What Cost For Arsenal In Fighting The Establishment
I was fortunate enough this weekend to find an original script from “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”. Even in the 1960s, there were Arsenal fans everywhere willing to have a laugh at the Tiny Tots expense.
Tuco’s line may have be adjusted in the final cut but this version has more bite: “There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door, [crosses himself] those that will never win the league again.”
Well, I’m slacking off today, something called work apparently although Lord knows what that is, so here’s Darius, four minutes and sixteen seconds later than usual.
Change management is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the development of any organisation. In a nutshell, it can be defined as a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organisations from a current state to a desired future state.
Whether we recognise it or not, change management happens every day in every walk of life. It happens in our relationships as people grow together and a life circumstance e.g. becoming parents changes us. It happens in companies and organisations up and down the country. It happens to public bodies like the Police who are constantly in a dog fight to grasp the cultural sensitivities needed to function in a multi-cultural society.
It certainly happens in football, and it’s been happening at Arsenal for the last decade. It’s been happening with Spanish and German football for roughly the same period – and the fruits of this labour e.g. the respective performances of these nations in the recently concluded World Cup is there for all to see, in spite of the difficult and lean years of development.
Arsenal however, does not exist in a vacuum, and so the challenge of transitioning from the Arsenal of the old to a 21st century super power that will straddle the footballing landscape for years to come is riddled with obstacles.
The biggest and ugliest obstacle in this case is the establishment, one that is determined to hold on to regressive and dangerous cultural norms and characteristics. It is willing to fight tooth and nail to retain its identity and comfort zone, regardless of the cost of not evolving. It is adept at burying its head in the sand, protesting the notion that evolution can actually be a good thing.
In a week that has seen two players break their ankles with extensive ligament damage, we see a perfect illustration from an establishment not capable of understanding why it needs to change. We are told that it’s either the English way or the highway when it comes to Premier league football. A place where blood and thunder, guts and graft, kick and rush football reigns supreme.
My take is that anti-Arsenalism, if I that is what I can call it, is a reality within English football. If you understand change management, then you will recognise the coherent and relentless bias against Arsenal as a natural reaction to a team that by virtue of engaging in a progressive and ambitious change process is challenging the very reality and identity of English football.
Arsenal has evolved significantly in the last decade. The relocation to a bigger and better stadium; development of a sustainable youth system; excellent management of the business of the club during hard economic times; nurturing and developing an ethos and style of football that is orgasmic in every sense – all contribute to a success template that clubs up and down the land are desperate to follow as a means of surviving the ruthless environment of the 21st century game.
The irony is that despite the recognised merits of what Arsenal has done, the footballing establishment as a collective refuses to acknowledge this fact, whilst at the same time lamenting that something has to be done to improve the current state of English football.
By doing what we do best, Arsenal has managed to evolve with the times, while at the same time pointing a mirror back at the English footballing establishment. Not surprisingly, what is reflected back is ugly and they don’t like what they see. It’s a template of how you can run a club and still be competitive by playing expansive football. It’s a lesson on how the country as a whole can approach development and can coach youngsters from a very tender age in playing football in the right way.
But as with any organisation that fears change, the establishment reverts to type and bites back. Xenophobia kicks in, and it’s validated as a legitimate rationale for what ails English football. Desperation kicks in as we hang on to the tenets of a Neolithic approach to football. We promote the virtues of violence and thuggery on the field in the name of physicality and a brand of quintessentially English football.
When Wenger complains that his players are being targeted, Arsenal are considered as whingers with a bunch of soft brittle boned foreigners who can’t hack playing up north on dark and cold winter nights.
When Arsenal’s players have their legs broken; we’re told that the culprits are honest committed individuals who are just clumsy, and it’s Arsenal’s fault for having quick and nimble players. Why the hell can’t they just stand still and take the tackle?
Whenever you hear a player being described by the English pundits and hacks, the first thing they almost certainly say is “he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s very tall, and he’s physical”. It has nothing to do with whether they can play football. And you wonder why England keeps getting pounded in international tournaments.
What was interesting yesterday is that one of the most anti-Arsenal journalists on the most anti-Arsenal radio station dedicated over 2 hours to plead to the English establishment to start listening to Arsène Wenger on the issue of referees protecting Arsenal’s technically gifted players from the uncouth thugs who masquerade as committed physical players.
It had nothing to do with the fact that two players nearly had their careers brought to an end with ankle breaks in one weekend. It ironically was about the cynical fear that an English player – Jack Wilshere – now needs to be protected from these savages because he is the future of England. Make what you will from the sudden morality attack.
What isn’t in doubt is that Arsenal continue to do the right thing and we will unfortunately do so while suffering the wrath of an establishment for daring to challenge the status quo. It’s a cost we have to pay.