How to Argue Against Football Haters

As I sat sipping cold beer at a family gathering I felt the chill of an impending attack. I was the only football follower in a bevy of Rugby fanatics. Talk turned to sport. The troops gathered. Realising their united bond and my alienation, the strike began. Their dislike for football could only be matched by their ignorance. Naturally, as a budding writer/wimp, I couldn’t think of any counter arguments that had punch so I kept relatively quiet and had to endure the same old lazy slurs. Too much money, all a bunch of fairies, girls sport etc.

I’ll try to tackle some of these claims head on using informed counter arguments and hopefully help people understand the greatest sport on the planet.

Footballers dive and misbehave

In the Premier League in 2011/12 up to April there were 19 yellow cards awarded for simulation. Throughout the season there were 1,066 goals. For every convicted dive there were 56 goals. This could suggest that there are far more positive aspects of the game to concentrate on than negatives.

Let’s not forget that all sports teams/people will push boundaries and bend rules to give them a competitive advantage and in comparison, UK football is in no way the worst offenders. The Harlequins Bloodgate scandal in Rugby and the Lance Armstrong blood doping ring in cycling are two recent high-profile cases. There are also plenty of cases of sports people acting less than professionally. Tennis star David Nalbandian kicked an advertising board which inadvertently struck a line judge causing a nasty gash.

With about 4000 members of the Professional Footballers Association in the UK players are seldom in the headlines for serious offences even considering the media’s unquenchable desire to create stories.

If we concentrate on the beautiful side of sport, the goals, tries, world records, the churlish acts become irrelevant in the mind of a sport lover.

Footballers make too much money

The top footballers have a special skill. A skill which many millions of people will gladly pay to watch. The same can be said of actors and musicians. It just so happens that the money spent by fans on tickets, merchandise, etc end up in the pockets of the players who pull in the crowds. I’m not going to argue that footballers earn what they deserve but it’s a very simple model. There’s also a correlation between paying bigger wages and winning more trophies.

For perspective, in the past 12 months, Tom Cruise earned £48m (Note: Tom Cruise actor NOT Tom Cruise of Torquay ex Arsenal scholar). Wayne Rooney, the Premier Leagues highest earner took home about £17m in the same period. Again, I’m am not passing judgment on wages, just adding some perspective.

In 2011/12 Premier League clubs provided £1bn in taxes to HMRC (The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham; with the largest single-floor critical care unit in the world cost £545m to build). Compare this to Starbucks, who paid just £14.8m in corporation tax in the last 14 years.

It’s interesting to note that in 2011 the highest earning club in world football in terms of revenue were Real Madrid; £433m. The highest earning business in the same period was Exxon Mobil with revenue of roughly £300 Billion.

Football is boring

Of course, this is personal taste and not something which I feel prepared to become too preachy about. Although, as a study by mostpopularsports.net shows, football has an estimated 3.5bn fans worldwide, compared to its nearest rival; Cricket with 2.5bn people.

The English Premier league is the most watched league in the world, beamed into 720m homes, spanning 212 territories.

Footballers are out of touch

Footballers are a different breed from what they used. A combination of money, security issues and press intrusion may have led footballers to become more secluded. This is, of course a matter of personal choice. There have been occasions recently of footballers using public transport. I know right!

Many players including Mikael Sylvestre, Efe Sodje, Johan Djourou, Jason Roberts, Michael Essien and Craig Bellamy have donated their time, money and reputations for good causes.

During the 2011/12 season the Premier League as an organisation donated £45m to community projects benefiting 4.5m people.

Recent developments with the Kick it Out campaigns where high-profile players and managers have taken a stand for what they believe in proves that they do care, some things are bigger than football and when these things come to the fore, football can unite for the greater good.

Football is the world’s most popular sport and as clichéd as it may sound, it can bring people together. Football is a no different to the community it inhabits. The problematic themes are a mirror of wider society and should be treated as such. Generalisations are easy to make but just as easy to dispel. The beauty of the game shines through the murkiness and always will.

