Arsene Wenger's "socialist model" is causing Arsenal's decline

Limiting excellence by pegging it to mediocrity can start a rot that causes even the greatest of institutions to decline

by Dane Vallejo on 7 January 2013 12:18

“We have no players on £200,000 a week”, he said. “We have a more socialist model.”

Being a season ticket-holding, life-long Arsenal fan (context: we've not lifted a trophy since 2005) of conservative persuasion, perhaps my hackles are particularly sensitive to such a statement. But it does seem to me a curious approach to managing a professional sports team.

Of course, team sports require a large measure of team work, and the logic behind employing a flatter pay scale in order to harbor a sense of camaraderie is thus not completely incomprehensible. Such an outlook would also go some way towards explaining Wenger’s recent policy of recruiting young British talent since he views their shared nationality as his best chance of maintaining togetherness, thus avoiding a repeat of the exodus of talent which has seen some of his best foreign players leave in recent years.

But this move towards collectivism is some leap for a manager who took the premier league by storm in 1997 with a proclivity for dazzling displays of individual brilliance - his own included.

The younger Wenger was much criticised for overlooking British talent, fielding teams often with no English players. Times were better then – when Highbury’s faucets flowed with silverware, and players were recruited purely on the basis of their talent and paid accordingly. Squad players, who perhaps had to wait a while before adding a Maserati to their Bentley, had little to moan about when the imperious Thierry Henry was dwarfing their salaries.

Fast forward to 2013 and Arsenal’s bloated wage structure is the fourth highest in the premier league (£143 million p/a) but with no one player earning a particularly high wage (NB: we’re talking relatively here. Arsenal’s top earner, Lukas Podolski, reportedly takes home in excess of £100k per week.) Welcome to Wenger’s take on 21st century socialism.

Amazingly, fringe players such as Johan Djourou, Nicklas Bendter, Marouane Chamakh, and Denilson (who in the last two seasons have made 30 premier league appearances between them) all find themselves surplus to requirement – and hence are currently out on loan to other clubs – while still cashing in wage-slips for between £50-£70k per week, a significant portion of which Arsenal continues to pay for them to play elsewhere.

An equivalent player at perennially successful Manchester United would earn in the region of £20k per week so that the likes of Wayne Rooney and, ironically, Robin van Persie (recruited from Arsenal in August) can earn up to ten times that figure. In today’s market, that is the price of success.

Is it any wonder then that, in mimicking another French leader's penchant for socialism, Arsene Wenger lost his team’s Gerard Depardieu this summer? After all, as Francois Hollande is finding out, it is not always possible to retain your best talent without creating suitably hospitable conditions. 

Which brings us back to our central theme. If we’ve learned two things from Arsene Wenger’s defence of his socialist approach to football management, one is that limiting excellence by pegging it to mediocrity can start a rot that causes even the greatest of institutions to decline. The other is that sometimes it really is OK to compare life with the beautiful game.

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