Having shifted schools – from cricket crazy to football frenzy, I boot up my PC. Reason: So that I could install the demo version of FIFA Football 2001 as a part of my quest to figure out football. Of course, I know that it is played with one ball and two feet (mainly). But that’s about it. Funnily enough, the demo only allows me to choose between the Red Devils and the Gunners. Knowing nothing about football but everything about gaming, I pick the team with the more skillful and mercurial forwards who plied their trade in red….and white.
I wake up in the afternoon to a tinkle emitted by my obsolete phone. It’s a message from a dear friend with the word ‘Thoughts? ‘ followed by a link. The headline of the linked website has been the best wake up alarm I have ever received in my 26 years of existence. Sure, we all knew his time was coming to an end but this was just too sudden. Surely not? A quick check on other websites correlated the news to give me the most bittersweet feeling since a long time.
One last month of Arsene’s Wengerisms, Arsene’s quirky interviews, Arsene’s jazz football, and Arsene’s Arsenal. But this would also be the last month of old dated ideas, resistance to change, tactical nous which has outlived itself, poor man management and baffling decisions.
Bergkamp and Henry. Silky Skill and Mercurial Pace
The Evolution of Football and its Clubs
The love affair with Arsenal started off as a means to achieve every human’s intrinsic desire to fit in and belong; Yet, it also gave me the option to be unique. Every football club across the globe is built on a set culture and values. This means that by and large, every club has the propensity to attract/appeal to individuals with similar core personalities. So in 2000, as the contender’s to Manchester United and Ferguson’s lofty throne to whom few gave any chances (view the aging back four), Arsenal’s resilience drew me into supporting them. I eventually took to the club like a fish in water.
Over the following years, the team went from being outsiders to ‘Invincibles’. A feat even the three hundred odd million petropounds of Manchester City cannot replicate. Arsenal became a European powerhouse with a rapidly increasing fan base. Gone were the days of boring, boring, Arsenal. In were the days of ‘Jazz Football’ and swift passing.
With the passage of time came acceptance into the fold (at school) and lots of trophies in the Highbury display cabinet. Arsenal was now an integral part of my life. It was still helmed by the manager who paid attention to the values and ethics in equal footing with the balance sheet. It seemed that the beautiful football and the trophies were the love children of the above.
Brave New World
In a new world order, where instant gratification and money became numero uno, the manager’s penchant for loyalty, respect and playing the right way began to feel out of place. Even more so his tactical decision-making on the field. While Sir Alex was fierce but fair, his contemporaries eschewed off-field responsibilities. In that, Mourinho and Pep have never concerned themselves with the balancing of the accounts. Neither have they cared about the image of the club or about mentoring and developing youth. Giving young players a chance to shine was a mere function, necessary in their grand plans of serial trophy winning.
One may argue that Pep get’s his teams to playing attractive football. The reality of his spending a fortune with glee abandon cannot be avoided. Of course, some might justify that he is a football coach and not a football manager and that finances and accounts must be left to the experts. Very true, but a quick look at their past suggests that Pep or Mourinho are NOT interested in building a club but only their own CV. A quick glance at the length of their previous tenures is rather telling.
Same old Arsenal, always
It was an interesting time which made me wonder whether the club and its ‘values’ would survive the onslaught of the new non-values. However, The Arsenal was fading; With little place for loyalty, respect, organizational goals above self-goals, right ethics and morality, in today’s world, this was to be expected. Surprisingly, the club did not fail with a splash (full credit to the manager), rather it failed because of poor decisions and tactical set-ups by the man in charge. The lack of transfer money coupled with a board focused on only the bottom line being green added to the woes.
The man in charge forgave a lot of trophies and success in a bid to do the right thing. But the club was stagnating. Not because of his values but because of his resistance to change with times and adapt as per the situation. To think about club values and reputation is good, but only when you’re busy winning trophies at the business end. Both must go hand in hand, one can’t leave the other behind.
In spite of his meaning well, apathy from the fans towards the team and him took over. His stubborn attitude only added to the disillusionment of everyone. It was time for a new voice in the dressing room and the dugout. The same man who always put the organizational well being above his own well being eventually had to tender his resignation.
After 22 glorious years of service to the club with lots of highs and lows, apathy and ridicule turned into gratitude and respect. Gratitude for the good memories and respect for all that he has done and for calling it quits. Wherever he may go, he has left a lasting impression on me. There is always a place at the top for Ethics, Morals, and Loyalty. But there is no place at the top for resistance and unwillingness to change.
Now that his swansong has commenced, I hope and pray that the next regime puts us back into an era of sustained success. So much so, that a mention of Arsene in the future will elicit a response of ‘Arsene Who?’ from the clubs younger supporters. If this situation does come to pass, then truly I shall be able to say Merci Arsene, for the second time after his resignation, and reminisce about the Invincibles.