References

EPL Goals 201112

EPL Cards 201112

Premier League season review 201112

QEH Birmingham Costs

Simulation Cards – Telegraph

Sporting Scandals

Starbucks Tax

Football popularity

Business Revenue

Football Revenue

Football wages and revenue

Football wages blog

Tom Cruise wage – Guardian

Wayne Rooney Wages – Richest

Arsenal’s 3-5-2 Option

The last 10 minutes at Upton park gave us a glimpse at the potential Arsenal have of playing 3 central defenders.
It’s become commonplace for away teams at the Emirates to set up as a compact, narrow unit whilst trying to limit space as much as possible. However, this allows the full backs to get into high lateral areas, often in good crossing positions. This would be beneficial to the team if there were enough bodies in the box to attack the oncoming cross.

Playing a 3-5-2 would allow the wing backs to get into similar high positions (all credit to their fitness, determination and bravery in possession) but with the bonus of having a greater attacking presence in the box. The midfield 3 wouldn’t be affected (in terms of shape) to what is being deployed at the moment. The pivot role played by Arteta with Cazorla in front of him working as hard defensively as he does offensively. Something which isn’t pointed out much but which he should be given credit for. Plus one from Ramsey, Diaby, Wilshere et al.

All three centre backs can play, they’re all accomplished ball players allowing the team to build from the back and also giving options for Arteta when under pressure. Somewhere in the cupboards of my memory is a quote by Arsene Wenger stating that he’s not opposed to playing with 3 centre backs if they are all good enough and he had 2 full backs that could get up and down the touchline for the whole game (He mentions Cafu and Roberto Carlos). Also, I vaguely remember reading in Tony Adams’ autobiography that Wenger trialed a 3-5-2 in his very first Arsenal game (in UEFA cup, I think Pat Rice bossed that game, under guidance from Wenger). Although, he realised that the back 4 he inherited hardly needed much tweaking in terms of their defensive capabilities.

Playing a fluid 3-5-2 against a defensive 4-5-1 at the Emirates will allow the Arsenal central defenders to more than cope with a lone striker. The midfield trio will still dominate possession with the added threat of a second striker in dangerous positions. The key being if the full/wing backs to press in high areas and also track back to defend against the oppositions’ wide men.

A main function of Arsenal’s game this season has been the hard work put in by the attacking wide men. Creating a 4-1-4-1 when not in possession. This has worked very well, especially away from home. However, this is something that can be sacrificed especially playing against weaker opponents at home.

Although a relatively old fashioned formation, with the modern games reliance on limiting space whilst domination possession the 3-5-2 could work against defensive teams at home.

Spain – Coaching Technique, The Dutch……………..and the English

“But there is hope…If England continue to choose ball players, and do not get stampeded into returning to brawn rather than brains for their international side. If our outdated approach to the game is replaced by the modern methods of coaching and developing talent in use on the continent.

If our players are told to watch the films of Real Madrid in action, and then go out on the field and practice, practice, practice with a football until they can do the same…then we can perhaps win the World Cup.”

The Boys Book of Soccer for 1961

England’s technical inferiority is not a modern phenomenon. The 6-3 defeat to Hungary at the home of football in 1953 was the point when the English finally acknowledged that the students had become the masters. Not satisfied with simply beating their teachers, the students ran riot.  In arguably the greatest away team display at Wembley, the majestic trio of Hidegkuti, Bozsik and superstar at the time, Puskas, pulled England apart. For those who thought this was a one off, the return game in Hungary finished 7-1 to the hosts. This still stands as England’s heaviest defeat.

Spain at the time, like Hungary favored the short passing game compared to kick and dribble played by the English. Ironically, it was an Englishman who encouraged short passing in Spain. Forward thinking coaches were shunned from the English game, largely part to the English national team being chosen by committee. The team would always use a rigid 2-3-5 formation regardless of opposition. Who needs a coach? Because of this Fred Pentland moved to Spain and started a revolution at Athletico Bilbao. He advocated short passing with fluid movement. Pentland went on to win 2 La Liga titles and 5 Cop Del Rey’s.

However, until very recently Spain were the bridesmaids when it came to international football. They were comprehensively beaten 3-1 by France in the round of 16 at the World Cup in Germany 2006. Prior to that, they didn’t even get out of their group at Euro 2004. But don’t fear a generation of such distinction, such superiority was about to flourish.

