The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Tea Leaves

As always at Arsenal, trying to figure out what’s going on is an exercise in Kremlinology. Arseblog had a long and worthy post yesterday on Kolo and the transfer policy, which is worth a read in and of itself. And yet, there’s always a few extra bits to be sifted out past the surface statements. Like: I believe Arseblog was one of the blogs with club contacts who ridiculed the “Arsenal have only 13 million to spend” rumors some months back as we entered this transfer window, but his blog yesterday seemed to imply (“we might assume that these purchases were made on the basis that the club was budgeting for the sale of Adebayor this summer”) that the Arshavin purchase in the preceding window and Vermaelen together were bought on the understanding that an expected Adebayor transfer would pay for them in large part. Taken literally, it would suggest that Arsenal actually had a nonexistent transfer budget for this window for unsecured additional outlays, and instead went into it on the understanding that players had to be sold before others could be bought, indeed had to be sold to make good the budget for previous purchases. So: did someone at the club tell Arseblogger something in the interim between his two different takes? Has he simply changed his estimation of things based on intervening events? Am I reading entirely too much into this? I don’t know. I do know that the opacity of the club’s policies is maddening, and I’m not even the clicking-refresh-on-newsnow type of fan.

I also have noted that Arseblogger has moved from saying regularly that Arsene Wenger knew more than anyone else just where to team needed to be improved, to an apparent belief that Wenger sees his kids in midfield as good enough. Inside information? A guess? There’s something intensely frustrating as a fan in being reduced to third-hand guesswork about the origins of information available to a second-hand source. Following this team is like a game of Chinese whispers.

If Arseblogger is right though and Wenger doesn’t intend to buy anyone else either because he doesn’t have the resources or the desire, that’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s the one people expect. It may be that Wenger’s kids will come good this year; we’ll see, and it would be wonderful if they did. But if they don’t Arsenal’s problem isn’t going to be what happens, it will be what doesn’t. Wenger is completely unfireable now and for as long as he chooses to remain at the club; there’s clearly a hard core of fans (at a guess- 40%) who cannot be convinced by any turn of affairs to accept a different set of decision-makers at the club; and there’s an even larger group of fans who will side with Wenger and the current board out of the justifiable fear that any change will be to the advantage of the loathsome Usmanov contingent. All of this I suspect will make serious change at the club impossible in the short term (say, 2-3 more years), even if Arsenal were to finish 5th or 6th. Wenger called for judgment at the end of last season, was judged, hated it and rejected the conclusions put to him. Now he calls to be judged in two years’ time. I take him at his word.

Arseblogger said, rightly, that Wenger is not stupid; and of course he’s not, he’s one of the most intelligent- arguably brilliant- people associated with the sport. And that’s part of the problem, because men who have his incredible ability and track record of success often find it the hardest to give up on a project or change their way of thinking even in the face of inarguable empirical refutation of whatever it is that they’re attempting. I’m always reminded of Isiah Thomas as GM of the Knicks, one of the most successful players of his generation in the NBA and a bonafide hall of famer and legend, who entered the job with a clear and precise vision for what he wanted the team to be and worked incredibly hard to achieve it. And in many ways he did; it was just a flawed, blinkered, hopeless sort of vision which produced mediocre results and damaged the team he worked for by wasting the better part of a decade on a bad idea poorly achieved. There’s far better examples of this habit of mind from beyond the world of sports; the first two which occur to mind are the time Isaac Newton lost to doodling about with alchemy and the way Albert Einstein misplaced much of his later career attempting vainly to disprove the implications of quantum mechanics which so horrified him (“God does not play dice”). Sports are often like a little recreation of the wider world, and within that ship-in-a-bottle universe in his tiny way Wenger has been to football what those men were to physics. Now it may be that the bill for his early brilliance must be paid as the stubbornness remains even after the returns have diminished.

There’s no way to be sure, of course. Perhaps in his private moments Wenger regrets passing up on Madrid and their 500 quadrillion transfer budget; but I doubt it, and I suspect you, reading this, do as well. Perhaps Wenger would even happily spend another 20 million on this team if he had the chance, and is being denied the opportunity by a club whose bad real estate bets have come due; but now even the staunchest of Wenger’s supporters, like Arseblog, are becoming uneasy and citing the gaffer’s motivations as the location of responsibility for these choices. It’s even possible that Wenger is deliberately letting himself look like the responsible party to take the heat from the board, knowing that they will back him in his job and need some cover in the PR war against Usmanov; but there’s really no way to be sure, is there? And perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter: no matter who’s responsible for the decision, the fact remains that you can’t suit up a pile of money in midfield and you can’t get back the time lost to failed ideas.

July departs and August takes the stage, and we swirl the mug around again and hope to better understand our fortunes. Tea leaves.


July 30, 2009 - Posted by | The Arsenal | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. As far as Arseblogger goes, I think it may be a guess. I mean, six months ago I was absolutely convinced that we were swimming in Scrooge McDuck money that AW was just refusing to spend. I mean, how could we not, right?

    But, as time goes on, I find my mindset has gone the full 180 into “we’re skint” territory. It’s probably best to ignore the words and just watch the actions…and the actions tell a fairly clear story as far as I’m concerned.

    Blogs tacked a great point onto the end of his post today, though…the traditional spending powers – United, Chelsea and Liverpool, have spent either about the same or only a little more than us, even though in United’s case they lost two of their top players, and Liverpool still may lose Alonso.

    I wonder if the inflation caused by Madrid and Manchester Dhabi have scared off the entire rest of the world from buying players because they don’t want to get drawn into an arms race that they can’t win. On one hand, perhaps AW saw this coming, and tried to prepare us for it. On the other, even if that’s not the case, at least we’re selling Ade and Kolo and not Fabregas and RVP.

    Comment by Sean | July 30, 2009 | Reply

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