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Debunking soccer, volume 2: "Ambitious"

Let's talk ambition, shall we?

I searched for "ambition" and got Don Cherry. Draw your own conclusions.
I searched for "ambition" and got Don Cherry. Draw your own conclusions.
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

In our last edition of this series, we looked at and hopefully choked the life out of the phrase "world class". Now, we'll broaden our lens a bit, and take it up from the individual player level to the team level. Today's target:


You see this word thrown around a lot, particularly in regards to Arsenal and their perceived lack of it. The problem is, "ambition" has become shorthand for "spend a lot of money", as if the two were related. Guess what? They're not!

Here's an example. Back in the summer of 2010, Arsenal bought Laurent Koscielny. At the time, that move was widely derided as Arsenal "not being ambitious", largely because he wasn't a Big Known Name - but now he's one of the best damn centre backs in the league. Does that mean the signing of Koscielny showed a lack of "ambition"? Or did it mostly show three other things, namely:

1. A lack of deep knowledge of the available player pool by the lazy media who cover these things
2. A distinct media bias towards players the media has heard of when determining how "good" a transfer was, in their entirely subjective and somewhat useless frame of reference as bounded by #1
3. A refusal to consider the concept that a manager might know more about the qualities of an available player and how said player might fit into his team than the media does

Arsenal can also make the same case about Mikel Arteta, a player who came over from Everton to very little fanfare, but without whom Arsenal's last four seasons would have been very, very different. But since Arteta came from Everton and not, say, Barcelona or another Top Club Club, the reaction to his signing was statements like "After bidding too little for (gary) Cahill, Arsenal offered too much for Mikel Arteta".

Can anyone argue that Arteta has been probably the most important piece in a turbulent midfield over the last few seasons? No. So was getting Arteta not "ambitious"?

And he cycle continues - this summer, if Arsenal spend €40 million on Götze but don't buy Schneiderlin, I guarantee you there will be at least one English media source who will lead their reporting about it with "But where's the ambition?"

So, as with "world class", whenever you see the word "ambition" thrown around in an article about a team's transfer strategy, recognize it for what it is - a dog whistle for the annoying people who think that spending tons of money is the only thing to do, ever, if you want to succeed.