Regretfully the euphoria of the Arsenal’s 13th FA cup victory will be short-lived. Life is a bitch you know. Sooner or later reality bites, whether we like it or not, even for those who live in the football bubble trying to avoid the often brutish forces in the real world.
Every gooner should now be aware that the club’s Board of Directors will meet on Tuesday when the fate of our longstanding, most successful manager ever will be finally decided. From the public statements of Arsene Wenger there is a contract extension on offer but he is undecided, apparently because of his disagreement with proposed changes in how the club operates which will affect his freedom as a manager.
A little segue is necessary to explain briefly the nature of Arsenal Holdings PLC to readers unfamiliar with such matters. In regular discourse in the press, on twitter, podcasts and in most blogs the impression is given that Arsenal Football Club is privately owned by the duo of Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov, majority vs minority. The media then spins a soap opera of the two engaged in an unending, unedifying power struggle. In truth the club is owned by a public limited company meaning its shares may be traded freely to the public. Stan owns 68% of the shares, with no intention of selling, which gives him a controlling interest over the PLC including the choice of directors. The directors are legally responsible for the affairs of the company. They employ a general manager or CEO (Ivan Gazidis) to manage day-to-day business of the company. Technically Wenger reports to Gazidis as the manager responsible for the football side of the business.
Given that Wenger is such a giant as a football manager whose achievements are directly related to the humongous financial and reputational growth of Arsenal during his 20 year tenure, any decision concerning his future employment is not a matter to be solely decided by the CEO. To be fair, the Board of directors of any well-run company will have a direct say in the appointment of key employees.
It is also my understanding under British law a PLC must have directors meetings where annual financial statements are presented and adopted. Traditionally such meetings are also an opportunity to make important, strategic corporate decisions. In the case of Arsenal PLC the end of season meeting is usually such an occasion.
Getting back on track, what are the Wenger-related issues facing the directors at Tuesday’s meeting? It appears that the manager is the one who has laid down the gauntlet with respect to the terms of the contract extension. We can recall that April presser when he poured scorn on the idea of a Director of Football (DOF):
“I don’t know what director of football means.
“Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left?
“I don’t understand and I never did understand what it means.
“Sorry, no. I’m not prepared to talk about that. I’m the manager of Arsenal football club and, as long as I’m manager of Arsenal football club, I will decide what happens on the technical front. That’s it.”
Well since then he has not spoken about it and neither has Ivan Gazidis or Josh Kroenke for that matter. The one thing I noted from the tone of The Guardian, which usually runs cover for CEO’s and other big-wigs in football, was the approval they gave to what they describe as Gazidis desire:
“… to harness Wenger’s strengths but also help him in areas where he feels the manager and the club are weaker. For example, a director of football or sporting director could be responsible for keeping abreast of developments in analytics and sports science.”
I for one am inclined to ask the Guardian how well did the directors of football work at Tottenham and Manchester City over the recent past? Did they notice how the men in suits wheeled and dealed signing a colossal number of mediocre players who predictably failed leaving Villas Boas, Tim Sherwood and Pellegrini to take the axe while they sailed away with huge salaries and reputations intact.
Wenger is obviously not taken in by the honeyed words of the corporate apologists:
“When it does not work here, I am blamed, so if [it happened] I am blamed for decisions I have not made [as well],” Wenger said. “It is tough enough to be blamed for decisions you have made. It is difficult to imagine that somebody signs a player that the manager does not know. That never happened to me.
“Some coaches are only interested in managing the team and they are happy with it. I am not like that and I cannot change myself now. I can change by trying to get better but my personality? I have 40 years of experience at the top, top level and I think, personally, I have a good knowledge of the game. I am who I am. That is it.”
From the general press coverage it seems the DOF gambit must have taken a hit after Wenger’s full scale barrage but the rumblings of disquiet between Wenger and the club hierarchy have not died. Only recently, just prior to the FA cup final, Wenger in a BBC interview described a climate of disrespect:
“You don’t mind criticism, because we are in a public job. The lack of respect in some stages has been, for me, a disgrace. And I will never accept that.
“I believe there is a difference between being criticized and being treated in a way that a human being don’t deserve to be treated. And I will never forget that.”
Clearly something is afoot and Arsene is not going without a fight. Some are however alarmed that this latest statement portends his departure. My view for the longest of time is Wenger will re-up mainly because he is committed to the project he has started and there are clear signs he could win another Pl title before retiring.
For two years running a title challenge floundered almost immediately upon a season-ending injury of Santi Cazorla, as evident from the data I researched and published. Now that Wenger has changed the set-up of the team since early April, leading to an eight-game winning run culminating in the FA cup triumph, there is clear evidence of self-belief and capacity to achieve great things. As Wenger himself disclosed, with 1-2 key additions to the existing squad this team can easily challenge for the title.
After the FA cup final I am even more confident that Stan Kroenke will not risk his investment, which has tripled in value in six-years, by losing his most valuable asset. You don’t become a billionaire by not identifying and retaining the most valuable person on your team. If he and his family should have any doubt, please draw their attention to the following table which summarizes 21 years and 798 games of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal:
Winning percentage: 58%
Losing percentage: 18%
Average league position: 3rd
Average pts per season: 75
Greatest number of FA Cup titles: 7
Only coach to manage an Invincible Team.
It may be D-Day at the Arsenal board room on Tuesday but I doubt there will be any fireworks. The data leaves me confident.
PS: As an afficionado of The GodfatherI do expect a Don Wenger moment after the Board meeting.