Top of the pyramid: why Arsene Wenger has little blame in Arsenal’s woes

by 3 years ago · 3 minute read

As Arsenal once again come crashing out of dreamland into the reality that another season has been lost in disappointment, the annual discontent is getting louder for every passing year. Many supporters are once again calling for a managerial change, claiming Wenger has reached the limit of what he’s capable of. But is Wenger really the main problem?

At the height of Wenger’s career at Arsenal, a couple of interesting things happened. The first thing is the hubris installed in the board room after our historic unbeaten season, leading them to believe we could win anything with just some kids and a couple of pennies in the bank. The second thing is that a couple of years later, a board room rift resulted in the ousting of David Dein.

The role of David Dein

David Dein bought 16.6% of Arsenal in 1983, and slowly built his portfolio to 42% over the next eight years. Since then, he was our middle-man, our transfer broker and our fixer. He was the link between Wenger and the board, and he was the man you trusted to get things done. He was not only instrumental in bringing Wenger to the club, but also brokered the deals for Wright, Bergkamp, Vieira, Henry, Pires – the list is endless.

So when the board got rid of Dein, we lost one of the most important backroom staff members we ever had. His departure was also similar to our recent squad departures, in that no one was brought in as a proper like-for-like replacement. Dein’s club responsibilities were delegated to others, just like our departed holding midfielder responsibilities have been delegated to other positions.

With this extra burden of having to get involved with transfer details and contract negotiations, Wenger has lost some of the focus on the pitch. With Dein as his go-to guy for negotiations and making things happen behind the scenes, Wenger was able to put more effort into nurturing the project initiated by the club as soon as the contracts were signed for building the Emirates Stadium – competing at the highest level while spending less than others.

It was more of a necessity than a choice to do so, as the cost of building a new stadium meant we had to look at alternative ways of putting together a football team. And so the mighty transition started, with Wenger looking to bring in new teenagers every other year or so, to build a continuous wave of talent breaking into the first team as the older generations dwindled in quality.

But with Dein leaving the club, we lost a ruthlessness not evident in the likes of Wenger, or any other backroom staff for that matter. That ruthlessness could have meant a difference in how Barcelona spent years tapping up our best player – it’s doubtful Dein would’ve allowed such blatant disrespect from the catalans. It could also have meant the difference in both the kind of quality we could attract, and also the amount of money we’d spend on that quality.

Current tug-of-war causing trouble

When Dein left the club in 2007, he teamed up with Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov and Iranian investor Farhad Moshiri to form investment group Red & White Holdings – dedicated to buy as many Arsenal shares as possible to resume ownership of the club and get Dein back in the board room to usher Arsenal into a new era of success as the stadium debts were having less influence on the financial policy than in the early 2000′s.

Stan Kroenke makes a rare appearance at the Emirates - meanwhile, David Dein rarely misses a game

Current chairman Peter Hill-Wood saw this as an aggressive form of revenge from Dein, and started looking for an alternative – someone who could compete with Dein and Usmanov for shares and keep Red & White Holdings away from the club.

That person was Stan Kroenke, a US businessman with billions to spend and a good track record in American sports. In other words; the only reason Stan Kroenke is the owner of Arsenal Football Club is because Peter Hill-Wood didn’t want David Dein – one of Wenger’s closest allies – to return to the club.

Meanwhile, Wenger is left to try and control several areas of responsibility when he should be focused on just one – getting the first team to play proper football.

Wenger trying to be the dealmaker has resulted in a couple of blunders – most recently the mix-up with AS Monaco over summer signing Park Chu-Young, who escaped his hotel room after a late plea to pack his things and head to London. Trying to be business-savvy and merciless towards the young men he’s attempting to coach in both football and people skills just won’t work. He is forced to wear too many hats, and at some point he needs another Dein – someone who can play the bad cop while Wenger is playing the good one.

State of Arsenal’s finances

When the Arsenal Supporter’s Trust met a couple of days ago, some worrying numbers emerged – the biggest one being that Arsenal’s annual £50m transfer budget is 90% made up by Champions League money. A total of £45m disappears from the war chest if Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League, and that means we’ll have £5m left for transfer fees, wages, add-ons, bonuses, etc.

