Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Communication 101

Good morning, and welcome to Friday. Yesterday’s post generated a lot of discussion and I’d just like to say thanks to most people for keeping it decent, regardless of their stance. There are always a few whose manner of disagreement is unpleasant, but the MUTE button on Twitter does wonders for that.

For those looking for the Arsecast this morning, we did it yesterday as the conversation I had with Philippe Auclair was heavily informed by the job losses and the communication around that from the club. You can find it in all the usual places, and on site here if you haven’t had a chance to listen already.

I think the manner of this announcement really demands some introspection at club level. I can’t say it’s the worst thing about all this, because that’s clearly 55 people being left without their livelihoods in this current climate. However, it’s not the first time in recent memory when a club communication has failed to hit the mark. At the end of the Unai Emery era, as pressure grew on the former coach, there was a classic back-channel briefing to try and calm things down.

They are adamant their project is sound, well-planned and will bring success, provided the external atmosphere allows it to do so. They hope the international break comes at a good time for the Arsenal squad — allowing them a welcome change of scenery — but accept the absence of domestic matches will increase the “noise” around Emery and they are determined not to let it influence their thoughts or actions.

Well, that didn’t work. It was dismissive of fans, not simply because we were referred to as ‘noise’, but it was an attempt to tell us that what we were all seeing wasn’t the truth. Gaslighting your own supporters, trying to convince them that your ‘very good plan’, as Raul Sanllehi told us, was actually that, and not one that was falling apart right in front of our eyes every time the team took the pitch.

Eventually even they couldn’t keep up the pretence and Emery got sacked.

This time, they’ve tried to tell us that 55 people have to lose their jobs in order to keep investing in the team. It’s arrant nonsense, none of the figures – even if you’re being wildly generous in terms of what some of those people earn – make anything more than the slightest dent in our transfer market capabilities. It’s one thing to drop bad news on people, it’s quite another to blatantly lie about why you’re doing it. The bad news for those responsible for that statement is that despite some evidence to the contrary on a societal/political level, not everyone can just get away with bending the truth to suit their own purposes.

The job losses for some will be announced today, good luck to those people who get the phone call or email they’re dreading. Others already know. Our scouting network in Europe has basically been dismantled. On the back of the departures of Francis Cagigao (de facto Head of Recruitment), Pete Clark (Head of UK Scouting), and Brian McDermott, as well as many regional UK scouts, we’ve also dispensed with the services of our scouts in France/Belgium; Spain/Portugal; Germany/Austria; Ireland; Holland; and Italy/Switzerland.

In The Athletic, James and David Ornstein report that these job losses are not part of the 55 redundancies as these scouts work as consultants. Some of them have been working for the club for years, but they will receive just one month’s severance pay. Our scouts in South America remain in situ for now, perhaps Edu not wanting to upset the apple-cart close to home, but post-Brexit there are suggestions that part of the world might provide plenty of players for English clubs.

Down the years we’ve brought in plenty of young players from across Europe, most of whom haven’t made it with us, but it doesn’t mean there hasn’t been real talent. What might have been with Serge Gnabry, for example? Players like Ismael Bennacer and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who we let go cheaply, provided some substantial income when they were then sold on for larger fees – contract clauses meant Arsenal gained, even if the players never quite made the grade with us. That’s a revenue stream.

Perhaps this speaks to some fundamental shift in how we identify and track talent. We know there are massive amounts of information and video footage available to clubs now. Arsenal have their own proprietary system in StatDNA – even if we binned off the top man as part of Sanllehi’s scourge of people who prefer to operate with data and information rather than black books – but there are others too. Nevertheless, having people with eyes on the ground, to watch players in real life, to talk to those around them to judge and understand their character, is a fundamental part of the job. Stats will tell you a lot, but not if a player is a stroppy twat or if he trains poorly or if some days he just can’t be arsed.

The Athletic piece also reveals that the players are angry at what has happened, having had assurances that their pay cut would ensure that no jobs would be lost. Here’s Hector Bellerin talking about it during lockdown, citing the goodwill and messages they received from staff because of what they did to protect jobs for the ‘Arsenal family’:

As Philippe pointed out on the podcast, the players are human too. Very well paid, but it doesn’t mean they’re cut off from the realities of this decision by the club, and the way it was communicated. We have players thanking staff after the FA Cup win for all they’ve done for them throughout the season in terms of injuries, fitness and so on, believing that the salary cuts they’ve taken will enable them to keep their jobs. Then they discover that’s not the case.

How does that affect their morale? How would you feel if you were asked to take a pay cut, told that in doing so you’d ensure the continued employment of other people in the company, and then a few months later those people got let go anyway? Look at it outside the prism of football or footballers’ wages, and on a basic human level I think you’d find it hard to take. Would it impact your opinion of, or your trust in, the people that run the company? I’d be very surprised if it didn’t.

For all the talk of WHAT Arsenal have done – and while I still think it’s awful I can see some justifications for job losses in this Covid-19 impacted economy – it’s HOW and WHEN we’ve done it that adds to the damaget to a club which traded on this idea of having a bit of class that others didn’t. The sad reality is we don’t. It was a communique that demonstrated arrogance, detachment from the real world, and traded on the most pathetic emotive language it possibly could thinking it would resonate with people. The hubris is off the charts.

I don’t expect anything to change. I don’t expect a reversal in these decisions by an ownership that doesn’t care (if Stan can sack off fans in St Louis, for example, ones far away in London are of even less importance for him). But I hope that someone at Arsenal cares enough to think about the way this has been handled. If we keep communicating like this, the risks of damaging the bonds between fans the club are hugely increased, so too between the players and the club – vital relationships which have to be managed properly – and like the job losses themselves, that would be a genuine shame at best: at worst a considerable problem.

Here’s the podcast, more from me tomorrow.


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