw Arsenal score a dramatic winner with the last event of the game, Arsenal went on to choke the league away.

  14. Thank you for sharing that story about your little one Tim, brought a smile to my face. I hope she succeeds in everything she does, and when she does, i hope she exhibits the tenacity and grit her father describes so well.

    With this interlull (thank you boring international football) underway, i wanted to ask if you could write about the top sides of 90s, 00s and 10s. I know there has been a lot said and written about them but what I am looking for is how football has evolved through multiple formations, styles of play in Europe. Right from Cruyffs’s to Rijkaard’s to Pep’s Barca, Arsene’s invincibles, Jupp’s Bayern, Ancelloti’s Milan.. love to read how football has evolved through these great men.

    Thank you!

    1. hey tim thanks for the good work as usual. just want to ask if there’s any chance there would be a continuation of the rogues gallery series?

      keep up the good work!

  15. What a lovely bit of vulnerability there. Not what I normally expect in my daily Arsenal reading, but I identify wholeheartedly with the opening story. I was studying music in college when my dad insisted I “do something where you can earn some money” and undercut my tenacity. Mind numbing years spent earning a BS in pharmaceutical sciene and in grad school for biotechnology, and here I am…teaching middle school chorus and freelancing as a musical director and guitar player. Funny old world.

    In a certain poetic – maybe melodramatic – way, I find myself relating to the club and Wenger in their stubborness (or tenacity) and idealism in doing things the right way, as they see it. It’s not why I started supporting them as a young teenager – it was ’97 and Bergkamp had great stats on FIFA – but seems altogether appropriate that I ended up as an Arsenal fan.

    I think your writing is coming along well. Best of luck to your daughter in chess.

  16. Arsene Wenger’s new mantra:” Style and Steel.” He used that phrase after the historic 3-0 Chelsea win. I found it telling that Mustafi, a new recruit, also talked about “steel” after the last-gasp Burnley win. Perhaps the penny has finally dropped with this new vintage of Arsenal players. Tenacity is indispensable to success at the highest level. It’ll not have been lost on Walcott, a clearly intelligent lad, that he has earned more plaudits for his defensive tenacity and application than for his goals. That’s why Wenger always likes Sanchez and Coquelin in the team. These are the epitome of tenacity in the Arsenal.

  17. “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.”

    In my experience sometimes the answer is not to “redouble your efforts” but to adjust your goals and your approach. I am not tenacious in the classic sense because I don’t have clearly defined long-term goals and objectives. But it’s crucial in life to keep moving forward towards something, so I work with proximate, achievable goals. What’s next? Is it taking me in a direction I’m comfortable with? Does it increase my opportunities or reduce them? Does it make happiness more or less likely? If not, stop and look around for something else. Think, get some cunning ideas. Step by step, without any real planning, I move forward. When I look back I realize I’ve come a long way, I’m somewhere completely unexpected, but because each decision was judged on these criteria, I’m in a good place.

    Also, while long-term goals are all very well but they encourage you to focus on a direct, linear route to get there. Most viable routes are anything but linear. Some barriers you have to go around, rather than surmount.

    Bottom line, tenacity is great, but it’s even better when allied with curiosity and an open mind about the future.

    Also if you feel like sharing either on the blog or in private I would like to know what you’ve been trying that’s failed. You are great! I have ideas!

  18. Pochettino Press met Klopp Gengenpressing and cancelled themselves out. Pep couldn’t overcome one, which should prepare him for the other. Same thing Arsenal, though I hasten to plead the youth and inexperience of our centerback pairing for the Liverpool game in mitigation. Looking forward to see how we – read the Kostafi axis – handle Sp*rs. I also wonder, can the Liverpool and Tottenham players keep up the tenacious pressing for the whole season?

  19. Tim
    Tottenham were most impressive and simply suficated City over 80 some minutes of the game.
    What worked against Guardiola and his men was not only missing his best player( I believe City have lost 7 games in a row with De Bruyne out of the squad), but also the WHL pitch size which at 100 by 67 meters is one of the smallest around. For comparison, City’s pitch size is 116 by 77 meters and it will be interesting to see for how long the Spurs will be able to execute the high press in the revers fixture.

    Arsenal are on a nice run but I haven’t seen anything from Wenger to change my mind about the top three finish at best. Predictable line ups and subs will inevitably lead to fatigue and injuries over the festive season.
    Say what you will about SAF and his chummy relationship with the league, media and the refs, but he was the best squad rotator I have ever seen in the PL.

    1. This group has shown it can dominate (as against Chelsea, Forest, Hull, Basel, Watford) and be resilient against stubborn opposition (against Southampton and Burnley) but a similarly good start last season was undone by the destruction through injury of our midfield. We have a lot more depth this year and also maybe this will be the year when we are on the other side of the injury juju, but we would still struggle to replace key individuals either due to a lack of a like for like high quality replacement (Bellerin, Iwobi) or their singular value to the team (Sanchez, Ozil). A disruption to a now very settled and comfortable looking back four would be particularly damaging.

