When news of an extension of Arteta’s contract by one-year surfaced; Arsenal twitter did not disappoint.
The WOB used it as ammo to support their cause – further proof that Wenger does not want success because this means a DM will not be signed when we are in dire need of one.
The AKB group spoke of Arteta’s sacrifice of the team and his level of influence on the squad.
Using the two as base, the two groups debated endlessly till, I guess, they agreed to disagree – as always!
Now, I’m not going to discuss Arteta in particular as Nick Birch (@GunnerBirchy) already did so here. I might touch upon Arteta near the end; but, the debate did get me thinking about leadership in football.
More specifically, it got me thinking about leadership buy-in and the impact, if any, of off-the-field leadership. I’ll begin by clarifying what I mean by “leadership buy-in”. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “buy-in”, it simply refers to agreeing to something i.e. you buy the idea.
For example if I have an idea I want to implement at work; before going gung-ho with implementation I would get the buy-in from my boss and any other team leaders whose teams I’d require the assistance of. In other words, I’ll have to convince them that my idea is spectacular. How I go about convincing them may differ person to person; but, at the end of the day I’ll have key stakeholders behind my idea which will make it easier to convince the relevant team members. Hence, implementation would be far smoother.
So, if there is leadership buy-in, it would mean the team is on board with whoever is designated as a leader or Captain.
Football isn’t like cricket where the Captain calls the strategic shots on the field. Nonetheless, a Captain is still a significant position to hold in a football team. However, the level of influence a Captain exerts in a team, I believe, is both down to the Captain’s traits and the buy-in from the team.
Captains can be selected on any one, or a combination, of the following criteria:
- Footballing ability
- Seniority at the club
- Seniority in general
The question is: How does the buy-in differ for different Captains, why, and why does it matter?
Okay so that’s three questions within one question but you get the point. I’m only going to address the last part of the question; why does buy-in matter?
The Importance of Buy-In from the Team
I believe we can safely assume that footballers are ambitious – some play for money, some play for trophies, some play for legendary status and some play for all. One way or another, they want to achieve. Captaincy is an achievement; it is a form of recognition.
Furthermore, footballers compete; not only versus the opposition but amongst the squad as well. They compete to be picked in the starting line-up week-in-week-out, if not the starting eleven then the bench, if not the bench then the first team squad. Performances drive their fate. Moreover, footballers, barring a few, understand if others are picked ahead of them then it’s because the performances speak for themselves.
Of course, it’s not as simple as performances either. Other significant factors include the formation the team plays, the style of football the team plays, and what skill set or maybe even attitude the manager requires in each position.
For example, if Wenger prioritizes possession football, then playing Ramsey on the right when he had Theo available would make more sense. Or if we look back at Liverpool under Benitez, Kuyt was played down the right, despite being a striker, only because of his industry; probably because Benitez wanted to balance flair with defensive solidity i.e. flair on one flank, solidity on the other.
So, what does the Captaincy have anything to do with this?
As I said earlier, Captaincy is an achievement. It is recognition of a player’s importance to the club. A Captain has proven himself consistently whilst, ideally, also held the club at heart which drove his performances. It is normally a guarantee of a berth in the starting eleven as well. The Captain, to some extent, is also the example that the rest of team are supposed to follow; whether in terms of performance, passion, professionalism, or some other attribute.
Captains also, usually, take the responsibility on themselves to exert influence on and off the field – barking orders on the pitch, upping their game when the going gets tough, mentoring younger players, etc. However, despite being given an official status by the club, a Captain’s influence depends on how receptive the players are of his Captaincy. It all comes down to if players feel the selection is justified. If any feel the selection is not justified it can lead to demotivation, confusion, frustration, and anger in extreme cases.
The whole situation will not seem fair and players harboring ambitions of leading the club will wonder if their efforts are misguided or worth it at all. Players who may not be harboring similar ambitions will also be affected because at the end of the day, they have to look up to a certain player for reasons that do not seem make sense to them. Hence, buy-in of the players is very important for both harmony and performance. As a manager, you would want the right man leading the team on the pitch and influencing them positively off the pitch.
Coming over to Mikel Arteta, the Spaniard went from being one-of-the-emergency-buys to becoming a key cog in Wenger’s system. Whether that system was the right or wrong is another debate. However, it is no surprise he was appointed Captain either. He earned it. Not only was/is he one of the more senior players; but he was virtually a guarantee starter as well until injury and the Coq came along. However, he is revered by the squad and statements from younger players attest to that.
So, what does this have to do with Arteta’s contract extension?
From a footballing point of view, Wenger must feel that Arteta can still do a job. He’ll most probably be down the pecking order but if ever required, he’ll do a job. I am in no position to pass judgement on whether or not Arteta is past it. Yes, at times I used to feel he was past it but then his performance versus Dortmund at home made me think otherwise.
However, fans have been speculating whether an off-field influence is really worth a contract extension and, what seems like, sacrificing purchase of another defensive midfielder.
Which leads me to ask whether it’s really just about off-the-field influence?
Firstly we need to understand what off-the-field influence entails. Is it just talking to players? Keeping them motivated? No. Let’s not forget that Arteta is actually a good player so all those statements from players about him having potential for being a coach/manager are tied to his ability to pass on his knowledge effectively.
Okay, so why not offer him a coaching role? Good question.
Earlier I spoke of players feeling if decisions are justified and the potential impact of poor decisions. Also aforementioned is how success of a leader or Captain also depends on the nature of the players in the squad. Now, keep these two points in mind as I continue.
Arsenal’s squad is made up of personalities which are relatively more humble, more docile; or in summary – was it Souness who said this? – ‘boys who you can bring home and introduce your family to.’ What these players value probably differs to what players at Chelsea or Real Madrid might value.
If Arteta was to be let go of, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for them. However, signing him on for another year sends them a message that the club values what they value. It also sends a message on how far professionalism can take someone. These two messages do not leave any confusion or doubt in a player’s mind about what they have to do to succeed at Arsenal.
Furthermore, his presence as a model professional on the training ground cannot be underestimated. It’s a daily reminder of the standard of professionalism that is valued at Arsenal Football Club. This level of professionalism stems from an acceptance that yes, I may have passed my peak; and, a determination that I want to serve this team, so, I should be ready to deliver 110% when I’m called upon.
Moreover, let’s not forget that most of these players have played with him so if he ever has to come on and do a job, the comfort level on-the-field will still be there. The trust and understanding will be there.
Does this mean he’s our cover for Le Coq?
The DM Conundrum
I’m not going to delve into this but the answer can be both yes and no. Dave Seager wrote a piece on our midfield options which considers is there really is a cover issue with the wealth of talent that is our midfield; and, the permutations. However, if you haven’t read it then I recommend that you do as it will give some perspective on the whole DM ‘situation’ if you want to call it that. Also whether Arsenal need a DM in a home game against a lower side who are parking the bus needs to be asked by those shouting that Coq can’t play every week. Will he need to?
Wrapping it Up
I know I stated at the beginning that I won’t make this about Arteta; obviously I didn’t know how my thoughts would pan out so apologies for misleading you somewhat.
Anyway, I think as fans we tend to underestimate the mental/behavioral aspects of professional football which is understandable because at the end of the day, we’re not professional footballers so we have not walked in those shoes.
Nonetheless, we can easily gain perspective just by imagining ourselves in our professional lives or life in general; and, place it all in context.
I hope I have been able to provide some perspective to the whole situation.
‘Till next time!
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