We also revealed numbers on Twitter recently showing Arsenal purchased 40 players since the 2008-2009 season – but only six of those players have since left the club on a permanent basis. Of the 34 players left, only six or seven would be considered to be first XI starters. It all results in the fourth highest wage bill in the Premier League, despite the fact that Arsenal have an internal wage cap around £110-120k/week, and despite the fact that Man City and Chelsea have some players on £180k/week or more.

This summer will be quite interesting in terms of how our frugal board will approach the imminent need for success, especially if Arsenal finish below fourth place in the Premier League. Buying players isn’t the ultimate answer, but strengthening the team with a couple of high class footballers in the right areas, all while trying to clear out the personnel we don’t really need, could be the first step on a new path.

If Wenger will be here for that transition, no one knows. But one thing is for certain; Wenger is not the man to try and broker the deals and make things happen. He needs a right hand man, someone who’s not afraid to get things done. From one perspective you might say that we have the same problems off the pitch as on it; inability to adapt and win ugly.

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  • Alex

    With PHW being pensioned off in the summer, how likely is the return of David Dein?

  • Guest

    Okay, my original comment (now deleted) was that this was an impressive piece of revisionism. I will qualify that, in the hopes that the moderators see some discussion value to it, even though most of the points are covered by others. 

    I think to most of us, the inner workings of the club are a big mystery. And not just because we have no insiders personally – it’s because few insiders exist. That is why there is so much confusion as to who is to blame, be in board, manager, or players; be it wage structure or ineptitude of negotiating team. Little real knowledge exists. This article tries to be authoritative by stating opinions and conjecture as facts. For example, the whole thing about PHW trying to protect the club from Dein, by turning to Kroenke. It’s certainly a point of view, but it ignores the fact (which again, another poster rightly pointed out) that PHW initially didn’t want him anywhere near the club either.

    There are other examples as to why this article is little more than a point of view dressed up as fact, with some impressive historical blurring. Most of the articles here are very interesting and usually impressive in their analysis of the game, the tactics, etc. I like that, a lot. I don’t think this kind of piece really belongs here. I don’t mean to troll, just stating my opinion. Hope that clears it up.

  • Ix Techau

    The only reason the comment was removed was because there is no discussion value in just a negative remark. Now that you’ve explained the original comment I don’t have any problem with your viewpoint.

    To answer it though:

    You are right that to most people the inner workings of Arsenal is a mystery. But not because little knowledge exists, but because most people aren’t interested in boardroom politics, or go through the trouble of reading books, newspaper articles, autobiographies, analysis, etc etc, about the subject. To most Arsenal supporters, the only important stuff is what happens on the pitch.

    In fact, I’d claim that plenty of knowledge exists, especially if you know where to look. Obviously you won’t find a book at WHSmith called “The Secrets Of The Arsenal Board Room”, but our board consists of several individuals, all with their own history and wealth of information.

    In many of the acclaimed Arsenal and Wenger books out there, you can find plenty of good information that would pass most supporters by, simply because they’re not really interested in that stuff.

    It seems the whole thing about Peter Hill-Wood and Stan Kroenke has been misunderstood. I haven’t ignored the fact that Hill-Wood didn’t want Kroenke at the club, but the fact is that Kroenke was the answer to the threat of Red & White Holdings, which ultimately was a threat to Hill-Wood’s continued reign as chairman.

  • Imhays Rex

    I’m totally miss the old arsenal club back before 2005…the atmosphere has changed..  =(

  • Marios Vlachos


  • Omda

    No one says and explains why an old man like PHW with less than 1% of the shares has so much power!!!!

  • Ix Techau

    Judging by our financial prowess, he’s done a fantastic job. You have to realise that board room is more about business, and from that perspective Hill-Wood has managed to keep Arsenal at healthy levels for a long time.

  • Ix Techau

    What I mean is; he’s been given so much power because he obviously knows how to run a football club.

  • Pingback: Red & White Holdings pounces: Open letter to Arsenal and Stan Kroenke | Arsenal Report

  • jeanwete

    i which that man to die as he is in the hospt so we will be free

  • The Pitch is Back

    erm your title is completely different to your article subject. All you have done is talk about the board and where they have failed. A really lazy article. Also Dein sold his shares to Kroenke not PHW.

  • Ix Techau

    The article explains why Wenger has little blame in Arsenal’s overall problems, just like the title explains. After he left the club, David Dein sold his remaining shares to Red & White Holdings, i.e. Usmanov.