Although Charles Bukowski was alluding to issues far greater than football teams and the unreasonable demands of their fans, the weight of his words should remain an ominous postscript for supporters hoping that this transfer window sees an exodus of their players and the influx of newly signed replacements.
Being a football fan is rooted in millennia of cultural evolution. Psychologists even hypothesise that the roots of fan psychology can be traced back to a primitive age where humans lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect these tribes – literally – were the true genetic representatives of their people. Yes, we are a tribal creature and in supporters we see the finest and worst of our species: there is solidarity, faith, and hope…and there is also discord, incredulity, and hysteria. It is where hope turns to hysteria that the transfer window is an especially pertinent measuring stick (and with the omnipresent media of today it is easy to understand why). But before every fan who has played Football Manager can scribble a wish list of the summers most wanted for their club let me ask if wholesale changes of personnel is really the healthiest option.
If we take Arsene Wenger’s current predicament; his team have been close. Frustratingly so, for the fans. But I have read numerous fans’ desires on articles to see the likes of Denilson, Diaby, Walcott, Eduardo, Rosicky, Vela, Bendtner, and Almunia all to be sold and replaced. And of these replacements there should be at least a ‘world class’ goalkeeper, centre half, midfielder and attacker. This is, in no uncertain terms, hysteria. I think (at the very least I hope) that these commenting fans represent a small minority. But even this minority should understand the absolute absurdity that wholesale changes represent; squad disruption can have a potentially crippling affect because not only do incoming players lack understanding with their new team mates, they must learn the nuances of the club’s management, its identity and its ethos. Are we also to assume that a sudden influx of established world class players is the most desirable solution? Real Madrid is the most glaring example of this not being the case (even by spending in excess of £180m last summer they finished without a trophy). Denilson, Diaby, Walcott, and Bendtner are all young with the potential to improve and they all respect – perhaps more importantly, identify with – Wenger’s principles. After all much of this squad owe their status as regular professionals to the faith and commitment that the Frenchman has afforded them.
This is not to say that parsimony is the unwritten rule to success; that is by no means my policy. Arsenal should and will add to their squad in order to compete for the title next season. But there is no need to offload the mentioned names while adding to, and finding a balance for, the current squad. It is an example of the swift disintegration of Wenger’s Invincibles that none are still playing under him only six years on (discounting Campbell’s second coming). And it isn’t surprising at all to note that the two teams finishing above them still have long serving team members who played in previous winning squads (Manchester United still have members from the class of 92’ and Chelsea retained John Terry and Frank Lampard despite the overhaul in personnel that Abramovich set in motion). The emphasis should not be on exodus but on incremental gains; keep the squad whilst adding to it.
Getting back to the issue, are there really better replacements in the framework for the Arsenal fans that demand to see the back of half a dozen of their team? All of these players cannot be adequately replaced without astronomical expenditure. Furthermore, to systematically add quality to your squad without making massive losses is the key to progress (for example a goalkeeper is needed but Almunia is good cover, there’s no harm in keeping him). This team has been close and the logic of the manager is that embellishing the rough edges with two or three finer strokes will help it get closer. The trouble with a transfer window for a fan is that its strict time constraints provoke the mutation of hope into hysteria. Why fans desire overhauls is pretty simple; real change requires piecemeal improvements and a sustained effort over a long period of time. It is certainly the harder route, which is why to castigate a stuttering project is easier than encouraging it. Encouragement takes time and, when there’s silverware and the tribal reputation at stake, this is always a precious commodity.
Arsenal is a club that is very much attuned to the long term and its fans oblige with more patience than indignation. With a couple of additions, and retention of the squad, progress is a definite. The summer transfer window is, for many, what the fast track ‘get in shape quick’ method is for a beach-bound fatty; an unrealistic set of targets that promise much but, after superficially aiding in the short term, inevitably unravel leaving the same symptoms to persist. It’s better to treat the symptoms than it is to mask them and by adding a few faces and giving these young players time to learn and succeed, the fans would certainly be tackling this team’s biggest symptom of failure: inexperience.
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