Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Arsene Wenger, Time to Join the Cheats

Sometimes, we forget that football is a game with only one intrinsic value- entertainment. The extent of fanaticism in the game sometimes borders on lunacy. Without passion and the emotions the game will not be what it is, however, for some people, football is a perfect substitute for stupid sectional and ethnic battles of the middle ages . Arsenal fans chanting that Adebayor should have been killed in the unfortunate attack on the Togo team bus in Angola, to a lesser extent Real Madrid banning Shakira's songs from the Santiago Bernabeu because she was dating Gerard Pique who plays for rivals Barcelona, even though she is a Madrid fan, and the unbelievable pressures team managers bear to produce trophies, beg understanding to say the least.

I am not a gunner, but for me Arsene Wenger is the greatest football manager in the Europe. But as it is in life, the accolades are not reserved for the true heroes, but the pretenders that hoist the spoil. He has consistently made top 4 in the premiership without throwing millions of pounds at pampered egotists who will refuse to play a match because they were not started in the game. As if to prove that the wide gap in salary of footballers exaggerates the gulf between talents, he has achieved great results with previously unknown footballers in the premiership with his ability to organize and impose his philosophy of football on their game. 

Why do we love our football teams? Is it not for the joy of victories dished to us in style as the coach, like a master chef, with tenacity and great patience blends his talents and tactics together, spicing them with a winning mentality to produce a team of stars and non-stars that we adore for many years? But alas! The world has exhausted the patience to groom teams . The formula for success is simple, find a billionaire; Russian, American or Middle Eastern, who doesn't necessarily share the club values built over decades, but has a few millions, created in the oil fields rather than the football field to throw at overpaid and arrogant Mega stars groomed under other philosophies, then match them with a coach from somewhere, he may be a megalomaniac like Maurhino but that is ok, and voila we create trophies. To the billionaire, the football project is another toy. He will decide what to do with it once he is tired of it. It is amazing such cheats are not recognized for what they are. 

Thanks to Sheikh Mansour's millions, a Manchester City bench is an ensemble of stars that can easily form the spine of treble winning team. It is lighted by the likes of Dzeko, Tevez, Milner, Nasri, Richards, not counting the likes of Adebayor and Bellamy who were considered unmanageable and thrown out. It is just annoying that exciting young talents like Adam Johnson are robbed of games week in , week out, even though they have proven their mettle anytime they have the opportunity to play. Meanwhile, a few miles away, other clubs put out less talented players every week because for those clubs, life is not fantasy rock with billionaire owners. Football fans are thus robbed of the great contests that would have been if only money is used as an agent in the game to fairly distribute talents around. This can only happen if football like any normal business is allowed to pay for football rather than depending on benefactors from the oil fields. The Stars that light up the games should almost always be on the pitch doing just that, rather than warming benches. We want to see the best players first, and when they are unavailable, we will do with the talents a step lower. That is why I consign the projects at places like City, Chelsea and PSG into the same space as age cheating.

For the past six years that Arsenal has won no trophies, they have consistently made top four in the premiership, they have consistently performed well in Europe including an unfortunate 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the 2006 final, a match they mostly played with 10 men, and more importantly, they have always played good football. The reason we stay glued to out TV sets for 90 minutes and throng various stadia around the world to watch football is not to see team captains lift trophies, but rather to feast on the skills that dazzle the eye, the creative passes, the fluid positional play, the breath taking movement along the flanks, the great midfield battles, the resolute defensive work, the spectacular saves, climaxed with great goals that are savoured for years and ultimately crown football as 'The Beautiful Game'. Even the howlers and unbelievable misses push our adrenalins to the right level. Arsene Wenger's teams have given us all that and more. The trophies are just the icing on the cake.

The Arsenal system has an uncanny ability to identify talents even at tender ages and bring them through the ranks. There is no doubt about the talent and ability of Cesc Fabregas , but when Wenger threw him into the middle of his midfield after the departure of former captain Patrick Vierra , many considered it a gamble. But for young Fabregas, there was little motivation required for success than that vote of confidence from the gaffer. Ironically, it is this belief in talent that will cost Wenger the loyalty of the stars he created. Soon, they are household names, and the jackals descend on them with millions of pounds that have nothing to do with football. They abandon their mentor ostensibly because he doesn't invest in big names that translate to trophies. Without the nurturing Wenger gives some of these players, their talents would have been buried under the rat race for big names and trophies at any cost, long before they would learn to spell trophy. These players are not just turning their backs on the system that produced them, but also crashing Wenger's vision midstream. The other irony is that the vision is no different from the aspiration that ostensibly forces these players to leave- to build a winsome side that wins trophies.

The business side of Arsenal's game has also been well catered for. Player acquisitions have been sensibly balanced with youth development, salaries reflect the earning power of the talents on display and they have a great brand. At the time that Wenger was busily paying for the Emirates stadium, Manchester United, bought by the Glazers in a leveraged takeover in 2005, were reported to be considering selling old Trafford to raise money. Today, Barcelona produces the world's most exciting talents from their academy , but even they struggle with managing their finances. When Sandro Rosel took over the club's presidency in 2010, he announced that there were serious liquidity problems which required the club to take a loan to pay delayed salaries of their stars. Wenger has no such problems, but tell it to the fans.

I have no qualms against any player for selling his talents to the highest bidder. Samuel Eto recently admitted he signed for the previously unknown Russian side, Anzhi Makhachkala, because of the profane amount thrown at him. I suggest our own Asamoah Gyan borrows a leaf from his book of honest talk and admit that he joined Qatari side Al Ain because it makes economic sense, and not because he wants to play in Asia. It is the people that run the sport that must fix the relationship between money and the game. It is good to know that UEFA have stepped in with rules that enjoin clubs to abandon the wayward football economics from 2013. But that year might be too far away for Professor Wenger. Let's face it, some members of the team that was drabbed 8 -2 by Manchester United will not be selected to represent Ghana at an under-17 tournament. To make matters worse, it is now official, the soccer pendulum has swung in the direction of Spurs, they are now the Lords of North London. Even though the owners threw their support behind him, there is no doubt that if this trend continues, even the great Wenger, will be a candidate to be fired before the season ends, or Arsenal may even get relegated to the championship.

Unfortunately, just like in all human endeavors, results are celebrated not how they were attained. A graduate will flaunt a certificate acquired by buying exams papers before they were taken, and a football team will celebrate trophies acquired by paying referees and fixing matches. It is therefore no surprise that there is pressure on Professor Wenger to do everything and anything to win trophies. Until someone has the common sense to put a halt to the Abramovic and Mansour revolutions, listen to your fans, break the bank this winter, and buy your supporters a piece of silverware. It seems they will prefer an insolvent club with a cup at the museum to a thriving club with a great future. I believe Harry Redknapp is still a hero in Portsmouth for helping them reap where they have not sown. Sorry Mate, it's time to join the cheats.

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