To understand the current group of Spanish players is to understand the Dutch. And to understand the Dutch one has to understand Johan Cruyff. And to understand Cruyff…well, does Cruyff even understand Cruyff?

1971, Barcelona. Rinus Michels, creator of total football has just been appointed head coach. Michels’ brainchild revolutionised modern football. Hard pressing, fluid movement, inter changeable positions, ball playing goalkeepers, outfield players with high technical skill, creating space.  Sound familiar?

Cruyff would join Michels in a playing capacity at Barcelona after time spent together at Ajax. Cruyff, considered the philosopher of modern football was also an advocate of total football. This style was being used by the Dutch national team to lethal effect. The Dutch connection at Barcelona has been key to their and Spain’s recent successes. In Graham Hunter’s wonderful book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World he describes the enormity of Cruyff’s influence, ‘No Cruyff, no Dream Team. No Cruyff, no coordinated and prolific cantera (youth academy) trained to play thrilling 4-3-3 football. No Cruyff, no Joan Laporta (the club’s most successful president as I write *sic). No Cruyff, no Frank Rijkaard and the resuscitation of a club suffocating in its own stupidity. No Cruyff, no Guardiola.’

Cruyff would eventually go on to manage Barcelona from 1988 to 1996; transforming the club from top to bottom. Not only did he win trophies, he reshaped youth development and encouraged a style of football now embedded into Spanish football culture.

According to Hunter, Cruyff’s team ‘worked on positional play, one- or at most two-touch circulation of the ball, the concept of the sweeper-keeper, squeezing space – all principles which have thrived under Guardiola and Rijkaard.’

From the 1970s to the turn of the millennium Spanish coaches were playing a different coaching note. In comparison to their English counterparts, they were playing a completely different instrument. The English coach’s manual of choice was Charles Hughes’ Soccer Tactics and Skills. A book which emphasises penetration over patient build up play. Hughes was a stern believer that the ball should move as fast as possible, using the least amount of touches from one point to another.

So what were Spanish coaches doing differently? Spanish coaching material written in English is pretty scare but Laureano Ruiz’s excellent book, The Spanish Soccer Coaching Bible gives us an insight into a typical youth academy in Spain.

Ruiz has been a fixture in Spanish football for decades. He has coached at every level of the game, noting Ivan de la Pena, Ivan Helgueara, Hristo Stoichkov and Johan Cruyff as his best students.

He starts by describing the guiding principles behind Spanish football:

  1. Footballers should start playing when they are 6-8 years old. The learning curve becomes steepest at 10-11.
  2. Extra special physical characteristics are not required.
  3. A player will only master the sport if he trains vigorously. Ruiz recommends spending 10 years practicing 3-4 hours per day. Practice can involve studying matches; something rarely considered as training in England.
  4. Players of different ages should train differently.
  5. Ball juggling skills are highly recommended. These constant movements with the feet require great balance and coordination.
  6. Football related movements should be honed. Twists, turns, change of speed and sudden stops should be worked on like any other part of the game.
  7. Step-by-step skill development. This keeps players motivated and makes them work a bit harder.
  8. Equipment – youngsters should master motor skills (ball control) by using a lightweight rubber ball only progressing when these skills are learned.
  9. Pitch size – smaller pitches allow youngsters to understand the game better by making them feel in control. Some players can get dwarfed on a full sized pitch if they are too young.
  10. Smaller goals – Youngsters can learn bad habits if the goals are too big for the goalkeeper. I.e. unnecessarily shooting from range.
  11. Fewer players – youngsters have more opportunity to practice and get involved in the game.
  12. Evenly matched teams – this will enhance the youngsters physically and psychologically.
  13. Play the offside rule – The very young should play offside very near the goals. 11-13 year olds should play offside in the 18 yard box. 14+ normal offside rule applies.
  14. Introduce one touch play when players are capable. This is a difficult skill and should be introduced when players are technically able.

Ruiz goes on to describe Spanish coaching techniques in more detail. He categorises into three age brackets and describes common situations and how Spanish coaches work.

