Arsène Wenger planning to keep it in the family

Arsène Wenger feels keeping his talented groups of players will allow much future success as inspired by Ajax’s “Total Football” sides.

Arsène Wenger was keen to avoid any comparative superlatives with the late 60s and early 70s Ajax sides in 2004 but if his current side realise their fledgling potential, they should comfortably sit alongside the legendary Dutch team.

Emblazoned on the walls of Ajax’s academy are photographs of players who have painted a rich of history of the club; Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Edwin van der Sar to name a few. The icing on the cake? All came through club’s fabled youth system and it is that which had kept them consistently challenging in Europe until the late 90’s. “If you have a good youth development system,” says Cruyff, now part-time Catalunya coach. “Then it is obvious first team will one day be good too. It’s not hard to get things right; all that is required is a lot of hard work.”

But as the game became increasingly globalised and money took over (the Bosman rule has also had a particularly adverse effect), they find themselves in a precarious position. Nevertheless it’s the culture, the shared heritage and philosophy that Ajax created which has been highly sought-after.

Growing up, Ajax were the pin-up side for Wenger and have certainly played a part in shaping the manager’s thinking. “Ajax were certainly the first team in relation to my generation because they had the perfect players everywhere,” he said. Rinus Michels, the then coach watched his side grow up almost organically during the ‘Gloria Ajax’ era; a group of supremely talented players from the academy led by Johan Cruyff would garner an almost telepathic understanding and on the pitch that would be allowed to be expressed through rapid passing, pressuring together and the interchangeing of positions. And it’s this philosophy that’s not far removed from the one at the Emirates.

“I want to have success by building a team with a style, a know-how, with a culture of play specific to the club and it’s fans and with young people,” said Arsène Wenger. “Our purpose is not to say are we a great team or not but to try to improve, try to get better. You don’t try to copy. I try every time to add good players to the team based on movement and technique. We know we are mobile, we know we are technically good.”

Wenger has given Arsenal a style to rival that Ajax side, an illustrious history (although with a lack of consistency) and a youth system renowned worldwide for educating the best. “We are able to attract the most promising prospects because we have a calling card stamped Arsène Wenger,” says Gilles Grimandi. (Incidentally, Arsenal are set to profit not only from the more densely populated London area but like the Dutch did from Suriname immigrants, the Gunners from African with promising youngsters such as Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Zak Ansah and Emmanuel Frimpong coming through the ranks).

The recent contract signings, 15 in total since May 2009 and with the talisman of the side, Cesc Fabregas already tied down at Arsenal for four more years, this will allow the captain to carry the current nucleus of talent forward in the next few years. Much like the Ajax team, it is thought bringing a gifted group of players forward together with a shared sense of belonging and loyalty will allow success to be sustained and create a footballing culture which evokes the same sense of collective improvisation as the “Total Football” sides.

Research by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in Why England Lose – And Other Curious Football Phenomena, show why there such an importance in keeping your best players because wages dictate 92% of success. Indeed, one of the reasons former chairman David Dein is so keen to bring in an outside investor into the club is because wage bills are rising however with the strategy in place now, total wages only account to around 50-60% of total revenue, compared to around 80% for both Chelsea and Manchester United. The Gunners were able to create a team ethos and mentality in achieving their unbeaten run in 2004 and the same has applied to the recent successful Premiership sides.

Indeed in Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal board have struck more than an just oil. In the Frenchman they have an economist, a forecaster which is every bit as important because of the financial stringent placed on the club since the move to the Emirates and with Ajax’s current plight serving as a caveat. Speaking in September 2009’s International Football Arena in Zurich, the Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis said of Arsenal’s objective of keeping their best players: “We believe transfer spending is the last resort. That’s a sensible view to have. Re-signing existing players is a far more efficient system.”

Wenger expands on the importance of contract renewals, citing new player contract rules which FIFA have recently introduced but could follow the same route as the Jean-Marc Bosman case. “At the moment, after 28 you need only two years. I see the next thing coming is people saying, ‘Why is it 28 and not 27? That’s age discrimination. Why do we have to wait two years after 28 and three years before? If it goes down to two as well, you go from one extreme to the other. It could mean the disappearance of transfer fees.”

Football is very much a psychological game and Arsenal’s recent good form has owed much to keeping the group’s spirits high in the fight for the title and hopefully new era domination. “I know is that within our team we have a great hunger for success,” said Wenger. “We have great solidarity and team spirit. We are a team who has grown up together and wants to achieve things. We have not won anything yet together and that makes us hungry for success.”


The mysterious case of Carlos Tevez and his contract

Reports suggest Manchester United forward Carlos Tevez has the right to break from his contract and leave for free.

It’s quite fortunate that Carlos Tevez doesn’t want to break from his contract as if he did, it would surely tear a whole in the football universe and release with it a messy gunk of goo.

We all know Tevez and Mascherano both transferred to West Ham under the ownership of two third parties (Media Sports Investment and Just Sports Inc). Just what involvement the parties have now is unclear but Kia Joorabchian is still involved. Mascherano has signed for Liverpool outright while Tevez is still unattached to a club. It must be noted that third party ‘ownership’ is not illegal, providing there’s no right given to the them to influence the polices and performance of the team (such as missing a penalty etc.).

“It is a little bit like a loan deal between two clubs, except it is a loan deal between the club and a third party,” says Joorabchian, feeling like a modern day Robin Hood. “Third-party transfers are a way of bringing outstanding players to clubs that would not be able to afford them ordinarily. So they increase the competition. Why should only Manchester United and Chelsea be able to afford the best players?”

