I’ve made this analogy before, but I think it’s time to make it again. Perhaps it’s because I’m a former student of history and politics, but Arsene Wenger in many ways reminds me of a socialist dictator. It’s his views on restricting wages, his impetus towards self-sustainability and his monolithic cult of personality manner of running Arsenal football club that makes me draw such a comparison, not to mention his growing paranoia of rival clubs and match officials.
But unfortunately, as is the case with many socialists, he is living in a capitalist’s world, and as history has proven via the cold war – the capitalists always win. Their money brings quicker advancement, and corrupts individuals to join their cause, becoming another cog in the capitalist machine.
What alarms me is Comrade Wenger’s rejection of the rest of the footballing world, in terms of the way the business side of things is run, and how allegiance to a club has become a thing of the past. Money makes the world go round, not football. Yet the French coach, instead of taking many of the criticisms on board – which is unsurprising really; managers have to be stubborn and egotistical by nature, it is not a position for a passive man to take on – prefers rather to appease Arsenal fans, his metaphorical socialist citizens with white lies to tide them over when it comes to the transfer window.
Yet again this year, Wenger has told fans and the media that he would be making signings in January, and break the habit of a life-time by spending big to improve the team. Although in the past it wasn’t such an immediate issue considering the quality in the Arsenal squad, with the likes of Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri, this season it seemed more important than ever that some serious additions were made to the first-team roster, considering the Gunners have been performing below par for the majority of their Premier League campaign and currently find themselves in sixth place behind bitter rivals Tottenham, as well as Everton.
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Wenger has brought in a left-back, Nacho Monreal from Malaga who are holding a fire-sale at the moment, which is certainly an area that needed addressing. Andre Santos is nowhere near the quality required to be playing for a top-half Premier League club. But considering some of the reported transfer targets that were discussed in the opening half of the season, such as Edin Dzeko, Wilfried Zaha, David Villa and Fernando Llorente, and Wenger even left subtle hints regarding AC Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy, signing just a single player when you’ve insinuated bigger things must leave Gunners fans with a slightly sour taste and feeling somewhat duped.
It seems a bit like when a parent promises the child that if they really want a new, shiny, expensive toy, they’ll come back to the shop next week to buy it, in the hope that the hypothetical child soon gets distracted by something else and completely forgets about the promise made. Or perhaps how a leader promises elections the following year, assuming public will have too many other problems by then to be concerned with a silly little democratic tradition.
Analogies aside, I find Wenger’s transfer stance rather short-sighted, or rather, far too long-sighted. Arsenal are reportedly amid a long term plan, in which after a few phases of producing youth talent and bringing them through, the first team squad will be self-sustainable and a minimal to no amount of transfer activity will be required. It’s a nice idealistic, utopian dream, but in reality I find it a difficult concept to execute effectively. Just today, I’ve been writing a piece on childhood prodigies that have ended up going nowhere, and the vast amount of youth players even at academies such as Manchester United’s, Chelsea’s and Arsenal’s, never reach anywhere near their predicted potential. So to simply rely upon internal sources of discovering talent seems as risky to me, if not more, as spending £20million on a striker who’s already played top-level football.
Furthermore, every Arsenal player brought through the youth system has learnt how to play in the Arsenal way and although there are advantages to this, look at Barcelona for example, there are also disadvantages. Without bringing in new players with different backgrounds the style never changes and fails to move with the times. I’m not suggesting that Arsenal sign players completely adverse to their system, but there is little diversity in the Gunners squad in terms of how certain players play.
Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshire, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky are all a similar style of central midfielder for example, and Olivier Giroud is essentially a competent Marouane Chamakh, although the lackluster forward has now left the club. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of how socialist societies tend to be streamlined to specific demands, decided by the state, with little room for diversity or individual preference.
I’m not suggesting Wenger conducts his running of the club in an oppressive manner, I simply believe his views and policies are idealistic and leave no room for the pragmatism required to remain constantly at the forefront of the English game, or the business behind it.
What finally brought down communism in Europe was pressure for change from below. Although some transitions were relatively peaceful, others were violent and bloody. At one point in the season, it seemed Wenger’s head would end up being served on a platter in order to appease Arsenal fans, but I doubt such an aggressive coup will now take place.
If I were him though, I’d start paying attention to the Black Scarf movement before he becomes so far removed from the needs of the fans that there is no choice but to overthrow him.