7-10 Years

  • Levels of ability will be vast.
  • Youngsters will enjoy playing in the same team as their friends.
  • Considering the above, evenly matched teams should be a necessity when the players reach 9-10 years old.
  • Talented players will want to be on the same team. The coach should prevent this from happening. It’s for the benefit of the players.
  • Coaches should pick teams in training this will be the best way in creating evenly matched teams.
  • If the teams are evenly matched the ages of the players are irrelevant.
  • Players will all follow the ball in a match. To combat this, the coach will: reduce the playing area and reduce the number of players.
  • Competition: 5-a-side in 1-2-1 formation. Pitch: 40 x 28 yards. Goals: 4 x 2 yards. Ball: small rubber.

11-13 Years

  • Technical skills can now be drilled into the players.
  • Dribbling, passing, shooting, heading and feinting/shielding the ball exercises are the focus.
  • Players are encouraged to practice ball juggling whenever they can.
  • Youngsters play small sided games only using their weaker foot.
  • Tactical explanation should now be introduced – control of the game / smart passing / individual skill / looking up before passing /give and go / making space / support / positioning
  • Competition: 7-a-side in 3-1-2 formation. Pitch: 68 x 50 yards. Goals: 6 x 2.10 yards. Ball: size 4.

14 – 16 Years

  • Resolve one v one situations. Offensively and defensively.
  • Perfect technical skills developed at previous levels.
  • Continue ball juggling skills with both feet.
  • Encourage improvisation.
  • Encourage first time play.
  • Introduce sensible pressing.
  • Develop an understanding of tactical play.
  • Introduce 4-3-3 formation.
  • Competition (from 15): 11-a-side in 4-3-3 formation. Pitch: regulation size. Goals: regulation size. Ball: size 5.

After examining these principles it’s clear that the emphasis is on technical improvement and not physical enhancement. Ruiz’s techniques are constructed so the players’ physical development is natural and football specific. As the players grow they will be encouraged to incorporate fitness regimes into their training but rarely is a player turned away due to physical incompetency.

What can England learn from this? Well, steps have already been taken. The FA have announced changes to youth football: smaller pitches, less players on a team and more emphasis being placed on technical skill. However, are we adapting too late? The fruit of these labours can only be picked 10-15 years from now. By then football may have changed dramatically. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have players who can use the ball well but could it be better to be innovative rather than reactive.

The construction of St George’s Park (National Football Centre) in Burton on Trent is a massive leap forward. This base will allow coaches to examine the game in an academic environment. Something shunned by the English for many years. Coaches will be able to share techniques in the best facilities in the country.

For now, Spain are the finest team on the planet. However, with innovation, hard work and expert coaching England can develop their own game. It will take many more years of hurt but the right steps are being taken for the better of English football.

Reference

The Anatomy of England A History in Ten Matches Jonathon Wilson Orion Books

Brilliant Orange The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football David Winner Bloomsbury

Barca The Making of the Greatest Team in the World Graham Hunter BackPage Press

The Spanish Soccer Coaching Bible Laureano Ruiz Reedswain Publishing

Arsène Wenger – History, Philosophies, Biology?

2010, Arsène Wenger has just been voted by the International Football Federation of History and Statistics (IFFHS) the best coach of the last decade. It was 5 years since he won a major trophy. Two trophyless seasons have passed for Wenger and his Arsenal team; his detractors would argue that this honour was undeserved.

According to the IFFHS it was Wengers’ consistency in the ten year period which earned him the award, a ten year period which saw Champions League qualification season on season, 2 Premier League titles and 3 FA cups.

The IFFHS adds ‘(Wenger) repeatedly mould(s) young players into an attacking and technically brilliant way of play’. What drives the man to consistently compete with Europe’s elite?  Where did this trust in youth develop? Why does this intriguing and to some Arsenal fans infuriating coach stay so passionate to a game that has given him everything but recently taken so much.

The answer is simple….…a love for a game so strong, Wenger once described as ‘a matter of life and death’.

Wenger has always been around football…..and food.  His parents owned a restaurant in their home village of Duttlenheim in Alsace, a small region in eastern France bordering Germany. The restaurant became the informal club house for Duttlenheim Football Club. An unpretentious pub of a restaurant where motivational team talks were given, fixture lists and team sheets pinned on the walls and where tactical conversations became rows.

