Scouting, statistics and rice: the rise and fall of Arsène Wenger -

Scouting, statistics and rice: the rise and fall of Arsène Wenger -

I don't think any of the themes about Arsene Wenger that Simon Kuper covers in this article will surprise any of the readers of this blog. I'm mostly posting this link (free sign-up required) because one of the most (the most?) respected pundit writing about the beautiful game has echoed the sentiments that I/we have been writing about Wenger.

The comparison with Billy Beane (of Moneyball fame) is an apt one as is the conclusion that even the most successful and pioneering among us have a tendency to fall in love with what has worked for us in the past. Detroit continues to love muscle cars. Microsoft still relies heavily on PC-based programs and still hasn't really figured out the web. Big media companies continue to focus their operations on print with digital secondary rather than the other way around. The lesson is that most great innovators don't have a second act. Even Google with all of its resources is still struggling for a second big hit.

As such, it is not at all incompatible to say that Wenger has been the most influential manager of his generation (not the best mind you, SAF has that salted away) AND that it is time for someone new to bring in the next innovation at Arsenal if they are going to continue to compete without the benefit of spending beyond their means.

An interesting question to ponder if you agree that Wenger has peaked is "If a manager or management team exists that can deliver the next level of innovation, would they have any motivation to choose to work at Arsenal?" Depending on your answer to that question you are also answering the question "Have Arsenal peaked as a club at the same time that Wenger peaked? Or can they find a way to have a second act under different leadership?"

Just something to think about as I get ready to start in on the Player Picks column


  1. Sisyphus3:02 PM

    An interesting question - but a circular argument.

    There is no question that SAF is the most successful manager of his generation, but does that make him the best? It doesn't need a great manager the hold a Ryan Giggs to 59 minutes playing time in the League to date, so that he is available for the Champions League. But it certainly does require deep pockets.

    Manchester won the premiership last year - and they fielded twenty eight different players in doing it. The highest number of any Premier League club. How's that for a direct correlation between deep pockets and success?

    When will people realize that it may not be Wenger's falling in love with what has worked in the past. It just may be the lack of money from the sale of Cesc and Nasri, rather than the licking at Old Trafford, that was behind the delay in new signings. The Nasri and Clichy transfers indicate that Arsenal's money problems extend to weekly payroll just as much as transfer fees. If anyone has another management model that will overcome these problems, I suggest that Mr. Wenger would be willing to listen.

    We will never know what the results would have been had SAF been managing Arsenal for the last six years and had Arsene had United's cheque book. But it would provide endless hours of discussion on a cold winter's night.


  2. Anonymous3:41 PM

    @Jeremy/Neal - You guys rock! I would put you guys up there with all the best journalists. Your analisys and thorough explanation of the game and all things related to the beautiful game is spot on. Keep on working and your recognition will take you even further than it has thus far, I see bigger things coming for you, Jeremy, and Nick. Thanks for you hard work and dedication to all of us, and thanks for continuing with you effords even though there are some pricks that tend to question your logics. Again, Thanks!

    P.S. - Hurry up with you Player Picks analisys! :) I'm acking to read your newest master piece.


  3. Anonymous4:02 PM

    @Sisyphus - A reasonable argument regarding SAF and Wenger changing roles with their respective teams but I see SAF as a coach that commands respect and authority from players, staff members, and the board of directors. I think SAF would have made the right buys for the Arsenal team, deffinitely improving the defence and attack, which Arsenal had been missing for years. So I'd say #SuccessSAF


  4. Sisyphus5:21 PM

    @Saul - How do you differentiate between respect and fear? (Ask David Beckham.)

    How is it that SAF can violate the League's rule, with respect to post-game interviews, for more than 250 consecutive games without penalty? Don't the rules matter? Are he and United above the game? Would any other manager get away with it? Respect, fear, power, money?

    How is it nobody dares 'tap up' United players? Oh yeah! We'll just pay them £250,000 a week to keep them.

