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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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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday August 3 2008

Time: 10:24AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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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
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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.
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03/08/2008 15:44:00

whats the link for the interview?
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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.
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03/08/2008 17:47:00

Jack Wilshire is a freak ..... he's not scared of anything. What a talent!!!
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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
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03/08/2008 18:12:00

No way, there's just no way, he's only 16!!!
Lou the Gunneress
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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!!
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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.
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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.
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03/08/2008 18:22:00

Over the past few matches, the press headline focus was on things like Nasri's debut, Ade back, etc etc. I was glad that they haven't started the hype yet but they soon will. I can see them all over the boy like they did with Theo already.. But I have very confidence that Jack can handle these things, he's so so mature for a 16 yr old.
Lou the Gunneress
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03/08/2008 18:27:00

I know it was his first pre season outing, but Diaby was really ******** toilet today. It's such a shame tha tAde has behaved like a ***** this summer, because when you see him play as he did today you realise what a good player he is. Liked the link up play between RvP, Walcott and Adein the first half. Wilshere looks a talent, but he has only played three reserve games and a few friendlies, let's not get carried away and put undue pressure on the lad.
Little Dutch
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03/08/2008 18:28:00

I think Diaby needs to learn the art of positioning for a DM and seeing the danger. That would avoid him having to make a last-ditch yellow-deserving tackle every 5 minutes. Over the last couple of season at times he has played a more offensive role between Ade and Cesc so the transition must be difficult.
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03/08/2008 18:34:00

Well said Gael-force, the Ade badge kissing made me also cringe a little. Otherwise good game for the lads. LD - Diaby made an appearance yesterday as well, so there really must be a better excuse. Lets hope he warms up quickly and puts in better performances, coz he aint going to replace Flamini based on the Emirates cup.
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03/08/2008 18:35:00

prits, i know Ade has to win the fans back but that felt a bit too awkward and not very genuine. I thought he played well and did a lot of pressing to help the team
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03/08/2008 19:13:00

both Diaby and Denilson were caught the wrong side of the oppositions attacking midfielder far too often over the 2 games. Both have to remember that its what u do when you don't have the ball that's counts in this position. Lots of positives other than that.
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03/08/2008 19:16:00

Nasri looked very sharp considering it was only his second game, but Diaby and Eboue (for the short time he was on) didn't really do anything to win their fan's back over did they. Diaby looked sloppy, even if he hasn't been back for that long, and was too casual with the ball under preassure. However, I did see him move a bit more than usual today. We missed Cesc though. Perhaps in a competitive match we should play Nasri central when Cesc isn't around? Also I am regretfully starting to believe that Senderos and Gallas is our best partnership at CB, unless Kolo and Billy can really work hard together in training. I just feel so bad leaving Kolo out of the team, as he has such a good attitude and is a great player, but the Gallas/Senderos pairing is fast building up an impressive record.
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03/08/2008 19:19:00

I think Diaby worked harder and looked sharper yesterday, maybe he was tired and not totally up to scratch yet after the holidays. Work rate wise though, I thought Denilson put in more effort in the few pre-season games we've seen so far. Based on the performances so far, I also agree Nasri should back up Cesc ahead of Denilson and Diaby. Maybe Ramsey/Denilson could go out wide? (We know Diaby can't.) Jack further down the pecking order on the bench?
Lou the Gunneress
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03/08/2008 20:23:00

Amazing match today. I was so pleased with the performance. Our passing and touches looked exquisite. Sorry I didnt get a preview out for this game. Didnt have time after the game yesterday because I wanted to do some sight seeing while I was in London. Anyways the best part of the game today was having Eduardo walk out onto the field for everyone to see.
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03/08/2008 20:55:00

Edu gave an interview in English too. He's looking well. He's hoping to play again "before Christmas maybe" but the club docs will judge his progress tomorrow:,20285,12606_3905888,00.html
Lou the Gunneress
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03/08/2008 22:08:00

Yeah it was good to see Eduardo giving an interview in English on the big screen too. He has obviously worked on the language. He expects to be playing before Xmas. The sooner the better I reckon.
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03/08/2008 22:11:00

I was there at The Emirates and although Ade's behaviour over the summer hasn't been very good at all there was something about the booing that didn't seem right. Also, Eboue got booed and again I'm not a fan of his any longer but it just isn't right to boo your own player like that, it must be awful to come on to hear those sounds. I know it's been said before but some of the Emirates crowd just don't know how to be real fans.
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04/08/2008 11:11:00

Gooner_Vin - Being a real fan is for no one else to judge than the persoon in question. What makes a real fan???? There are 100's of different aspects. Booing a big headed, arrogant tosser who thinks the sun shines out of his a**, holds the club to ransom and disrespects the manager, fans and club...... booing??? He's lucky thats all hes getting!
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04/08/2008 16:25:00


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