It was playing for Duttlenheim as a defender through his teens and early twenties where Wenger caught the eye of mentor and major influence on his coaching, Max Hild. Hild was manager of Duttlenheim’s local rivals, AS Mutzig. After developing a friendship with Hild, Wenger made the move to AS Mutzig. In Xavier Rivoire’s revealing biography of Wenger he sums up the young man’s relatively unassuming playing career by explaining that Wenger ‘had effectively emerged in the Mutzig team too late at 20 to forge himself a career as a professional footballer, (although) his education in the tactics of the game was well under way.’ Wenger himself, in an interview with The French Federation of University Sport admitted playing high level football too late ‘I only began training seriously at 19, I was not entirely bad, but there were better players than me.’ It would be fair to suggest that his own experience explains the importance Wenger puts on developing young footballers.

Alongside Held, Master Wenger would educate himself on tactics employed by rival teams and would often travel across the border into West Germany to watch Bundesliga matches. This experience fed Wenger’s burning desire and where better to watch football than West Germany, as Hild recalls ‘Back then, the Germans were streets ahead of us in France in terms of football development…West Germany were on top of the world game…and had their own attacking style.’ Wenger would analyse the games in meticulous detail. Hild goes on ‘Defence was key, German defenders of that era (60s, 70s) could also attack – they knew their responsibilities.’ It’s interesting to note that Wengers’ teams almost always play with 4 defenders and often deploy attacking full backs.  The German defence of the 60s and 70s operated as base on which to attack. Something encouraged by Wenger throughout his career.

In mid 1970s Wenger enrolled at Strasbourg University, studying Economic Sciences but football was always at the forefront of his thoughts. Now
playing for Mulhouse FC and flirting with relegation he met another major influence on his coaching career, Paul Frantz. Considered a deep thinker when it came to football, according to Rivoire he was once offered a coaching role at AC Milan only to turn it down because he didn’t speak Italian.  Student and master would share many a train journey to and from training where they would discuss everything to do with the game. Frantz had a reputation of having a scientific approach to football something which Wenger would later implement in his career. Frantz also taught Aimé Jacquet who later coached France to victory at the 1998 World Cup.

In a fortunate twist of fate, Wenger’s first mentor Max Hild took over the reserve team at Racing Club de Strasbourg reserve team. The first team had just qualified for the UEFA Cup and it was decided that Hild’s skills were best used scouting opposition. This left the reserves with an absent manager, cue Arsène Wengers first coaching role.

Wenger would include himself in starting line ups but as he became more engrossed in his coaching role alongside being involved with the youth teams his playing days were becoming secondary. Even in his reserve team coaching role Wenger was already flirting with dietary regimes, isometrics (strength training exercises whilst not changing the bulk of a player) and short but intensive training sessions. All things he would include through his coaching career.

It was now 1983 and after cutting his teeth with Strasbourg’s reserves Wenger became reserve team coach at AS Cannes.  After a short spell at Cannes he was offered the role of head coach of Lique 1 club AS Nancy.  A mixed spell which eventually saw the club relegated to Lique 2. Wenger’s only demotion to date.

After an ultimately disappointing season one of Europe’s biggest clubs came knocking. In a few weeks Arsène Wenger was AS Monaco’s new manager. He sculpted a team including Glenn Hoddle, Mark Hateley, George Weah, Jürgen Klinsmann and Youri Djorkaeff. He also promoted Lilian Thuram and Emmanuel Petit from the reserves.

Wengers’ Monaco won Lique 1 in his debut season. His only other major honor with Monaco came in the shape of the Coupe de France (the premier cup competition in France.) Although a relatively small haul with such a talented squad, Wengers’ time in France coincided with mass corruption in French football. Marseille, Monaco’s fierce rivals were found guilty of match fixing in 1994.

