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.
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.