Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blame the board, not the manager

"Anybody who is a real football fan or a real Arsenal fan will know it is David Dein who made the modern team what they are and it is he who brought us to the point we are at now. Arsene Wenger was merely, commercially appropriate."

- the blogger at Arsenal Muse

There was an interesting comment made by Arsenal Muse a couple of days ago. He said that managers and players win competitions and garner accolades, but it's the club which is ultimately responsible for success. Which, I suppose, means that it's the board that sets the agenda for the manager, the board that signs off on transfer funding and wages, the board which pressures the manager into either striving for trophies or playing within their finances.

No prizes for guessing where our board's priorities lie.

I think the reason for most gooners' exasperation at the board stems from lack of clarity at our goals. Either we're a club with the finances to legitimately challenge for the league, or we're not. Either we have the resources to buy the three players we need to complete the squad, or we don't. Either we make a full-bloodied challenge for the Premier League, or we dick around with a youth policy that's confusing and contradictory. It's irritating when we're constantly told one thing, but all evidence points to the other.

A lot of malcontents blame Wenger for everything. It's Wenger's fault that: we've got a squad filled with injury-prone players; we've tactically inept; we field shit goalkeepers; we have indulgent, spoilt young players who can't deal with pressure. While Wenger can be blamed for some of these things (tactics and player motivation are managerial issues) I think the lack of pressure from the board also creates a certain indulgent environment at the Arsenal. Wenger know he can do whatever he wants as long as he maintains Champions League football. He's allowed to neglect defensive drills, persist with his favourites, and not be mean to his players, because he's good enough to achieve targets on a tight budget.

The question is whether this is Wenger's fault. He been given a brief to achieve Champions League football on a budget. He achieves it every year. If you look around Europe, there aren't a lot of managers who could've done what Wenger's done.

However, to retain Champions League status, Wenger's had to do something strange. He's had to over-pay his youngsters to lure them from top clubs. He's had to continue to over-pay them to stop them leaving, and often he's paying wages based on potential, not ability. So he's got a bunch of players who are over-paid and who probably can't be offloaded until their contracts have been run down. Which means that it's often more cost-effective to persist with players that aren't great at the moment, but who may be great in the future, and who are still good enough to maintain 4th.

So we're treading water to see if our young players can amount to something. It's the commercial expedient thing to do. We achieve the board's primary goal every year. We continue our "interesting experiment". And if these players suddenly to click together and get it right, we've got team that's worthy of a premiership challenge. And that's happened twice in five years, so it kind of works.

And yes, we're still indulgent on our players. And we're stupid tactically. And we don't defend set pieces. And we have a bad medical team. But these are the consequences of a complacent regime. These are the 5% that hurt our team's premiership prospects, but which don't matter much in terms of finishing in the Top 4. Think about it from Wenger's point of view - why bother with this 5% if we're going to be another 10% short for being a Premier League contender anyway? It's just not worth it.

So, my contention is that the board sets the agenda. If we're unhappy with the way the club's been run (and I am unhappy), we've got to look at the board, not the manager.

So on the 356th last day of my 20s, I had an in-depth discussion with my mate and his wife about the girl of my dreams. It turns out that I have no chance; she likes committed Christians and pretty boys, and sadly, I am neither. But my mind is being slowly torn apart with strain. I have two choices: ask her out now with the certainty of failure but with this burden lifted; or turning myself around, and asking her in about 200 days' time, but under this stress for the whole time. My mate, who's worried about my sanity, recommends the former. My mate's wife, who's not so worried about my sanity, thinks I should do the latter.

I'm leaning towards waiting and changing, and allowing my mind to get stretched like taffy in the meanwhile. She's worth the risk to my sanity. She's worth a lot of things. And I hate failure. Although, as my mate suggested, I could do both - ask her out, get rejected, work on myself, get rejected in 200 days' time...

I bought Dookie on the way home. It's a funny album. Listening to Jeff Buckley (Je N'en Connais Pas La Fin) at the moment. I love the melody - it's wistful and dreamy, and it leaves me wishing that I can still remember my high school French.

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