Corruption made Wenger feel uneasy so when he was approached by Nagoya Grampus Eight’s owners Toyota at a FIFA tactical conference in 1994 he took them up on becoming their manager.  Wenger’s time in Japan was enlightening but ultimately frustrating. His players were not as technical as their European counterparts. In Rivoire’s book he describes Wenger’s frustration, ‘after the eight defeat, Wenger, usually so calm and poised, exploded…a question asked to all his players: ‘what are you afraid of?’ He challenged them, wondering whether they considered themselves to be real professionals or not.’

Wenger enjoyed a successful spell in Japan, winning the national cup and becoming the first ever foreign J. League Manager of the Year. Japanese culture has had a major influence on Wenger, as Damien Comolli, former Liverpool and Spurs Director of Football explains, ‘This Zen attitude would allow (Wenger) to make the right decisions in the most pressurised of situations.’ What better place to put this theory to the test than in the fast oven of the English Premier League.

In Alex Fynn’s fascinating book, Arsènal – The Making of a Modern Superclub, he curiously describes the dissolution of Yugoslavia as the starting gun which triggers Wenger’s appointment as Arsenal manager. To summarise, the fall of Yugoslavia led to the war in the Balkans, this caused a sporting embargo placed upon Yugoslavia. The football team were kicked out of Euro 92 and replaced by Denmark.  Denmark unexpectedly won the tournament with midfielder John Jensen staring for the Danes. George Graham, the Arsenal manager at the time buys John Jensen. Fynn adds, ‘It is highly unlikely George Graham would have purchased John Jensen…(Jensen) symbolised how Graham had lost his touch.’

Jensen went on to be a flop and Graham was accused of receiving bungs from transfers. Graham was eventually banned from football for two years and replaced by Bruce Rioch as Arsenal manager. In the meantime David Dein, Arsenal vice-chairman had been impressed with Arsène Wenger since his time as Monaco. It’s fair to say that without David Dein, Wenger would never have become Arsenal manager. Dein invited Wenger to meet the Arsenal board whom were equally as impressed with the Frenchman.

Not everyone was as overwhelmed with the new appointment. ‘I can’t say I was overly impressed with Monsieur Wenger’s initial contribution’ was Tony Adams’ first thoughts.  Let it be known that Adams later realised Wenger’s immense contribution to the club and to Adams’ career. It didn’t take long for the pair to achieve a mutual respect for one another.

Wenger was now in full stride and implementing everything he had learned into creating a championship winning team.  Adams explains the changes Wenger made on players diets, ‘He does set out a diet for the players…(involving) chicken and pasta at lunchtime (and) more raw vegetables.’ Wenger’s first signing Rémi Garde recalls the revolution, ‘little by little, he made our regime more continental, a bit more French…he invited a dietitian to speak to the players and explain that sugar was not good for energy levels, Arsène was able to modify these habits.’

Wenger’s Japanese experience began to influence his decisions. He was impressed with the low levels of obesity in the country. Rivoire the biographer explains, ‘As a result, all the cooked vegetables, fish and rice he had witnessed was meticulously imported into the Arsenal canteen. Proteins were combined with carbohydrates, with chicken breast and broccoli replacing fried chicken and chips.’

Training was also to have a major overhaul as Wenger explains in Fynn’s book, ‘In order that (the players) retain their enthusiasm the boys mustn’t know exactly what’s coming…the two criteria for a good training session is that it is conducted with a good spirit and that there is the satisfaction which is derived from whole-hearted commitment.’  Tony Adams describes a typical Wenger training session, ‘Training can often last only 45 minutes. We will have stretching and a warm-up, then play a 10-minutes each way small-sided game and finish with a run round the pitch.’ Perhaps Adams doesn’t give a lot away out of respect for his former manager. Alex Fynn describes training, ‘with the incidence of midweek matches there tend to be only two rigorous sessions per week during the season. All begin with warm-up exercises and jogging…followed by a number of drills, each lasting around 20 minutes…Invariably the first is a control and pass examination designed to provide the aptitude and confidence to replicate the technique under match conditions…a small sided game follows. It is unusual in that it can feature four goals, one on each side of the pitch, with Wenger’s whistle forcing swift decisions and precise shooting to locate the right target. ‘ Goalkeepers train separately, working on specific goalkeeping drills before joining up with the rest of the squad to end the session in a full scale, full intensity 11 a-side game.

