With the Arsenal Supporters Trust (AST) meeting last night and a board meeting to take place on Thursday, the focus of Arsenal’s disastrous 2011-12 has shifted from the players on the pitch to the well-dressed men in the business offices. The search for the Guilty Party responsible for Arsenal’s fall from grace is ongoing and woe be unto him that is finally identified as the cause for so much misery!
But things are never as easy or as simple as that. So let’s take a quick look at the cases for and against each of the people getting the blame.
The Owner: Stan Kroenke
It’s His Fault Because: Kroenke is an easy target because he’s the ultimate power figure in the club. As chairman/majority shareholder/de facto owner of the club, the final authority rests with him. His American foreignness and his quiet (silent) demeanor mean that fans have little to no idea of what kind of man he is or what his intentions are. This means that he makes an easy target/villain in this drama.
Stan is a rich man and his interest lies in building a sporting empire. His KSE currently own in part or whole Arsenal F.C. (PL), St Louis Rams (NFL), Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL), Colorado Rapids (MLS) and he’s bidding to buy L.A. Dodgers (MLB). I’m trying to think of what other ownership group has this many entities. This diversity raises the concern/charge that Stan’s not interested in how Arsenal does. How could he with so many other teams pulling his attention? The Rams are trying to get a new stadium built in St Louis and threatening to move back to Los Angeles if they don’t get their way. The bidding process for the Dodgers has him going up against other billionaires like Mark Cuban. Just how much attention can he realistically give to a club hundreds of miles away? In a sport that he may or may not know anything about?
What’s worse is that, while wealthy, Stan seems content in not funding a spending spree in players like Sheik Mansour has for Manchester City or Roman Abramovich has done for Chelsea. He’s quite content in sitting back and letting things go on the way they have — as Arsenal bleed talent and gain mediocrity.
In His Defense: Stan is no fool. He may not be a football expert (or a basketball expert or a hockey expert) but he appears aware of this. His tactics involve hiring smart people and delegating authority to them. So he leaves the financial side to smart financial managers. Scouting is done by people with eyes for talent evaluation. And the sports side is done by managers and coaches. And no one can deny that, in Arsene Wenger, he inherited one of the most successful football minds ever.
Furthermore, Stan is following the model that was already in place before he arrived. Let’s remember that he didn’t decide to make the move to Emirates Stadium. Let’s remember that it wasn’t his decision to break up the Invincibles. Let’s remember that part of the deal that took his stake in Arsenal to a majority was a promise to Danny Fiszman that he would hold to the club’s self-sustainable model in preparation for the incoming Financial Fair Play rules of UEFA. A promise which he has kept to this day.
So maybe it’s…
The Executive: Ivan Gazidis
It’s His Fault Because: Unlike Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis arrived as someone steeped in football. He grew up in Manchester (supporting City). He helped in the creation of Major League Soccer and, as deputy commissioner, was in charge of its marketing and merchandising. Kroenke may not get how football affects supporters, but Gazidis should. Right?
What’s worse for Gazidis is that he’s the de facto replacement for David Dein, the former vice-chairman/power-broker for the club. Dein’s roots at the club went deep and his work ensured that, whatever Arsene Wenger needed, he got. Before Arsene Wenger arrived, he said “Get me Patrick Vieira” and Vieira was there. Dein and Wenger worked hand-in-hand to turn Arsenal into one of the biggest clubs in football.
Gazidis, meanwhile, has not proven himself equally adept at maneuvering for Arsenal. Look at this summer past. Ricardo Alvarez goes to Inter Milan. Juan Mata, all but sealed and delivered, ends up at Chelsea. Even the Joel Campbell signing took forever and then he had to go on loan due to immigration restrictions. How often does a player get linked with Arsenal only to have someone else swoop in at the last moment to steal the transfer away? Even when we get the player, it takes forever and a day to get him — see: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamakh.
Think this would be happening under Dein, who had so many connections in the corridors of football power, that he could threaten any other club president or agent? Think that Arsenal would be missing out on targets under Dein like we have under Gazidis? Clearly not!
In His Defense: Go back and read what I said. Gazidis is a marketing and merchandising guy. His last job was working for MLS as deputy commissioner. In other words, he wasn’t scouting and signing players or looking for a way to build a team. In fact, I’m struggling to think of what made anyone think that Gazidis is the man to build a championship side. However, Arsenal’s brand has grown and that was Gazidis’ forte.
If anything, Dein’s ouster and Gazidis arrival has seen more power and control in the hands of Arsene Wenger in regards to player acquisition and retention. Gazidis and the other front office executives may get bonuses, but the idea that they’re somehow in charge of the manager and the playing staff is ludicrous. So to hold him accountable over what he has no real control over is kind of unfair. There’s one boss of Arsene Wenger…and Ivan Gazidis is not it.
That obviously points the finger to…
The Manager: Arsene Wenger
It’s His Fault Because: Arsene Wenger is lord of all he surveys. His calm demeanor and quiet ways hide a deep passion for winning and, to that end, everything is coerced and beaten to a pulp. Every decision that needs to be made must be filtered through Arsene Wenger — from the pitch to the meals to media engagements and preseason tours. The reason Arsenal aren’t touring North America alongside Chelsea, Barcelona or AC Milan during preseason is because Arsene Wenger had until recently refused to allow a disruption to his preseason plans for the team.
And clearly, everything that goes on the pitch is a reflection of Arsene’s meticulous planning and design. The players are trained according to his standards. They strive to bring to life his tactics. When things go well, it is his name that is sung to the rafters.
Not to mention that, as Dein was removed, it was Arsene who took over most of those duties. Whose fault is it we have so much first team dead wood? It has to be Arsene. Whose fault is it that we can’t seem to buy a talented player? Or that Januaries usually pass without the needed reinforcement arriving? Arsene no longer listens to reason! Clearly, the reason for all the woes lies here.
In his Defense: Not so fast though. For the last 8-10 years, Arsenal have had a slew of first team superstars tapped up and removed — Vieira, Henry, Fabregas the biggest luminaries. This period coincided with the move from Highbury to the Emirates — a move we all knew would demand the bulk of the club’s financial clout and attention.
Instead of pouting or throwing a fit (a la Jose Mourinho) of not getting support from those in charge, Arsene has just gotten on with the job. He’s made sure to keep a line of talent always present at the club. Yes, the results are not always there. But it’s not because for lack of trying.
Only last Monday was it revealed that the club needs the massive transfer fees to stay in the black. Imagine that. The club has remained competitive and challenged on various fronts with a financial arm tied behind its back. And done it in an era where spending has run rampant and dangerous.
Ultimately, the whole Emirates plan relies on one man making it all work. The man walking the sidelines in the big poofy coat.
I could go on to talk about the players (lazy, uncaring louts/overwhelmed overachievers) or even Alisher Usmanov (the man who is trying to take over/the man who could save us all!) but I think this has gone long enough. I guess my point, if any, is that football is like any other sport and it moves in cycles. Maybe no one is at fault. Maybe this is just the downward part of the cycle that every club/team/manager must go through. Maybe the fault lies in the expectations of the supporters.
Ah, who am I kidding? THEY’RE ALL GUILTY!!