Soccernama: Inside the Mind of Professor Wenger
Nicklas Bendtner, in the recent past, considered himself to be one of the best strikers in the world. Would the ‘best striker in the world’ miss a sitter that would have ensured victory against Barcelona in the Champion’s league? Would the best striker in the world square up against his own teammate in a derby game? Would he display the name of an unofficial sponsor on the top of his underpants (a betting firm called Paddy Power).
The answer would be a resounding negative. And we’d all continue to rubbish Bendtner’s audacious claim as yet another foolish rant. But while he may not be the best striker in the world, for Arsene Wenger, he was his most valuable signing. You may scoff, but we do not jest.
In order to measure the impact of Arsenal players who have registered no less than 50 appearances in the last ten years, we calculated money paid/goals contributed for attackers and similarly money paid/clean sheets kept for defenders. Amongst both attackers and defenders, Bendtner turned out to be Wenger’s knight in shining armour. The ‘Bendtner Stat’- as we would like to call it – is as low as 3,788 Euros per goal contributed, a stark contrast from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who stands at 920,000 Euros per goal. Having spent 250,000 Euros on Bendtner, the figure of 3788 Euros / goal remains the least amount of money that ‘The Professor’ has spent per goal contributed in the last ten years. Now that’s a stat worth gloating about Nicklas.
Football’s astute man
The ‘Bendtner Stat’ revelation displays Wenger’s inherent shrewdness in football. Many are under the misconception, as with Bendtner, that Wenger’s transfer market forays leave much to be desired. But the fact remains that he successfully converted a 340 million-plus Euro debt for the Emirates Stadium into a 50M Euro purchase of Mesut Ozil – one of the world’s best number 10’s in a matter of seven years, while at the same time, securing Champion’s League qualification for each of those seven years.
To put it into context, Arsenal’s top management decided to invest in a new stadium to gain more revenue. They moved from Highbury to Emirates in 2006 with Emirates Airlines paying 115M Euros for securing the naming rights. That left close to 340M Euros worth of debt to service and pay back. What’s the impact of a 340M Euro debt? Pompey (Portsmouth) went into administration twice with half that debt (150M Euros) while Rangers Football Club went into administration with almost 1/4th of that debt (90M Euros). But Wenger had other plans.
He set the record straight when it came to the difference between a coach and a manager. Jose Mourinho – “The Special Happy One” – was just a coach at Real Madrid; a coach who spent 150M Euros of the club’s money during his three year tenure. He called the shots for the brief period that he was there but people like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger shaped the future of their respective clubs and built dynasties. They were managers in the true sense of the term – managing the team effectively while balancing the books.
Inside the mind of the professor
And managing a 340M Euro debt is no walk in the park. Wenger slowly but surely, with his decisive transfers brought stability and profitability back to Arsenal in a period of seven years. In the last four years he sold seven of his core team members to domestic and continental rivals for a combined profit of 100M Euros, while also gaining lucrative value of reaching the group stages of the Champions League in every one of his 17 years at the helm.
Let’s dive straight into some of his exploits in the transfer market. His policy has been to buy right and not just buy big. If he sees the impact per Euro, he will put in the money (Ozil, Cazorla, Arshavin) but refuses to budge from his stance of only paying fair value for the player. He has bought British talent (which is the most inflated in the most inflated market) like Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gibbs, Walcott for 10M each and developed them into first team players for the national team, which most certainly gives them an entry pass into the 30M Euros club.
Even the supposed rubbish that Wenger acquired – Senderos, Eboue and Chamakh – were dead profits. They underperformed on the pitch but were sold for a combined profit of 5M Euros thus showing that Wenger even received value for his squad players.
The septet of Fabregas, Van Persie, Song, Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Nasri and Clichy were the rhythmic heart-beat of a team, that wasn’t far away from the elusive League title. But they threw it away in the final stages. Having been trophy-less together at Arsenal prompted them to look for pastures anew with the bonus of earning some more greenbacks. This heaped more pressure on Wenger and was seen as a disaster for the club as a whole. There are, however, two sides to the coin. On the pitch – results suffered, the morale of the fans and the team was down and nobody wanted to join a selling club. The flipside was the financial gain that was needed to offset the debt. For Wenger it was a no-loss situation. Statistics show that this septet gave him maximum value on the pitch while leveraging the debt with multiple resale value. For example, Van Persie and Fabregas had Bendtner Stats of 23,810 and 21,622 Euros per goal contributed respectively. Kolo Toure and Clichy were prominent among the defenders, having Bendtner Stats of 2,176 and 4,808 Euros per clean sheet kept. Not to mention that these two weren’t bad in the contribution of goals as well.
Wenger is human after all
Wenger, too, however, is only human. His Achilles heel is his judgement of defensive players. His stubbornness while dealing with the defensive midfield position ‘the leader on the pitch’ (the most natural Vieira replacement Abu Diaby spends 80% of the season on the treatment table) has helped compound Arsenal’s situation as merely a top four contender. One of the few anomalies that we have noticed in Wenger’s transfer dealings as well as grooming from the academy are his defenders. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen have cost him in excess of 10M Euros – a relatively high price for a defender – and feature poorly in our metric (538,095; 416,666; and 375,000 Euros per clean sheet respectively). Successful teams are built from the back and this remains a major concern for Wenger. He has made the odd mistake as far as attackers are concerned as well. His most high profile mistakes being Hleb and Gervinho at 576,923 and 521,739 Euros per goal respectively.
The Financial powerhouses
Wenger was helpless against the power-brokers of the transfer market – his players – coupled with the lavish spending of Chelsea and Manchester City. They blew the market apart while inflating both the transfer market and the player’s wages exponentially. Chelsea and City both won the title by spending money. It is a modus operandi that works on occasion but is not sustainable for any club. Wenger prefers the route of developing talent and extracting value both off and on the pitch.
With the expensive Ozil purchase, we can see a distinct change to his usual policy of frugal spending. We are witnessing an improvisation of the Wenger technique come about by his realization that a balance needs to be struck between young and established players. Yes he paid a premium for Ozil but in return he has procured the services of a guaranteed star – one that does not have to spend time to learn the Arsenal way of playing. In addition he is looking at Ozil as someone who can help in the maturing of younger players like Ramsey, Wilshere, Ox and Gibbs. Regardless, the nature of the Ozil signing was another show of genius from the professor which was initiated by his sending of Gervihno to Roma, that in turn sent Lamela to Tottenham, Bale to Real Madrid and finally brought Ozil to Arsenal.
Whether Wenger is the best manager in the world depends on Arsenal’s on-field success in the next few years. Who knows? If he dominates England and Europe, the financial superpowers would have effectively financed Arsenal’s stadium and indirectly their rise to the top. It will be the ultimate dethroning of the European heavyweights who have prospered immensely while Wenger and Arsenal fans have faced the agony and ignominy of looking on from the sidelines. If the Ozil transfer avalanches into a stronger bigger Arsenal, it could all take an ironic twist of fate and blow up in the faces of Man City, Man United and Real Madrid. Maybe that was his strategy all along – the master-plan of a genius professor just waiting for his plans to gain fruition.
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