Jean-Luc Arribart, former University teammate and player under Wenger at AS Nancy describes his coaching style, ‘He varied training sessions, keeping written assessments of how the players had fared…he’d introduce lots of different exercises and new approaches, whether in training or tactics, and then he’d sit back and see how we coped with them.’

This trust in people has always been the Wenger way as he describes wonderfully in his interview with the French Federation of University Sport, ‘I believe that one holds his destiny in his own hands.’ In Gianlucca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti’s superb book The Italian Job, Wenger describes this trust in more depth, ‘I am convinced anyone can run training sessions…out of two thousand managers, at least nineteen hundred could run my training session as well as me…the secret of success isn’t in training your team. It is in building your team, choosing the right players.’

Wenger has often chosen the correct players. However, he has never been considered a tactical visionary and has often used 4-4-2. This didn’t change when he joined Arsenal.  Rémi Garde describes Wenger’s tactical instruction, ‘The day before a game, he’d explain to us the things we needed to work on in our game, taking into account what we hadn’t produced in recent games and what hadn’t worked well previously.’ Although in recent years Arsenal have deployed a 4-3-3 cum 4-2-3-1 formation, Wenger is still an admirer of the traditional 4-4-2. As he describes in The Italian Job, ‘I think it’s simply the most rational formation in most cases…in fact, it’s the essence of reason. With a 4-4-2, sixty percent of your players are occupying 60 percent of the pitch. No other formation is as efficient in covering space. Of course, it also depends on the players you have. If I had Cafu and Roberto Carlos and both were in great form, then maybe I would also play 3-5-2, because I know they can both cover the whole flank on their own…alas I don’t …I have to use 4-4-2, so that I can cover my flanks.’ With the impetus of modern football in winning the central midfield battle and with the importance of possession, especially in European competition, Wenger has adapted to the 4-3-3. This formation allows greater numbers in central midfield but can also provide attacking width.

Wenger’s obsession with constantly adapting is best showcased in the scouting process of Bacary Sagna. Giles Grimandi, ex player and now scout for Arsenal, describes to Fynn, ‘I saw Bacary Sagna on more than 30 occasions. I checked him once, then ten times, then 20 times before finally deciding he was the one we needed.’ Gone are the days of John Jensen being signed after one eye catching performance.

In the Italian Job, Wenger describes the three components on what makes a good manager, ‘The first, obviously, is results and the quality of football shown on the pitch. However, you must  always remember that these are short-term results…The second parameter is the ability of the manager to help players progress on an individual level…Finally, the third parameter is the impact the manager is having long-term at club level…and here we go into the philosophy of play, the club’s infrastructure, the image of the club.’

A philosophy has been created at Arsenal. A philosophy including style, forward thinking and hard work. Wenger‘s work station is an unassuming yet bright office at Arsenal’s training complex in London Colney. A site Wenger insisted on having input from start to finish. A two-storey shimmering structure with healthcare suites, swimming pools, a therapy centre, gym and cafeteria. All rooms lit using diffused lights to enable footballers to reduce stress and to enable the release of dopamine (good mood hormones.) Outside are many match quality training pitches complemented with an indoor 4G rubbercrumb pitch.

Wenger can relax in his office in the knowledge that he has achieved the first two of his three parameters on what makes a good manager. His teams play with style and are successful in doing so, albeit less in recent years. Secondly, He has played a huge role in the further development of individual players. There were five Arsenal academy graduates who played at Euro 2012 (Wojciech Szczesny, Sebastian Larsson, Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas and Nicklas Bendtner.) What about the third parameter? The legacy he will leave, the club’s philosophy, the image of the club? I, as with many football fans are in no doubt that this will be achieved. As for ever winning coach of the decade again? There is work to be done but the future always seems to be of great importance to Wenger. As a wise man once said, ‘I believe that one holds his destiny in his own hands.’

Reference

Arsène Wenger The Biography Xavier Rivoire Aurum Press Limited

Arsènal The Making of a Modern Superclub Alex Fynn Vision Sports Publishing

Addicted Tony Adams with Ian Ridley Harper Collins Publishers

The Italian Job Gianlucca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti Bantam Books

Sport U Magazine French Federation of University Sport