by Luka Kolakusic, @dream_shake
Know that I’ve planned to write something on this topic before the most recent Champion League embarrassment directed by Mr. Wenger and executed by the players. It was Trojan War 2.0, with Arsenal playing the role of naïve Trojans, foolishly accepting a huge wooden horse with best warriors in all of Greece hidden inside. What pains me is that Arsenal have room for about a dozen horses throughout the season. They all look the same and yet we never learn. I’m in no mood to ramble further about it. Hopefully, common sense will prevail over emotions.
To start, I should state my opinion on the very concept of European football competitions: Champions League and Europa League. Firstly, neither of the two is a league competition, and even though it seems like a meaningless linguistic issue, there might be something more to it. The idea is to make the Champions League a 10-team league consisted of CHAMPIONS of Europe’s best leagues, playing 18 fixtures over 10-ish months. Some would say the scheduling of such competition is impossible, due to players’ fatigue (could be managed by using squad depth) and whatnot, but with only 10 teams involved, surely it can be organized so it doesn’t disrupt domestic competitions in any significant way.
Unfortunately, the way football works today, TV companies and club owners would protest on the count of decreased revenue, even though most of them don’t even know what to do with the cash they already have. If any of you are reading this, I suggest burying it somewhere in the desert, drawing a treasure map and letting the kids have their fun before the pirates come to take what’s rightfully theirs (Why? All I need is the anger of evil eye-patched rum lovers).
I know I’d rather watch the giants of European(and World) football battle to conquer Europe, than “lesser” sides (Dinamo Zagreb, right?) fighting tooth and nail not to get embarrassed by one of the bigger boys, just to eventually end up getting smashed 5-0, solely because Pep Guardiola told his players to take their foot of the pedal. Moreover, how great would it be if teams were unable to avoid certain matchups through luck of the draw. For instance, while Manchester City ends up with Barcelona and Roma/Juventus year after year, their neighbors are constantly being handed relatively easy draws. Strongest side Chelsea has ever faced in the group stage is Basel, I believe. It’s not, but you get the point. Also, would they have won it few years back if the competition was structured differently? No, they wouldn’t. The best thing about it(if it ever comes to life) is complete destroyed of the infamous “4th place trophy“. More incentive should be made on trying to win the league, not settling for a top 4(soon to be top 3?) place, which is a wrong mindset for professional athletes to have. Sadly, a large number of them are satisfied with mediocrity as long as their bank accounts are fine. You can stop reading for a minute to think about the pros and cons of capitalism. Make a list and send it to me if you want.
Moving on to Europa League, it’s… I can’t! What’s the point of wasting words on something you don’t care about? Why does it even exist? You better go over your pros and cons of capitalism list to find the answer.
Back to reality and trying to figure out the “what”s, “how”s and whys of Arsenal’s constant failure to obtain the elusive Big Ears trophy, or La Orejona, if you prefer Spanish. Our beloved club never went all the way to win it, reached the semifinals twice, finished as runners-up once, played(and went through) the last qualifying round in 7 of last 10 seasons, and has been knocked out in the Round of 16 in each of their last 5 campaigns – not very good stats by Arsenal standards. True, being one of 32 participants for 16 years in a row is impressive in its own way, but what’s the point of participating with little to no chance of actually winning it? Money? No use of money if you don’t spend it on quality players. Ability to attract the same? Yes, but even if they do come eventually, how long before they get fed up with losing cause of the club’s lack of ambition in the transfer market or maybe manager’s inability to adjust in certain situations (No, I’m not saying we should burn Wenger at the stake, so put your torches and pitchforks down)? It’s early season and this story will be different if we lift the Premier League trophy in May, but I don’t believe our superstars are completely satisfied with FA Cups and 4th places, and why should they be?
Besides the obvious difference in talent comparing our squad with Barcelonas and Bayerns of the world, I’d say the biggest reason Arsenal, along with other leading English teams, haven’t managed to find success in Europe recently, is the schedule. Among top 5 European domestic leagues, Premier League is the only one without a scheduled winter break(Bundesliga – 1-2 months, Ligue 1 – 1 month, La Liga and Serie A – around the Christmas and New Year weeks). To make things worse, English FA piles up the games during holidays, forcing teams to play 3 games a week, making it more likely for players to accumulate fatigue and pick up long-term injuries. Culmination of it all begins in February with Round of 16 games, when non-English teams are going into a key period of their seasons refreshed and ready to march on towards the finish line, when at the same time monsieur Wenger is buying bubble wrap for Jack Wilshere’s ankles. A proud Englishman might say: “But it’s a long standing tradition. My grandpa once sat me on his lap and told me a great story of him, still hungover from last night’s Christmas celebration, scoring an own goal that got his manager, Joseph Maureen, sacked…“ I’ll admit, that’s a cute little story, but that tradition is clearly regressive and not suited for modern-day football.
Perhaps it’s a deeper issue of English football stagnating, still carrying the weight of backwards coaching and training methods, focused primarily on physicality and neglecting the technical aspect of the game, but I’m not familiar enough with that subject to discuss it further. Nevertheless, if my assumption is indeed correct, then it should come as no surprise that foreign players are dominating the English football scene and England national team is lacking the necessary power to reach the level of der Mannschaft or La Roja.
Business side of it could be the key factor. It’s quite simple really. Clubs worldwide, fully aware of heavy treasure chests owned by Premier League superpowers, are happy to squeeze them for every last penny. The product is a bunch of overpriced and overrated footballers expected to perform above their limits and achieve unrealistic expectations set by wages and transfer fees. In addition, the homegrown rule, along with growing commercial and TV revenue puts enormous prices(and pressure) on technically gifted English youngsters. And, as we know only too well, nothing and nobody adds up the pressure like English sports media (One pundit compared Ramsey to Zidane).
It’s bedtime, so let’s wrap this up with a quote from Tom Brady: “Football is unconditional love.“ You hear that? Unconditional! No point in moaning and crying about something we can’t change. Relax, read a book or something, whatever non-football stuff normal people do. There’s nothing else for us to do but stand behind the club through thick and thin. Come on The Arsenal!
Written by Luka Kolakusic. Follow him at @dream_shake