When the Argentinian joined Manchester United, the Red Devils agreed to a two-year lease deal worth £10million with his owners. United have registration of the player for that duration but the third-party owners have retained all economic rights over him. Under the terms, Tevez is not allowed to agree to anything without their consent and only MSI possess unilateral right to terminate the contract.

But if Tevez did want to leave he would have European Law on his side to allow him to do that. Chris Heaton-Harris, president of the EU’s powerful Sports Intergroup which deals with sporting matters across the continent and also East Midlands MEP Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is unique and bizarre that an entity, rather than a club, owns a player.

“In employment terms, Carlos Tevez has a contract himself with this company. But if he went to the European Commission and said he wanted out of it, he would get European support. It is just an employment contract. You can’t keep a person to a contract that he doesn’t want to continue in. Under European law, he has the right to break this contract.”

Heaton-Harris then continued: “Bosman was tied to a football club and Tevez is tied to a company. There is very little difference. It is a simple follow-on from Bosman

That case of course revolutionized football because it meant a player is no longer tied to a club when his contract does indeed run out. The Belgian defender’s representative claimed any third party (a club) which governs the movement of a player between jobs is a restraint of trade, prohibited under Treaty of Rome. The legal sticking point is likely to be the fact MSI signed their contract with Tevez in South America (ie outside of EU jurisdiction), but since he wants to play in Europe, his contract is arguably open to challenge within the EU.

Carlos Tevez’s lease deal has run it’s course and hypothetically should he wish to leave, would undergo a pretty lengthy court procedure as the Bosman case took five years, something the player is not motivated to do.

In employment terms, contracts of employments are to be distinguished from contracts for services, which typically deal with independent contractors or other types of employments such as agency workers (and which most probably includes footballers). Contracts of employments are the standard contracts which you and I have and which differ from contracts for services as they have certain implied terms embedded in to the contract (like the restraint clause), something which is missing in contracts for services.

In employment terms, restraint clauses are not unlawful  unless they are deemed ‘unfair’, which then the employee must prove. A company could restrict an employee from working at another company for a certain number of years if there is a risk of highly confidential information being passed on, or a skill that gives the company a USP.

In football, players have already made an obligation with the club for the number of years they can stay and therefore do not have the power to leave in the middle. (In the case of Bosman, he left at the end, a contract of employment doesn’t necessary have a time-limit).

It’s probably just as well then, Carlos Tevez has sought not to exercise such rights and let Kia Joorabchian handle the matter.

By this time you may have noticed nothing has been said about Arsenal, this being an Arsenal weblog. So to wrap things up, wouldn’t it be great if the Gunners signed Tevez? Do we need him? We’ve got many quality strikers. Eh, probably couldn’t afford him anyway…

A lack of loyalty or the new psychological contract in football?

Money talks the loudest once again, Valencia in deep financial trouble while Van Persie has become the main man at Arsenal.

1. The ‘Kaka’ saga and the one of Andrei Arshavin raises the question of loyalty. At the end of one spectrum is the Brazilian who is being forced to make a decision on his loyalty after a reported £108m offer while Arshavin has been trying to force himself out of the club ever since the Euro’s. Is this the age of a lack of loyalty or is this part of the new psychological contract in football?

The psychological contract is identified as ‘the perceptions of the two parties, employee and employer, of what their mutual obligations are towards each other.’ (GUEST, D.E. and CONWAY, N. (2002)). These obligations will often be informal and imprecise: they may be inferred from actions or from what has happened in the past, as well as from statements made by the employer.

The argument is that the psychological contract has changed since the economic downturn in the early 90’s where job security was not guaranteed anymore. The old contract involved an understanding where the employee offers commitment to the company as a return of the employer giving job security, good wages and the capacity to progress through the company. The new psychological contract is said to mainly revolve around the individual; wanting more opportunities for development (to progress to other organisations as well as within the current one), flexibility and meaningful work experiences.

Could this be incorporated to football?

Players like Maldini and Ryan Giggs are becoming a less of an occurrence, playing at a single club for the rest of their career. Players want to move on, and to move on to a bigger club. Loyalty is no longer the main factor and the period where the club is the more powerful party seems no more or at least not at the very highest level. We can see clubs preparing for and changing their model for such departures.

The argument is that on both footballing level and the real working environment this has always been the case meaning both theories may be flawed. Either way it seems the individual but more crucially, the ones with the cash have the biggest say.

2. If there was ever one example in how NOT to run a club, it is running a club in the same way as Valencia. Not too recently they decided to build a new stadium (a beautiful one at that) but unlike Arsenal were already €400m in debt and are now by €600m. A club with a decent sized fan base and of decent size tried to punch above their weight by overpaying for players and their wages. They still haven’t found a buyer for the old stadium (or there’s no sign of him/them) and they have at the end of the month to find €30m. If things don’t pick up expect a clearance sale come summer.

3. Robin Van Persie once again inspired Arsenal to a 3-1 win over Hull City. The substitution of Adebayor when previously it would have been the Dutchman underlying his current importance. The performance also showed the ability of the team and that it is nearly complete. Still not as convincing when keeping the ball to deny pressure on the defence and one may argue not very dynamic therefore leading to the use of a high line and highly mobile players.

The strikers fit the mold and on the whole the defence look stronger but central midfield when everyone is back is the main position of uncertainty. Diaby looked strong, got some good tackles in (5 to Denilson’s 2) and tried to provide forward impetus. Both players average touch positions were higher up the pitch as the Gunners were more direct. An interesting stat is that Adebayor received the ball 44 times to Van Persie’s 28 and the two still need work on their combination play.