THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

4 May ~ Something must be going wrong when the Guardian runs a readers' poll around the question: "Is everything Arsène Wenger's fault?" The Arsenal manager's relationship with the press was touchy from the start – Arsène who? was the headline that greeted him, as pundits wondered what a manager from the Japanese league could bring to British football. But even so, Wenger struck a chord in the new and increasingly cosmopolitan Premier League. With endorsement from Glenn Hoddle, still a credible voice in 1996, a Frenchman with a university degree and a liking for a more scientific approach to coaching was in tune with the times.

Wenger's emphasis on nutrition and conditioning appeared light years ahead of domestic approaches to coaching, still mired in the influence of the long-ball advocate Charles Hughes at the FA. An innovator by British standards, when looked at from abroad Wenger was simply a manager of his time. Other sports had understood the importance of nutrition for elite performance and continental European clubs were making use of more sophisticated approaches to fitness development. It suited everybody, however, to present him in evangelical terms. And to help he had success – his teams won trophies. His methods seemed to extend playing life (the back four he inherited from George Graham), to reignite dormant careers (Dennis Bergkamp) and, later, to turn promise into fulfilment (Thierry Henry).

A talent for bringing on young players characterised Wenger's work at Monaco – George Weah and Youri Djorkaeff stand out. This was a talent that again made him the perfect man for his time at Arsenal. As the club made plans to vacate Highbury and build a new stadium, it needed a manager who could maintain some success while working within tight financial limits. Not only did Wenger have the coaching credentials, he understood the business context and was able, convincingly, to present an approach to managing a football club where on-field success was just one measure of achievement, not the only measure.

In many ways his success in that role is at the root of his current difficulties. He identified with, and committed himself to, the project of maturing a group of players through the academy route up to first-team level, with only modest ventures into the transfer market. But old habits have not made life any easier for him. His legendary poor eyesight when his team transgresses is more than a convenient ploy for interviews. Wenger has accepted that he often found it easier to blame a poor view than to try to explain the actions of his players. In recent interviews, his answers to questions about the glaring inadequacies of his centre-backs or the lack of leadership on the pitch have contained echoes of the interviews he gave after Patrick Vieira's more robust performances.

It's not obvious, from the outside at least, if anybody within the club is challenging his viewpoint. The board he worked for, until recently, saw themselves more as guardians of the club rather than ambitious owners, although that might be about to change. Wenger robustly defends his "football principles" against any public challenge, but it might help if there was a voice in the background asking if there might just be a point to some of the external criticism.
 
As Wenger's novelty has waned, as managers from abroad have become common and even clubs in the lower leagues can boast a head of sport science on the payroll, the press have raised more questions about his ability and willingness to adapt. At Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson has had regular turnover at assistant level, though not always of his choosing, that has meant he has sometimes been faced with people who hold quite different views to his own. Although he is still self-evidently in charge, Ferguson has had to adapt. Perhaps Wenger would also have benefited from having his views challenged occasionally. Brian Simpson

Comments (6)
Comment by Coral 2011-05-04 13:43:13

"glaring inadequacies of his centre-backs", perhaps he should get that gnarled centre back like fellow North Londoners, you know Woodgate and King. Two tough centre backs who put the crunch into crunching tackle. Or he could stick with those international centre backs.

My issue with the whole Wenger attacks is it seems to be based on cliches driven by "the media". Arsenal are fragile yet have won more games from losing positions than the team who know how to win, Man Utd. Wenger is blind to things, yet it was Fergie sitting in the stands these last few weeks. Wenger is no worse than most managers, difference is if he says the referees are biased like Ian Holloway he isn't funny with it. Arenal showed their inability to win when it matters by losing to (unbelievably) Barcelona.

"Perhaps Wenger would also have benefited from having his views challenged occasionally" But you don't actually say why, as if it is enough to just say it and we all should nod. As I can see it he hasn't got some solid centre backs and doesn't critise his players failings. In the first instance it annoys me that people genuinely think that Wenger has less of an idea about the game and how good players are than casual observers who attend some or one game a week. In the second that he is any different to any other manager.

Comment by laticsbrian 2011-05-04 14:47:02

It might be a mis-reading to see this as just part of the "Wenger attacks". The intent was to recognise those things that have given him success, but to also acknowledge that if pursued without question or challenge they could easily become weaknesses. The internal voice becomes part of that challenge, perhaps suggesting an alternative reading of events or a different response. Whether it is a necessary addition to Wenger’s decision making is a question of judgement.

There are media driven clichés out there: one is to see Wenger as a visionary, without any qualification or context for that judgement. Another is to perpetuate the myth of football managers who act alone, a lone wolf style of leadership, taking decisions without reference to others. Often this is presented as a source of strength; just as much it can be an example of uncertainty and be a recipe for failure.

Comment by Coral 2011-05-04 15:30:48

Fair point, just seems to be a lot written about Wenger and very little of it is positive. Not that it is a bad thing, but I haven't seen many other managers broadsided as much. Redknapp, Fergie, Ancelloti, Hughes etc etc all seem to avoid it. Perhaps it is because the cliches of visionary and now cretin sit so far away from each other.

Comment by Nefertiti2 2011-05-04 16:50:04

`.. agree with Coral. Wenger's " legendary poor eyesight" was a way of not criticising his players in public. the fact that he is still ridiculed and lambasted for this from people who accept Ferguson' s permanent refusal to speak to certain elements of the media (despite his contractual obligations) is just one more example of the different rules for Wenger, who remains the only manager to offer to replay a match because of a breach of sportsmanship by his team .

Rather than be respected as a manager who has kept his team there or thereabouts (and at their best playing magnificent football) despite the enormous difference in the money available to spend on transfers between him and his peers he is ridiculed in the press and all too often reviled by the opposition .

Comment by Dalef65 2011-05-06 13:01:27

I dont think it is really true to say that there is an enormous difference in the money available to spend on transfers between Wenger and his peers is it....?
As far as we know,money is available for Wenger to spend,but he chooses not to do so.
Whether this is a strength or a weakness,whether this is good or bad,is a moot point,But the finances ARE available.

Perhaps it wouldnt be such a bad thing if the Arsenal managers views were challenged a little bit more..
If this were to happen it might help Arsenal decide if such a self proclaimed "big" club should be happy being there or thereabouts year after year.

Comment by Nefertiti2 2011-05-07 14:08:26

There is an enormous difference- Hundreds of millions have been spent by Chelsea, and Manchester City slightly less but well over a hundred million by Manchester United.

There may have been money to spend last year, though unliekly during the move but Arsenal have never spent more than 15 million on a player. Compare that to Berbatov, Torres, Robinho, Tevez...


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