Misinterpretation has come into play in the latest bout between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.
The Arsenal manager gave a fair answer to a question that was posed to him, offering a fairly innocuous reply to the point that only he and Manuel Pellegrini had considered their sides to be in the Premier League title race. His “fear of failure” reply wasn’t really meant to spark any kind of row with anyone; it’s an understandable stance to hold for most managers who don’t want to deal with the ramifications of having failed to reach a target they themselves had set.
Mourinho, however, launched a counter offensive in spectacular and underserved fashion, citing that Wenger was a “specialist in failure” and that he’d be chased out of town and would never return if he went eight years without winning a trophy at Chelsea.
It’s a fair point but wholly unjust when given proper context. Yes, Arsenal have failed to win a piece of silverware since 2005, and a club of their size and history should not go such prolonged spells without having picked up major silverware.
But where’s the context? It’s not to say Wenger hasn’t done anything for Arsenal during this barren trophy run. Arsenal are the only major side in England who have been able to build their own stadium, and one of the few in Europe who have done so without putting serious and long-term strain on their finances. Only Bayern and Juventus spring to mind as major European clubs who moved into a new stadium and maintained a high level of success, though both clubs have a strongly contrasting transfer policy.
Arsenal, with Wenger at the helm, have built a stadium so they can reap the benefits of it over a number of decades. It’s a way of living off what you yourself produce without the need to look to a benefactor.
Mourinho fails to acknowledge that it’s clubs like Chelsea and now Manchester City who have played a part in keeping Arsenal and others away from top spot in the league. Now, it’s not to just place blame elsewhere. But some further context is needed.
Borussia Dortmund are excellently run now after their crisis in the early 2000s and, like most Bundesliga clubs, are financially secure. They’ve had success but have been unable to maintain it due to the financial power of Bayern Munich and their poaching of Dortmund’s best players.
Dortmund don’t have the financial means to match Bayern and, like Arsenal up until this past summer, have been making do on a transfer policy geared towards cunning rather than muscle.
Arsene Wenger has assembled teams capable of matching Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, but the financial makeup of the club had left them vulnerable, like Dortmund, to stronger and wealthier predators.
Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie are among the best players in the world and could play for any club in Europe. It’s not really considered failure that Arsenal were unable to keep them when outside factors started moving the goal posts.
For a long time Arsenal had a very good team but not a great squad, and were unable to match the wages being thrown around by clubs with outside financial backing. The club haven’t been without mistakes, however. There are ways to build title-challenging squads on a small budget, and that is a large criticism of Wenger over the years, that he may not have made the most of scouting of untapped regions in the way Dortmund did with Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa.
But even if Arsenal had won trophies, it wouldn’t have guaranteed a strong and self-sustaining model (to borrow Ivan Gazidis’ favourite phrase) that a 60,000 seat stadium does. Manchester City want to expand the Etihad and Chelsea have been looking at options of moving into a new stadium themselves. They’re not oblivious to the rewards it can bring over a long period.
Instead of criticising Wenger, wrongly, for failure, why not praise a manager who has been able to keep Arsenal as the third or fourth best club in the country since the last trophy? Arsenal arguably were where they should have been based on talent and wages spent, but then if the market hadn’t been so heavily distorted, wouldn’t it be fair to say they, working with their own means, would have been able to acquire and retain very good players who had their heads turned by obscene wages elsewhere?
The thing about clubs like Chelsea is that there is no certain future. We shouldn’t dismiss what has happened at Anzhi Makhachkala in the Russian league simply because it appears to be a world away. We also don’t know how hard Uefa will come down on clubs with Financial Fair Play.
Arsenal are financially strong, stable and will benefit far more from the Emirates stadium in the long run than from a couple of trophies speckled over the period of eight or nine years. There clearly looks to be something else seeded in Mourinho’s attack on Wenger.