One of the things many people have thought would benefit Arsenal, as Arsene Wenger continues his inexorable descent ever deeper into “please just go now” territory, is a secondary voice in his ear, not just a yes man but someone who can challenge him and present him a different viewpoint from his own every now and again. He famously had that in David Dein back in Wenger’s best Arsenal days, but since Dein’s departure, Arsenal is the Arsene Wenger Show from top to bottom.
That show has, of course, had some mixed returns on the way to devolving into full-on Cousin Oliver territory (ask your parents, kids!), with Wenger overseeing almost literally everything at the club, raising the question of how effective as a playing manager he can be when he has to supervise everything from catering to training on a daily basis.
The board has, apparently, started to come to the same conclusion. Ivan Gazidis has talked about “improving the support systems” around the manager, which could be anything from getting people to run the cafeteria to appointing a director of football. It is the latter that Wenger has, to be charitable, taken exception to.
In a blistering retort to Gazidis and the board, Arsene had this to say about a potential DoF appointment and whether it would be good or bad for the club:
“Is it progression or regression?” he said. “Changes can go both ways.”
Okay, so he’s a little reticent. I get that! I mean, he’s been Le Boss for Le Long Time. But surely he’s at least open to talking about the idea, right?
“I don’t know what director of football means,” Wenger said. “Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left? I don’t understand and I never did understand what it means.”
First of all: bullshit. Wenger is an incredibly smart man, he almost literally lives and breathes for football and for Arsenal. Of course he knows what “director of football” means, and more importantly, he knows what one does. The problem seems to be that he thinks it means a threat to his sovereignty, when what it would really mean is that he’d get some help. Surely he’s not above getting some help, right?
“Sorry, no. I’m not prepared to talk about that. I’m the manager of Arsenal football club and, as long as I’m manager of Arsenal football club, I will decide what happens on the technical front. That’s it.”
It looks like battle lines are indeed being drawn here, as Wenger and the club get close to the time when they have to figure out the club’s future. The board wants to evolve, and Wenger, resolute and stubborn as ever, does not.
I mean, to an extent, I get it - Wenger’s a freakin’ legend who has done freakin’ legendary things in his career, without which a good number of you probably wouldn’t be Arsenal fans. But when it comes right down to it, we all need to be able to understand when the slack in our rope is running out and when we need to adjust things a bit, and Wenger, to be charitable, isn’t there. Nor do I think he ever will be, given the evidence presented in the last couple days.
I really, really don’t want to think of Wenger as a dinosaur - he’s done too much, he’s accomplished too many things. But then he comes out and says stuff like this:
“Maybe the time will come where the football manager will not be a football specialist any more – that we will have enough computers around him to analyse the game and, straightaway, he pushes on the button and, after the game, comes out the team for the next game,” Wenger said. “The supporters will have a word to say to make a change at half-time on the internet. They will send it in. It might come –but it will not be from me.”
Let me tell you a brief, somewhat tangential story here that illustrates how I feel about this quote. In baseball (and in all things, really), at a really basic level, there are two types of stats - counting stats and rate stats. A counting stat is just that, a count. Of home runs, strikeouts, RBI, whatever - it’s just a straight-up tally of how many of a thing a player has. A rate stat is how many of that thing a player accumulates in a timeframe, usually nine innings, which is (and again, this is really oversimplified) an attempt to describe how productive a player is at that thing on a game-by-game basis.
So, for instance, take strikeouts. A pitcher could rack up 175 strikeouts in a season, but that doesn’t tell you much about how good he is, because in one game he could have 16 and in four straight other games he could have three. So people use strikeouts per nine innings to level that out a bit, and say that in 27 starts, that 175 strikeout pitcher averaged just over six strikeouts a game. That’s a more descriptive way to discuss a pitcher.
There’s a retired baseball player turned commentator named Harold Reynolds, who was one of my favorite Mariners when I was growing up, but is a complete disaster as a commentator because he wholeheartedly rejects anything other than the eye test when talking about a player, and refuses to even consider thinking about things in a different way than the way he was brought up.
Reynolds was disdaining stats a few weeks ago, and he made the ridiculous assertion that K/9 is worthless for relief pitchers because they only pitch one or two innings a game, and thus they should call it K/1 or K/2.
Problem is, that entirely misses the point of K/9 in the first place, and it misunderstands why statistics can be valuable. And Wenger’s quote above about computers spitting out lineups based on fan interaction shows a similar, maddening tone-deafness and resistance to change and evolution of thinking.
I’m not suggesting Arsene all of a sudden become a proponent of xG or anything; I’m more complaining about the mindset that OMG COMPUTERS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD and the resultant snark that comes from a lack of understanding of how the modern world can actually work to your advantage sometimes.
In short: these quotes show me that Arsene Wenger is becoming Old Man Yells At Cloud, I don’t like it, and I wish he would either understand that a Director of Football might actually be able to help him find players that won’t lose to Bayern 10-2 or get out of the way and let someone who does understand that take the reins.
No one - player, manager, anyone - is bigger than the club, and until the board reminds Wenger of that, we’re stuck in this really painful stasis, waiting for the drama to play out and watching Arsenal fall ever further behind the truly elite clubs in England as it does.