For a while now I have been beset with doubts about my continued love of football and appreciation of winning, both of which seem to run along quite nicely till we reach the block of unyielding, mostly unbending support of Arsenal and Arsene Wenger on the whole. At that point my philosophy of life begins to be questioned. Do we all live our lives just for the need to live it, or do we live it to live a life worth talking about? And if it is the latter, how does one define a life worth talking about as different from a life just worth living for itself? It is all subjective, ladies and gentlemen of The Arsenal supporting persuasion; however, I digress.
I was reading this morning, on my way to University, about Herbert Chapman and the way in which his W-M formation revolutionized football but still led to a steady decline in the fortunes of the future England team. People at the time argued that Chapman’s system was broken, because only one team was playing it well enough. It was Arsenal. More than 80 years ago, we were beginning to be the kind of disruptive force in football which would end up in folklore. History of course, repeated itself as we expect it to with Arsene Wenger and the pre-Emirates era of domination and seductive football.
Chapman employed players suited to his system but others were not as successful in the talent identification process as he was and there started the trouble. Teams began aping his formation and tactics which lead to the inevitable conclusion of negative football. When unable to make a bad copy work as well as the original teams incessantly began using the so called ‘negative’ approach to the beautiful game by utilizing their copied team and formation to ends which resulted in the decline of football as a spectacle to be enjoyed. Here was a man who had assembled a team of unrivaled tactical understanding and machine-like efficiency.
Where am I going with all this, you ask. Well, stay with me and you will see in the end. Chapman was the first manager in England at the time to have complete control over the functioning of a club as a whole starting from recruitment to training (as well as the control over the announcer system in the stadium apparently). He was the man who brought counter attacking football to the land of football, he bought players who fit the system and he chose a system that fit the land. The copies made of his approach failed spectacularly because at the time there were simply not enough players of the level required to play football that Arsenal were playing. Herbert Chapman died of pneumonia on 6th January, 1934. A few months after his death a collection of his writings was published which included a following:
“It is no longer necessary for a team to play well. They must get goals, no matter how, and the points. The measure of their skill is, in fact, judged by their position in the league table. ”
Here he seems to have made a point about football which would soon be an all pervasive argument after the game turned professional and received the corporate treatment.
‘Thirty years ago”, he went on, “men went out with the fullest license to display their arts and crafts. Today they have to make their contribution to a system.”
Now let us take a look at Arsene Wenger. His achievements are known far and wide and his wisdom and intellect have never been in any question at all. What I want you to take a look at, is his philosophy. The philosophy that says some things are sacred in football. And those are not the three points but the fact that a team must play fair and remain true to its ideals. That ideals must shape the functioning of a club and guide all its decisions. He has always laid an emphasis on the beautiful game. Arsenal do not produce much of the Invincible era flair but you see that somewhere deep in the squad lies the desire to achieve something in a certain way. Wenger has won more than his fair share of trophies, yet he has never given up trying to play the game in a manner that entertains. He has stayed true to his ideals in all respects. He has never bought a player he does not need, never made a signing just out of a lust for the new. He gave youth a chance and made the club worth 400% more than when he joined it.
And yet, Wenger gets grief from the fans about not winning enough trophies and not getting us to the edge of the Champions League. Such lofty expectations are attached with the club not just because it is Arsenal, but because it is Wenger’s Arsenal. Wenger, who has been here for twenty years. Wenger, who has been the one to take all the blame and shield his players. Wenger, who made us the modern super club we are today. Wenger, whose every move is for the best of the club and not himself. Wenger, who did not move to Real Madrid or Bayern Munich when he had the chance to. Wenger, who outlived Thierry Henry at Arsenal and became Henry’s opposition by default when he let him leave a second time to enjoy his cushy job at Sky. Wenger, who has never let the club fall into financial trouble or social disrepute. Wenger, whose aura and magnetism as an individual far transcends the tiny bounds of the footballing world.
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Now I come to an admittedly labored point:
Arsenal’s greatest manager of the pre-Premier League era, died apologetic about the fact that he had played machine like football and was blamed for the decline of the game when his team was on top of the domestic game. He was Herbert Chapman.
Arsenal’s greatest ever manager is still alive and kicking, unapologetic about the fact that he tries to play a certain way no matter what the opposition. The one who enjoys 5 perfectly, beautifully played minutes of a 90 minute contest more than any personal glory. Do you want Wenger, to eventually leave disillusioned with his hopes of the beautiful world shattered and down in ruins?
Must Arsene Wenger also, eventually die apologetic of the fact that he tried to give the world some happiness through football in the small way that he could get? I for one, hope when he leaves the world, he goes still believing in the grace and positive power of the beautiful game.
One Arsene Wenger, remember. COYG.