      A lot has been made of the success of Spurs’ high press against City and from an Arsenal perspective it has to be a concern that our worst performances of the season have come against the high press (Liverpool, PSG). There were mitigating circumstances in both instances and in theory we have the technical skill to deal with it, but it still remains a concern until we can prove capable of dealing with a similar tactic. Spurs have conceded a league low three goals and their collection of quick and powerful defenders will not allow Arsenal’s slight forwards to receive and turn with the ball, or the time to pick their head up for a pass. Arsenal will have to anticipate that by looking to find team mates before they receive a pass and by repeatedly testing Tottenham over the top. Arsenal’s upcoming fixtures against Ludogorets, Boro, Reading and Sunderland will provide an altogether different challenge to the one Spurs are likely to pose come November 6th at Emirates.

  20. When I was sixteen my biology teacher told me I shouldn’t do biology A-level. Sod that, I thought, and when all the way through to a PhD and I am now a lecturer.

    Sanchez, Koscielny, Giroud – Wenger likes these players because they have had to work hard to get where they are.

    I’m reading that Mindsets book that Dr. Gooner suggested the other day – only just started really, but your text looks like it could have come from the book. A very interesting example is that depressed people who have the ‘growth’ mindset keep plugging away (sufficiently so that a psychologist might say they are not actually depressed).

    If you keep writing every day then I suspect you also have that mindset – I think you may have taught your daughter that by your example, seeing as she is capable of riding over her grandfather’s words as they come out of your mouth.

    When I recruit students for my lab, I look out for this quality – a scientist needs to be able to learn from their mistakes, be tenacious, as the majority ofyour experiments just don’t work and need repeating.

    I’m very comfortable in this armchair, me.

  21. Just a blog writer? You do know that the main reason I picked up a copy of “So Paddy Got Up” was because you had a piece in it, right?

  22. Tim, I’m glad you’re seeing yourself as on a journey and not as a good/bad writing dichotomy as suggested by previous posts. You have the talent to achieve widespread acclaim for your writing, especially if you put consistent effort into your blogs, but you have to network and promote yourself relentlessly. Andrew Magnan could probably easily recommend you to a number of journalists and you yourself have probably built several ties as well since 2008.

    1. Yes Tim is a fabulous and inventive writer. Does he really need to move on from here to ‘greater things’ to validate himself?

      Perhaps not. I hope he doesn’t.

      Why? Because that might mean that he is finding fulfilment with this activity (and remember it is a side-line to the rest of his life). He has built a community here. Why not just be happy with that and ultimately take this little community to his grave some fifty years hence? (I say that in the full knowledge that I share the same age as him and, coincidentally, Andrew M. of Arseblog)

      Or if Tim feels that he can take this further – sure he could, he has the talent.

      Whatever rocks his boat, really. (*)

      Reference: Viktor Frankl (1946) Man’s Search for Meaning (like Dr. Gooner said for the other text, should be required reading)

      * It’s almost as if Tim’s life has become a pet project for many of us here – hah!

      Meanwhile…this armchair really is the best.

  23. Another thought here.

    I read Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson, because Tim suggested it on this blog. Something it dealt with was football as a subject for café society in the late Austo-Hungarian Empire (so Vienna and Budapest would be my guess, without going back to the book).

    Now I grew up near the Finchley Road that divides Hampstead from West Hampstead (I was ten minutes’ walk to the latter side – towards Kilburn) and my stepfather is Croatian (so he was born in the A-H Empire before the war, escaped to Italy etc etc). On the Finchley Road back then was the Cosmo, first off, an Italian café and locale for much of Hampstead café culture. But then there was Louis, a Hungarian café. And I spent loads of time, growing up, in both of those.

    Where am I going with this? Well, having grown up in that particular part of London, Wenger has, over these years, represented me and my aspirations (identity?) more than any other manager could have. He is an intellectual, and that is where I grew up. In England it is almost necessary to apologize for that – but I don’t live in England any more so sod that. He is not English and I always saw that as a good thing – there is much I am proud of from my English and Scottish heritage, but there is an incredible amount of bullshit.

    And I think it all comes back to this blog. Of course, many Arsenal fans, from London, didn’t grow up in West Hampstead. But to me, this blog feels very familiar as it reflects that central European café culture in which I grew up.

    And that is what I have to offer. [Sits back comfortably in his armchair, smoking his cigar and taking some port from a wee glass]

  24. Myth of talent and the power of practice. But purposeful practice. There are conditions for the possibility of people being who they are – the point is you change them. There is certainly worse myths to live by…

    Great post by the way Tim. It reminds me of Matthew Syed’s “Bounce” and “Black Box Thinking”. This isn’t garbage pop psychology airport “new me in 10 steps” made by some intelligentsia somewhere. No. It’s practical hands-on tangible stuff you can feel. It isn’t something sold to you, picked from the shelf. Rather, its those close loops of failure which are inherent to any form of success. Anything else is the ice-berg illusion.

    Also reminds me of Samuel Beckett…
    “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”

  25. I am more than happy to get a little carried away by Arsenals form recently.
    More and more people seem to be adopting what I would call ‘The Roy Keane Approach to Football’. This involves never getting too excited about good results, putting wins in the past as soon as they occur, always focusing on the next game and never allowing yourself to be content with however good the team are doing. I can understand players may have to adopt that mentality to reach the top but is it really necessary to subject ourselves to that as fans. How many people are waiting to see how we do over Christmas before getting excited or even reserving judgement until we see whether we win the league or not?
    Everyone’s free to support the team however they like but I do wonder if in this day and age when we’ve access to so much information and so many opinions there’s extra pressure to always seem like you take football and even football support VERY VERY SERIOUSLY.
    I’d be interested in anyone else’s perspective on this whether you agree or disagree.

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