I haven’t worked out a witty, pithy column name for this one yet (You Lucky People? A Bit Of Luck? Lucked Out?) but Andrew (@luckietwit / arsenalandrew) is back with some more thoughts
There is a point in the life-cycles of football clubs when the concrete need for change in leadership presents itself. Before that point is reached, there is a phase when the perception of the need for change first dawns. The degree to which these points are separated could be debated until the cows come home.
Why do football club managers get replaced? What causes change, aside from an obvious trigger event such as a higher league left under the cloud of relegation? Two underlying conditions are found: confidence and trust. As confidence fades and trust bids a fond farewell, the ‘mandate’ from the followers is lost.
Ironically, for most fans of ‘lesser’ clubs, the presence of Trust and Confidence in their clubs is often in reverse configuration to that normally to be found at the ‘bigger’ clubs. In other words, the vast majority of fans in the wider world of football are, somewhat perversely, confident that their club will continue to fail to win the league and, in all likelihood, will continue to not win any cups. They have the utmost trust in their clubs to deliver on that expectation, and, season in, season out, they are rarely disappointed.
Where things tend to get messy is when clubs that HAVE previously won ‘things’, stop winning. For example, the fans of the current champions of Europe have neither trust nor confidence in their latest temporary manager and it would seem Rafa’s tenure at The Bridge is likely to be fleeting even by Chelsea’s remarkable standards. Still today, the fans of Liverpool are agonizing over the loss of their club’s pre-eminence in the league of the 1980s.
Sir Alex Ferguson seemed set to retire from management a few years ago after his own powers appeared to be on the wane. That he eventually changed his mind and is today still firmly in charge at Old Trafford is not without significance for either Mrs. Ferguson or Arsenal.
In the case of Sir Alex, whilst there was a point in which the fans of the club may have had their confidence in the man challenged, their trust in him, I’d argue, was never compromised. Ever. They always knew – and most still know – he would only ever do the right thing for the club – whether that results in his retirement or in the continuation of his exceptional reign.
The fundamental problem confronting Arsenal in this regard is that the complexity of the footballing universe in which AFC inhabits has made it uniquely difficult for the fans of the club to judge matters. The move from Highbury introduced an entirely new dimension to the club’s affairs that the fans and the staff of the club at all levels have been wrestling with ever since. Surprisingly, as fans of the club, we are today more likely to have our views on the club ‘attacked’ by fellow fans of Arsenal rather than the fans of other clubs. And this compromise in our ability to understand what is actually going on is the background under which we have all labored for what is now fast approaching an entire decade.
With something like furniture, it is often possible to patch up an item with a crack in it but the original will never appear quite as strong as when it was in its original condition – at least in our minds. An antique chair leg, broken off with age, can in theory be reattached any number of times but doubt will always persist as to its ability to avoid a future collapse.
But for Arsenal fans, unlike pretty much the fans of all other clubs, it’s NOT merely a question of Trust and Confidence in the manager. As fans, we’re not even sure Arsene’s antique leg has ever actually been broken.
Those two sides of the coin of consent – Confidence and Trust – have been tarnished by the need, on the part of the fan, for some kind of grasp on the wider ‘macro-economic’ background within which the club sits. A grasp on the regulatory aspects of Financial Fair Play would also help. As would an appreciation of the ‘politics’ of FFP too, in making a judgement on whether it will even be enforced, and if so, how, when, and with what effect.
A knowledge of player contracts and the role of agents is, of course, a must have.
And all of this, coupled with the intense debate that goes to the very core of the Club’s ownership, has conspired to disrupt our usual ability to decide whether, in fact, in Arsene we DO still trust. Let alone retain our confidence in him.
What fans see, as the darkest of footballing autumns gives way to an uncertain winter is a level of discontent breaking out that has rarely ever been associated with the club. But upon what, exactly – and upon whom – is this discontent founded?
Over several seasons, a succession of much loved and hugely admired stars – whose names are STILL to be seen on the shirts across our backs on match days – have left the club. That there is – and has always – been a conveyor belt of talent offering up the next generation of idols appears no longer to be enough for the fan base. The stress on the players of the annual adjustment in playing style caused by the influx of new faces results time and again in disruption to our progress in league and cup and manifests in near catastrophic dips in form sufficient for ever-increasing numbers of fans to lose hope as the club squanders vital points and falls out of competitions we all feel we could be winning.
The outpouring of fan anger and emotion is akin to a footballing volcano finally exploding after years of a steady build up in pressure.
Regardless of how we might judge such actions, the mere existence of booing in the stadium, songs ‘against’ the manager, marches, black bags and scarves, is symbolic of the fissures that have opened up into huge cracks of furious dissent as ever-growing numbers of fans remove their ‘consent’ for the ‘right’ of the club to carry on in the old directions.
The point at which the club decides that the perception of the need for change has graduated into an actual requirement for it, may not yet be upon us. That the warning signs are clearly there for the club is beyond dispute. The ball remains firmly in their court. How they respond will dictate whether Arsene and the club replicates the recovery achieved by Sir Alex Ferguson or if, as fans, we go all Chelsea or Blackburn on them.
New players? New manager? New board or new ownership?
That’s what it all boils down to.
It was noticeable on Tuesday night that, despite the defeat, a very much second-string Arsenal side gave a full-strength Greek outfit serious problems in a competition for which our place in the second stage had already been booked. It has also become apparent to even the most ‘loyal’ of observers that the confidence of the Arsenal first team appears compromised by the very act of their turning up to play at the Emirates.
In these trying circumstances, the option to do nothing is itself likely to prove unsustainable.
The club, in the grip of fan unrest and a ‘home’ venue that is friendlier towards our opponents than our own players, is more likely, as it wrestles with circumstance, to spiral into ever-more dangerous operating territory.
I hesitate to say what I think SHOULD happen, as my grasp on all aspects of the club’s predicament is, in common, with most fans, full of holes and there’s little point in pretending otherwise.
I do however feel that if placed on a more level playing field, Arsene Wenger could yet deliver up the type of success played in the style we remember served by him and his teams not so long ago. In this respect, Arsene retains both my trust and my confidence.
I don’t actually think he would go but I would hate to see him driven out.
I firmly believe the problems Arsenal face are bigger than the current manager. In my view, bigger than ANY manager we might employ.
The question, rather, is simply this:
Is the CLUB big enough to level the playing field?
And if so, do we trust it to?
And if it even tries, will we have any confidence that it will succeed?
But if it can’t or won’t deliver the club to a better, more competitively stable place, as fans, where will that leave us?
Where will WE go from here?