By Omar Khan, @omardelkhan7
It’s been a topsy-turvy season for Arsenal so far: the Gunners are second in the table thanks to a better goal differential than United whilst remaining two points behind leaders Manchester City. We’re also on the brink of elimination from the Champions League thanks to inexplicable losses to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos; a minimum of four points over two ties versus giants Bayern Munich will help salvage that situation! Lastly, Arsenal has also progressed to the fourth round of the League Cup after an away win at Spurs.
The performances in the Champions League coupled with the daunting prospect of back-to-back ties versus the German giants have provided plenty of ammunition to Gooners who were desperately hoping for a couple of world class signings. I tried to see if there was a direct correlation between spending and winning trophies over here so I won’t repeat any of that. However, I came across an interesting piece by @JakeArsenal1 for the blog A Bergkamp Wonderland in which my fellow Gooner and blogger talks about how it just may be difficult for Arsenal to continue competing versus the likes of Chelsea, City, and other European giants who have the cash. He speaks of the pros and cons of doing things the right way versus the sugar daddy approach and how the debate can send him in an existential crisis!
Anyway, that post made me think a little because I’m a proponent of doing things that are deemed ‘the right way’, or being self-sufficient. When fans beam with pride over our self-sufficiency, they usually pride over the club’s ability to generate its own revenue and finance expenses without external aid. But that begs the question:
Are finances the only thing self-sufficiency should be about?
Personally, I believe there’s more to being an independent club than generating our own revenue, and I feel that the optimization of the following key areas will help us compete with any of England’s big names.
Whenever the word ‘resources’ is mentioned, the first thing we think about is financial resources. What about human resources? At the end of the day, it is the players that generate revenue for the club. Players who have a certain talent and are trained to play in a way that generates a demand double in value. After all, people pay top dollar to watch their favorite players at their respective teams, channels will pay top dollar to broadcast matches with the widest following and sponsors will always want to be associated with teams that are the most widely followed.
I’d like to share a segment from Dennis Bergkamp’s biography Stillness and Speed. This is a conversation between the author, I believe, and Johann Cruyff with regard to Ajax’s future.
I don’t think I can phrase my thought any better than the Dutch legend.
World class players don’t fall from the sky – they all start somewhere. A combination of raw talent, club’s support in terms of training and exposure, mental strength, and drive/motivation all help mold players into the best of the best. These days, world class players are becoming harder to obtain whilst good or very good players come with hefty price tags. These hefty price tags are as such because the rich clubs can afford to pay that premium and the selling clubs make their demands accordingly.
If Arsenal cannot compete financially with the richer clubs, then it is imperative that the focus should shift on youth development. The Arsenal academy has been around for a while but we have seen very few players actually come through and make the grade. Apparently some moves have been made in the right direction in this regard with new appointments at the top for youth development and that is good news, however, despite the fact that Wenger is probably one of few managers in the Premier League who places a lot of trust in youngsters, is it time that we see more minutes given to the likes of Zelalem, Rene-Adelaide, and Crowley? It would seem that the trend of giving youngsters more minutes at the top level is quite prevalent in the Bundesliga and we know how well both the German national team and domestic teams have fared in recent years.
I wish I had more insight into youth development practices at Arsenal (or anywhere else for that matter) but something hasn’t quite been clicking at that level for the Gunners. It could be because of a lack of talented youngsters available, inadequate coaching practices, or not enough exposure at the top level to be able to really assess a player’s true potential. But then what does Southampton, for example, do right at youth level that Arsenal does not?
In any case, if we can build our internal strength via developing our own resources efficiently and effectively, money will become less of an issue. Of course, while developing whole teams is an ideal scenario, it is far from likely to ever happen. This is where other resources need to be strengthened.
Arsene Wenger has had a knack for making names out of players who were previously unheard of or not considered as great talents. In recent years, we have seen less of unknown names becoming big names. Is our scouting network dithering or is there not enough talent out there anymore?
Again, I wish I had more insight into how the scouting network works from start to finish but I unfortunately do not. What I do know is that we’ve managed a Bellerin but also a Sanogo!
We are now reaping the benefits of catching the likes of Ramsey, Theo, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chambers, and Bellerin early from their respective clubs and Arsenal must ensure that a strong pipeline developed from scouting must continue. Again, I’m not saying we a build a team of youngsters only, but youngsters do have a tendency of aging. Where better to learn “the Arsenal way” then at the Emirates?
As Arsenal supporters, too many times have we seen the result of not having a few mature heads or leaders in the side over the years. The need for big players will always be there, but we should be able to start building teams that only need 2-3 big/established stars at the most. At the moment we have Ozil, Sanchez, Cech, and to a lesser extent Mertesacker as our big names. At the moment, barring the Champions League, we seem to be gearing towards building a sustainable challenge for the league title. The rest of the players were not really big names in the football world, yet here we are.
The concern, though, remains at our ability to retain players – whether players developed by the club or the ones purchased from elsewhere.
There are two types of basic motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic. Arsenal’s ability to retain players will hinge on how they address both of these types of motivation. Intrinsic motivation will be driven by the clubs’ ability to challenge for honors, including the Premier League. For how long will a push for fourth place be enough for players? Players will need to be sold not only on vision but also actual proof that the club is moving towards achieving that vision.
Extrinsic motivation such as monetary gain may be easier to deal with if the club is successful. Of course, more success means more money so from a very basic standpoint, the club can increase wages without too much of a problem. Another way to look at it is that players just might prioritize intrinsic gain over extrinsic gain; i.e. play for glory and not money.
People management is key in retaining talent. The importance of how well a manager or management is able to understand its talents’ needs cannot be underplayed. Arsenal is not a selling club anymore – not for a couple of seasons at least – and it needs to remain that way.
Wrapping It Up
I didn’t discuss the importance of a good manager and what I feel we need to look for in a new manager because that would take this topic on another tangent!
I believe in self-sufficiency, not only in football but also in life. It’s something I’d like to see Arsenal develop further in all aspects especially talent development. Other clubs’ spending habits will not matter as much if we have the talent at our disposal and I strongly believe that.
Like I said earlier, world class players don’t fall out of the sky; they start somewhere, and I say let that somewhere be Arsenal.
Omar Khan is a contributing writer for Full90Gooner. Follow him on Twitter at @omardelkhan7 and check him out at Gunners Town!