Saturday, January 14, 2017

Arsene Wenger and the contract conundrum

Arsene Wenger's contract with Arsenal will be over this June. This is no news to you. Wenger has a 2 year contract extension from Arsenal on the table. This is no news to you either. A sizable section of Arsenal fans want Wenger to leave this June. This comes as no surprise to you, especially if you are part of "that" group (Read: Wenger Out brigade). Arsenal's top two players (Sanchez and Ozil) are having a contract standoff with Arsenal over wages (I presume) and now Ozil has expressed the (main) reason that is preventing him from signing an extension. 

Reason: Arsene Wenger's contract standoff. 

Before we get to that, let's try to understand Arsenal's perception in the footballing world. For the past 2 decades, Arsenal have been managed by Arsene Wenger. Although Arsenal was a popular club back then, Wenger put Arsenal on the world map by his footballing philosophy. In the past 2 decades, Arsenal moved from a top team in the league to a global brand and among the best in the footballing world. A team who were once called the invincibles (49 game unbeaten streak), the unique one-touch passing style (known as tika-taka to some) and a team that plays the most eye-catching football in the world. It's truly a pleasure to watch Arsenal when in full flow. All this was possible because Arsene Wenger made it happen. 

As it stands today, we still play the most beautiful football (the frequency of which has reduced significantly) sans the desired results. The stadium project took a toll on Arsenal's winning ambitions. The ambition was there, the resources and results not so much. But things started to change when we bought Mesut Ozil, one of the best attacking midfielders on the planet. So much so that Cristiano Ronaldo criticized Real Madrid for going ahead with this transfer. Arsenal turned a page into the future. The next year, we bought Alexis Sanchez and the signs of a turnaround was on the horizon. 

Contract signing - Time for Arsenal players to sign the ting - Arsene Wenger

Now here's the interesting part - if you read their first interview after joining Arsenal, they mentioned that Arsene Wenger played a huge part in them joining Arsenal. And it's not only them, many of Arsenal players have said the same. Jack Wilshere considers Wenger as his father figure. Remember, when Wenger's contract was about to be over last time, Wilshere went on record saying he will leave if Wenger leaves. And this statement is coming from a lifelong Arsenal fan in Wilshere. Aaron Ramsey was snatched from the clutches of Manchester United by Wenger. Xhaka was excited to be part of Wenger's project. Cech joined from Chelsea for the same reason. Ok wait, he joined because he wanted to stay in London. But most of the players joined because of Wenger and / or his salesman-like persuasion of the Arsenal project. 

So Arsenal fans, let's accept it - Wenger is a huge part of Arsenal brand. Whether you like it or not. And I don't find anything wrong, given the current situation, that Ozil wants to wait for Wenger's future to be sorted out before committing. As a fan I am not necessarily happy about it, as it should always be Arsenal FC not Arsene FC. But in a corporate setup (and Football is no longer just a game, it's now a full-fledged industry), resources leave their current project for better opportunities which includes money, location and an understanding boss. Arsenal with London as base and Wenger as boss provides a conducive atmosphere for players to play to their potential. If one of the two mentioned cogs (location and boss) are removed, the wheel will find it difficult to move ahead. This is where Arsenal management sans Wenger should come in and restore faith among the players and fans. And the management will have a huge role to play here. One bad decision can destroy the brand and one good decision can elevate Arsenal to levels closer to Real and Barcelona in terms of success. No kidding, it's possible.

I personally want Ozil and Sanchez to sign contract extension sooner than later as the next 3-4 years (in their late 20s) will see them reach their full potential as players. And I want it to happen despite Wenger's contract standoff. I am a Wenger fan and will always be one. I still believe Wenger is not part of the problem but is part of the solution. At the same time, I feel by extending Arsene Wenger's contract, we are delaying the inevitable problem of identifying a successor without impacting the Arsenal ship. Wenger will move on one day for sure. If Arsenal management doesn't have a well laid-out continuity plan, we will fall head over heels like it happened at Manchester United. 

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