It’s very unusual for me to write two posts a day here on Arseblog, but having watched the manager’s press conference earlier and seen his reaction to a question about the possible appointment of a Director of Football, I’ve had questions going around in my mind.
I could have kept it for tomorrow, but we’ll have a Southampton preview and other stuff, so I thought I’d just get it all out and down on the page while it was fresh, so to speak.
I could be totally overthinking all this, and it could just be a stubborn man digging his heels in, but given the way things have been going at Arsenal this season, you get the sense there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Anyway, here’s what has been going through my mind.
Is Wenger totally opposed to working with a Director of Football?
It sounds like it. The way he dismissed the suggestion and the concept of the job itself speak to a man who is fundamentally against any such appointment.
It seems as if he views it as incompatible with the job of a manager, or at least the job he wants to do as manager. The manager is the one in charge, and someone whose responsibilities might overlap or impinge on his work could be seen as undermining him.
He clearly does not want to cede any control over football matters or to have to work under a system where the club chooses the players it brings in without his full approval. I think this is the crux of the issue for him.
Does that mean Wenger is opposed to improving the area of recruitment and scouting?
Here we have some mixed messages. At this stage everyone has heard horror stories about Dick Law, and there are suggestions that he could be leaving the club – although it might not happen for 12 months. Regardless of what happens with him though, you only need to have a passing interest in this club to know that there have been consistent problems with recruitment for quite some time now. There are countless examples of deals that haven’t been done, take ages to get done, or don’t go anywhere near as smoothly as they should.
What’s less public are the issues we have with the scouting network, coming right from the top of that, and how nothing has really been done about despite this being a problem for a not inconsiderable length of time now. My perception – and I base this on things I’ve heard rather than any specific knowledge – is that there’s a lack of trust. That the manager is not convinced by the players he’s being recommended or what he’s being told about them.
To be clear, I can’t say that this is definitely the case, but there is unquestionably the need to make changes at this level. Wenger was quite explicit about it himself. Speaking just last week, he talked about what could improve:
We can probably improve the results of younger teams, but also improve our scouting. When you mention Mbappe, maybe we can have him when he’s younger, we have to improve in this area. Because Griezmann, Kanté, we could have signed them, but we missed the opportunity to do so, not necessarily because of our financial restrictions but because we weren’t rapid enough. That is something we must improve, to sign young players before they become stars because at that moment all the clubs know them and want to sign them.
It’s tacit criticism of the scouts, the scouting system, the information and recommendations he’s getting, and I also wonder if the much vaunted StatDNA adds another layer of distrust. The two players who we know have been run through this database the most before purchase – Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny – are not exactly regulars.
Gabriel has only been playing because of injury, and Elneny, despite being fit and a pretty solid performer when called up, couldn’t even make the bench against United. He’s made just 8 starts in the league and since returning from the AFCON has been involved in just four of our fifteen fixtures.
I’m not saying that StatDNA is malware, but it hasn’t exactly made things much better. However, we can see Wenger acknowledged problems in this department, and having done so you have to assume he’s now willing to do something about them.
That said, it’s not as if this is news to Wenger, but public admission of problem is.
Does the Arsenal board actually want a Director of Football?
This is a key question for me. Remember just a couple of years ago when Sir Chips Keswick said:
Don’t let’s be in a muddle about who calls the shots about football at Arsenal. It is not the chairman, it is not the fans, it is Mr Arsene Wenger. If he has a plan, we back him. If he doesn’t have a plan, we keep quiet. Our board backs him 100 per cent.
Have things changed that greatly since then? Has their faith in a man who has provided them the consistency they’ve trumpeted so often about been shattered so greatly by a season in which he has underperformed and looks unable to provide that? He could end up winning a trophy this season, is that not what the board would expect from him?
I wonder if, having witnessed protests and not being so daft they can’t see which way the wind is blowing, if it might suit Ivan Gazidis to get on board the ‘Catalyst for Change’ truck. Make it known he wants a Director of Football, knowing full well what Wenger’s reaction would be to it, thus putting him on the side of fans.
Could Wenger’s vehemence when it comes to that suggestion be borne out of knowledge that this is pure expedience from the Chief Executive who, until fans started making noise, might never have proposed such an appointment?
I don’t know, they’re just things that have occurred to me, and given that Gazidis has not provided anybody with anything of any substance for a long time, how can we really know what he thinks? When there’s a photo-op, or a kit launch, or a new sponsorship deal to announce, he’s right there front and centre.
When times have been tough, he’s been nowhere to be found. He’s said nothing to the press – nothing that he’s allowed to have attributed to him at least – and the only time fans have heard from him is at that meeting last month when he came up with his Catalyst for Change slogan as if it were a political manoeuvre. So, you’ll excuse me if I don’t rule out a political element to his public inaction and back-channel briefings to members of the press.
If they do, does Wenger trust their judgement in making an appointment?
Again I’m hypothesising, but could Wenger’s objections to a DoF be based on doubts he might have of the board to find the right man? Beyond Gazidis, who has been an administrator more than a ‘football person’, who is there on the board to source and ratify an appointment?
Stan and Josh. Sir Chips. And while Ken Friar is a great Arsenal man, I don’t think the onus should be on an 82 year man to make that kind of decision.
People speak often about Wenger and David Dein, and while he was the vice-chairman, he was in some ways a de facto Director of Football. He’d liaise with players, agents, get deals done, and make decisions from a position of authority. Wenger cannot be blind to the fact his most successful years as manager came when he worked in this kind of set-up.
Now, there are myriad reasons why he hasn’t achieved as much in subsequent years, but it does illustrate it’s not anathema to him to work alongside somebody whose judgement and work he trusts. Could it be about finding that person (if they even exist)?
As I said above, maybe I’m overthinking it, but the way things are at this club right now I find it hard to believe that there isn’t more going on than we think.
Maybe there’s a more simple explanation, that things are at such a juncture between manager and board that this is basically just a stand-off, a power play from Wenger, but I’ve written almost 1500 words now and I’m not going to waste them.
As ever your thoughts/comments are welcome in the arses.