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Why Wenger isn't Magic

Why Wenger isn't Magic

The metaphor used by many in the football world to describe Wengers ability to discover talent that is undervalued or not yet seen is becoming a cliché. Just as 'sick as a parrot` and 'over the moon` are part of popular tabloid football speak 'pulling rabbits out of a hat` is now used so often that it has joined that same banal collection.

George Graham used it in the latest lazy tabloid filler to ask the same question. To any one who has watched Wengers methods it is clearly the wrong metaphor. Despite Arsene`s famous magic hat, as feted in song, Wenger isn`t a magician. He is a statistician, a sports scientist, psychologist and an economist but not a magician.

A little under a year ago Wenger spoke of his addiction to statistics and the technical data he uses when assessing his own instincts before buying a player. "The game is played by 11 players and you have only two eyes to observe everything on the pitch," Wenger said. "The more concrete data you can have, the happier you are in terms of making the right judgement. Sometimes you are guided too much by the result and can misjudge performances. Data like this helps rate players who maybe you have neglected too much and helps everyone take a more objective view."

The things that Wenger looks for aren`t on the back pages of newspapers. He explains "I`m addicted to these kind of statistics. You can assess strengths and weaknesses — how many passes a player makes, how many sprints, how many interceptions, assists. I`m conscious that if I am wrong when bringing in a player, no matter how good my work is afterwards, I will stay wrong. If a train starts on the wrong track, it cannot get to the right station."

It is easy to be misled by individuals in team sports. If you don`t understand the relationship between a player and the way his teammates use him you can end up fitting square pegs into round holes. Can you correctly value Shevchenko without assessing the other Milan players` contribution to his goals tally? Why was Bergkamp worth £12m when Inter bought him but only £7.5m when sold 2 years later, at the prime age of 26 to Arsenal? Simply because Inter bought a reputation and not a skill set they understood how to use.

In contrast Wenger watches players, as he did with Hleb, for up to 2 years. Measuring how long they take to release the ball and where and when they do so. These aren't players that are hidden away as they play for relatively high profile clubs. Just players that aren't seen with the right pair of eyes.

Wengers methods aren`t unique but they aren`t practised as widely as their success suggests it should. Those interested in sports books could do worse than seek out one by Michael Lewis called 'Moneyball`. It tells the story of Oakland A`s baseball team manager Billy Beane, who with a much lower budget continually found undervalued players and outperformed many of his competitors. The book explains that he did so because conventional wisdom in valuing players was 'highly inefficient`. Much the same inefficient decision making, surprisingly perhaps, still goes on in football today with some clubs buying players for their star value or to appease supporters.

Provided they maintain their interest in a project scientists powers don`t lapse with age. Arguably they get even sharper. Those waiting in hope that Wengers powers will suddenly desert him or that some form of kryptonite will strip him of them will wait in vain. Wenger isn`t a magician - he is a scientist.

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Date:Sunday August 3 2008
Time: 10:24AM


The truth isn't that romantic eh! This truth also challenges some of the doubters' assertions that Arsenal would be nothing without Arsene Wenger. Very certainly he's the heartbeat of our club (another cliche I know), but he has established these methods and infrastructure - tangible assets and like the training ground and intangible ones like the diet reforms (did you watch the interview with the club chef? THat's interesting), training regime, scouting network, a very responsible way of conducting business in general, etc etc - those things won't go away when the man departs one day. We talk so much about "legacy" (yet another cliche), and we're already set to get a very rich one from Wenger. He's not only great because he's been doing his job so well for this club, but (ok another cliche, I promise this is the last one) he has transformed this club for good.
Lou the Gunneress
03/08/2008 10:42:00
Great article. I bet hundreds of D&G merchants flocked to bask in the glow of a negative article only to find facts and common sense .... how disapointed they all must be.
03/08/2008 15:44:00
whats the link for the interview?
03/08/2008 16:53:00
Diaby looks clumsy in DM role. He can't tackle. Ade kissing the club badge made me cringe. we miss king Cesc.
03/08/2008 17:47:00
Jack Wilshire is a freak ..... he's not scared of anything. What a talent!!!
03/08/2008 17:57:00
Rocky I agree with you totally. The guy is going to be absolutley brilliant. You lot are gonna have some side soon when these kids get some experience (Not that your lot arent good now!)
5 times
03/08/2008 18:12:00
No way, there's just no way, he's only 16!!!
Lou the Gunneress
03/08/2008 18:12:00
With the new 7 places on the bench this lad has gotta be on it every week. My vocabulary isn't wide enough to talk about this young man!!
03/08/2008 18:17:00
Wilshire for England. Watch out Rocky. You are in danger of setting the press agenda for the next England team selection.
03/08/2008 18:19:00
I'd feel a tiny bit more comfortable if we had a real DM and a big tall CB. Diaby dwells on the ball and likes a dribble. I feel AW is experimenting a bit too much. But then again he sees them in training everyday so he must know a few things we don't.
03/08/2008 18:22:00
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