    The point I was trying to make is that Arsene's alleged management style may simply be a case of him making a virtue out of necessity. Would he not buy better, more experienced, players if he could afford to? As a professional manager where does his desire to win overcome his desire to meet the challenge of having no money? What is his alternative - to announce to the world that the board is lying when they declare that he has unlimited funds? How long will Arsenal be paying the price for building their new stadium?

    SAF may indeed make the 'right buys' for United, but would it would it still hold true at The Emirates? How many times, this past transfer season alone, has a player parlayed an offer from Arsenal into a better offer from another club? If the roles were reversed, would they go to Arsenal to play for SAF or would they go to United to play for Wenger, or anywhere else, for more money? How good a manager would Wenger be if he could afford to pay a Ryan Giggs £80,000 a week to 'ride the pine'?

    I find it amusing that the very journalists that have been predicting a fifth to seventh place finish for Arsenal for the last number of seasons, still berate them for not winning any silverware at the end of the season. No acknowledgement that they have performed over expectations despite all their obvious flaws. It makes as much sense as berating United, 'the greatest team in the world', for not winning the FA Cup for the last seven years.

    Just another indicator of SAF and United's power. They not only set the standard, they set the agenda. In the meantime - I still await the next innovation; a world class team on a Conference budget.

  5. @Sisyphus - I completely agree with the things you've said about SAF. He has a different playground that he gets to play in based on having more money, a bigger reputation, and his ability to intimidate. He is not immune to tapping up (see Ronaldo, Cristiano) but certainly he is more so than Wenger.

    The money question is a real one and one that could mitigate some of the criticism. We generally know what transfer fees are paid but have less insight into the wages offered behind the scenes that get the players to say yes after their clubs have accepted a fee.

    However, if you are willing to give Wenger a pass with money as the only mitigating factor then you are assuming that he and the board have been lying in a pretty big way about the availability of funds. They said at the outset of the summer that he had 50 million to spend if he found the players he wanted. Throw in the Cesc/Nasri/Clichy money and even when subtracting the Mertesacker/Gervinho/Ox/Arteta/Santos purchases there should be LOTS of money left over for some combination of transfer fees and wages for at least one star quality player in the Hazard, Mata class. It may be that that money is an illusion but I certainly can't imagine a PR reason for saying that they have the money if they don't. It would only lead to the sort of anger that we saw when the money wasn't spent on a big name.

  6. Sisyphus8:38 PM

    @Neal - I don't know how esoteric the accounting is for premier league teams, but try this on for size. The board may indeed be prepared to spend £50 million on transfer fees - if they constitute the acquisition of assets which will be amortized over the players' useful lives.

    Wages, on the other hand, are a direct operating expense. With Arsenal's slim profit line, Wenger appeared to have no wiggle room. I don't know whether Nasri's wages increased two-fold, or three-fold, but a conservative estimate would put the increase at some £5 million a year - for one player. Now, how the hell would Wenger manage the other thirty-odd first team players' demands? You can buy what you want but how will any acquisition affect the team - off the pitch as well as on? If he couldn't afford Nasri's increase how would he pay Hazard or Mata?

    The impression one gets from the media is that Arsenal is a one man band. What are the actual limits, if any, on Wenger's control? Are the board happy to court the fans anger given that Wenger is the lightning rod? Does any job pay enough to accept the abuse that Wenger is subject too? What keeps him at it - an ego a mile wide and a stubborn streak a mile deep? (I don't know and I exhibit/share some of those characteristics. I have won my fantasy league for some six consecutive years and have never selected a United player. I now wonder whether it is worth continuing my quest but it pales in significance to his burden.)

    Was United really tapped up when they held out for £80 million - cash? Arsenal will receive a conjectured £34 million, for Cesc, over a five year period - and nearly £5 million of that is to come from Cesc. Arsenal had better hope that Barcelona stays solvent and that Cesc stays healthy. How much of that £34 million would you be prepared to spend right now?

    Sorry about beating on about team management and finances, but if United is indeed on path toward another coronation I find it every bit as interesting as the product on the pitch. I seek sport/competition and instead am faced with show biz/entertainment. (I'm not overly fond of the Yankees, either). ;~)

    Thanks to both you and Jeremy for hosting a blog that is both informative and multifaceted. And thanks for responding.