Is It ONLY About Trophies?

Arsene Wenger
Ted Harwood is a regular guest contributor to Arsenal Station. He lives in Chicago, IL, and has been an Arsenal supporter for the better part of a decade. Here, he follows-up on yesterday’s Arsene Wenger-anniversary post. He also writes about movies, music, and other cultural artifacts on his blog, Running Downhill.

The thing I always wonder about is how many supporters seem to think that winning trophies in football (or other team sports) is something akin to running a four-minute mile, i.e. it is something that a person can do if they just train hard enough, show persistence, and do their best, and that consequently, if one DOESN’T win, it’s down to not trying hard enough, or caring enough, or “losing the plot” or some such nonsense.

Winning championships in team sports is more about assembling the best squad that you can, preparing them as best you can, putting them on the pitch, and hoping your preparation and hard work translates into performances and also merits luck from the football gods, but in reality comes from doing those other things well. Every Premiership season brings with it 19 losers; every Champions League season 31. These are, for the most part, excellent, excellent football teams.

Arsene Wenger in the crowdNobody can rightly say that Arsène Wenger doesn’t do the best job that he can every day he comes to work.  No one on the planet works harder for, or cares more about, Arsenal Football Club than Arsene Wenger.  Even the most passionate, fanatical diehard supporter of the club pales in comparison. At 60 years old, and after 13 years at the club, the man still works 12-16 hour days and probably dreams about the club every night. He is responsible for overseeing the athletic side of what is quite possibly the best-run sports club on Earth; he assembles groups of talented young players that 99% of England envies.

Football trophies are won and lost sometimes on the strength of three or four moments of madness, and nothing that Wenger could do would prevent Martin Taylor from crushing Edu’s leg. Nothing he could do would prevent Rosicky’s muscles from acting up. And all the while he has to face squads of equal or greater talent and equal or greater monetary value, and yet, it is not enough to finish in the top four in England year in, year out. It is not enough to reach the finals of the most prestigious club competition in football.

We all want to win, but so do Manchester United supporters. So do Tottenham supporters. And Shrewsbury Town supporters. To act as if the trophy is the singular hallmark of a good manager or a good side, rather than simply the highest in a long list of them, is misguided at best, and possibly psychotic at worst. Such thinking is a formula for continual depression.Arsene Wenger Statue

Isn’t it much better to appreciate sport for the little things as much as the big metal shiny things? The way that Cesc dinks through balls over the top of defenses for Van Persie to trap into the path of his swinging boot? The way that the team creates fifty little triangles of passing around the edge of the area? The way that the football is faster, niftier, and healthier in the North of London than it ever had been before? This is what Wenger brings, in addition to his unquestionable desire to win.

He has not lost the plot; he has written the book. For this, we should thank him.

ARSENAL STATION ADDS:

Being a supporter is not only about winning trophies, it’s about the joy you get out of supporting and watching your club every week. Besides, let’s be honest… winning the league is great but the feeling lasts about a week or so and then it’s on to the next season. No one even talks about the Invincible season anymore, so that just goes to show you. In reality, for an individual, trophies and their attendant celebrations are a fleeting, temporary joy. The club retains the trophy and whatnot, but what remains of the trophy for the individual supporter years later? Memories…

And I have great memories of seasons in which we won nothing. Look at the win in Milan two years ago, Theo’s goal at Liverpool, etc… those are just the more recent ones. We didn’t win the Champions League in 2006, but who will forget the Madrid matches or away to Valencia or Cesc’s goal against Juventus? One of Arsene’s sides of which I am fondest is the ’98-’99 team that didn’t win anything. Because, most importantly, it is the seasons where you don’t win that an individual’s relationship to the club is forged and truly developed. If the players believe in Arsene (see today’s interview with Cesc and Clichy’s recent interview), how can we not?