I've heralded the managerial skill of Arsenal's Arsene Wenger before, but there are always fresh observations and new insights that a good writer can uncover. Alex Fynn does so in today's Guardian. Wenger transformed George Graham's effective but "boring boring Arsenal" side into a creative, goal-scoring dynamo at a fraction of the expense incurred by other high-flying clubs. As Fynn notes, the process is referred to around Highbury as "the seamless revolution."
The story is chock full of clues to the character that makes Wenger so successful. Here is a quote that startled me:
Since I came here I feel that I've helped this club not only to win, but also to put the club on a different level. The training ground, the new stadium, the youth set-up - which has become international at the top level. But to think that nothing major can happen to the club now makes me sleep easier. For example, tomorrow, if the club has financial trouble, I can guarantee you it will not be relegated with the players we have.
Arsenal have not been relegated since 1913, yet this prospect is something Wenger believes is worthy of consideration! Hmmm. He certainly covers all of the bases.
On reflection, all you have to do is look at the example of Leeds United. Like Arsenal, Leeds are former champions of England, and four seasons ago were competitive in the Champions League. Since then, they foundered on financial shoals, were forced to sell their best players, and lost their top-flight status in a dismal season last year. Leeds' reach exceeded their grasp, and when they unwound their investment in talent, they had a mere shell of a team to compete on the pitch.
Lest the quote on relegation give you the wrong impression, here's the final exchange between Fynn and Wenger.
Fynn: What's next?
Wenger: To win it [the Premiership] again.
Fynn: If you do that and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League that would be terrific.
Wenger: No, final.
Fynn: But the semi-finals would be further than Arsenal have ever gone before, and it would mean you are one of the four best sides in Europe.
'Final,' states Wenger. 'Final, final, final.'
A final note for student readers: Wenger's university degree is in economics, and he's referred to as "the professor" for his analytical approach to football management. Here's more on Wenger, if you are interested. Also, here's a New York Times piece which discusses the use of economic reasoning by Patriots' coach Bill Belichick.