How to get results
Arsene Wenger is more than a football manager: he outlines his role in catering to the concerns of investors and the boardroom – alongside the terraces.
THE ALUMNI of France’s prestigious Hautes Etudes de Commerce business school are unlikely students of football management. They are the crème de la crème of French capitalism and dress as such. Yet they have gathered to listen to the wisdom of someone who bridges societal and sporting divides. It is only when Monsieur Arsene Wenger, the star speaker at Manager par le Sport (Management through sport), arrives that the evening truly begins. The 61-year-old has a presence that even the razor-sharp suits must envy.
It is difficult to imagine other Premier League managers participating in such an overtly corporate management event. Its a far cry from the vitriol of the terraces or the cold reality of the touchline. Yet Wenger is totally at ease. An economics graduate from Alsace, he is a veritable chameleon, capable of charming fans with his passionate views on the game or businessmen with his management vision.
Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996 when soccer was becoming big business. Managing the egos of millionaire players, influencing boardroom power struggles, developing strategies and satisfying the demands of journalists and supporters are part of his daily routine. Not to mention coaching a soccer team.
While most leading clubs have sporting directors, communication gurus and financial experts, Wenger does virtually everything. “I’m responsible for the technical side but I also negotiate transfers and look after contracts,” he says. He might also have mentioned the key role he played in Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium, a 60,000-seat money-making machine that helped the club to record profits this year. “I have more power and more authority but that makes me more vulnerable. If any bad investments are made, the finger is pointed at me.”
Money management is a theme. As well as winning three league titles and four FA Cups, Wenger has transformed Arsenal from a good, traditional English club to a giant of the European game and a global brand. He has earned the club a fortune through shrewd dealings, allowing Arsenal to punch way above their financial weight. Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure and Cesc Fabregas are among the players signed for minor fees before becoming world stars.
As business plans go, the Arsenal model does not fail to impress. “A soccer manager, or the manager of a company, must first succeed in bringing the talent in, which is extremely difficult in my case because I work in a highly competitive market,” Wenger says. “You can recruit talent when it has already been discovered, or you can recruit when it hasnt yet been discovered, but there is a big difference in the salary. Thats why we try hard to recruit talent the others dont know about.”
As in business, exceptional talent is difficult to hold onto. In Arsenals case, wealthier rivals like Chelsea, Manchester City and Barcelona become a problem, leaving Wenger to find other, non-financial incentives to appeal to his stars. He decided to place an emphasis on youth and to create what he calls “the Arsenal culture”.
The club gives youngsters of any nationality a chance, plays attractive football and competes at the highest level. “My dream has always been to create our own culture, an identity, with a multicultural team,” he explains. “We have 18 different nationalities at Arsenal and we have values that are recognised throughout the world. Talented players all want to become the best in world, and they feel they can realise that objective with us.”
Wengers methods have been vindicated by skipper Fabregas agreeing to stay despite Barcelona’s interest, and by the decisions of precocious talents like Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey to choose Arsenal ahead of Chelsea or Manchester United.
Just as an up-and-coming businessman may prefer to work for a company that develops talent, even if it means earning less, players are attracted by Arsenals reputation under Wenger. “A manager is not just somebody who influences results; he influences the course of a person’s life.
“We’re responsible for bringing happiness and fulfilment to players. I don’t think any coach in the world has brought through as many well known players as I have. But believe me, it’s very difficult to always blood youngsters.
“When you’re picking your team, you may have a choice between an 18-year-old and a 26-year-old. You know the 26-year-old will give you 15 out of 20 but no more. The 18-year-old might give you 18/20, but he may also give you 6/20. I think you have to be brave and play the kid.”
The definition of success in soccer is not the same as in business. Wenger has won the admiration of the business world for his work in helping the clubs share price rise “from £400 when I arrived to about £11,000 today”. Yet the soccer public frequently reminds him that he has not added to Arsenal’s trophy collection since 2005.
Wenger admits he is under constant pressure to prove himself. “Like any manager, I have to convince the shareholders and my staff – in this case the players – that Im good,” he says. “The difference being a soccer manager is that I also have to convince the journalists and the fans. When the four think you’re good, you have a chance of carrying on.”
Wenger lists desire, competence, courage, audacity and the capacity to question yourself constantly as vital ingredients for any manager in whatever field. Tenacity, he adds, is also necessary over a long period.
“You need to be tenacious because, in this job you’re a hero if you win and an idiot if you lose. You have to survive the disappointments. It isn’t easy. I remain highly motivated because I want desperately to be the best at what I do and I’m ready to fight for that every day.”