‘It’s not my fault the club cannot get players over the line’. Not my words, but those of the ever honest Claudio Callegari, or better to known to most fans as Claude from Arsenal fan tv. His blunt rebuttal of criticism that he was too negative in his opinion of Arsenal’s recent transfer history. Frequent post-match rants aside there was something profound to this brief tweet.
It wasn’t always the case that Arsenal just cannot seem to land genuinely world class players. When David Dein left Arsenal in 2007, he left the club with a squad that included Thierry Henry (who went onto win La Liga, the Copa del rey and The UEFA Champions league with Barcelona), Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, among others. The club had narrowly lost the champions league final to Barcelona the previous season. The same Barcelona team of Iniesta, Xavi, Messi and co went on to dominate european football for the preceding five years.
Since David Dein left the players that have been signed under Wenger’s continuing tenure could no be described as being of the same standard as those mention above – Marouane Chamakh, Sebastian Squillaci and Gervinho all spring to mind. Whilst I’m trying to suggest every player signed under Dein’s watch was a roaring success – Pascal Cygan, Johan Djourou, Denilson anyone? – more often than not his negotiation skills aided in signing the correct players.
David Dein was also instrumental in the appointment of arguably the club’s greatest ever manager in Arsene Wenger. At the time, it was immense gamble. Wenger had only managed in France and Japan, with only two trophies – Ligue 1 and the French domestic cup, to his CV.
The correlation between the decline of Arsenal and the departure of David Dein is stark. Before last season, when they pipped Tottenham to 2nd place on the last day, Arsenal had not finished higher than 3rd since he last walked out the doors of ‘The Emirates’. They still finished a huge ten points behind improbable champions Leicester City. They have not passed the quarter finals stage of The Champions League since 2006. Yes, the club has won two FA cups, but without meaning to be impolite, the FA cup is a second-tier competition in the modern climate.
The man who ultimately replaced Dein – Ivan Gazidis – is nothing more than a puppet of the seemingly unshakeable Wenger empire. How, at a club of Arsenal’s stature, a situation has been allowed to arise where the manager appoints people to the board and as a consequence rules said executive decision-maker with a rod of iron is simply amazing. Wenger is pretty much unsackable it seems.
Would Wenger have lasted as long as he has at say, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City with his record over the last ten years? Absolutely not. The second Arsenal began to accept 3rd/4th as being equivalent to winning trophies was the moment the decline set in. The second Arsenal fans began to relish finishing above Spurs as some kind of achievement was the moment they opted for mediocrity instead of first place.
This has happened at other clubs. Alex Ferguson often lauded the role of David Gill in transfer negotiations during his time at the club. Would debacles such as the David De Gea transfer ‘saga’ of last summer have happened on his watch? Doubtful. Ed Woodward’s shortcomings in negotiation skills have been laid bare in since his promotion to the board of Manchester United. The ill-fated appointment of stubborn dutchman Louis Van Gaal, the alleged reluctance to talk to Pep Guardiola due to his lack of premier league experience have solidified Woodward’s place as an astute businessman, great at pushing up revenue but somewhat limited in his knowledge of football negotiations.
A frequent criticism of Wenger is he too indecisive. Numerous players in the last number of years on Arsenal’s radar have slipped through the net. Juan Mata, Gary Cahill, Gonzalo Higuain have all been identified as transfer targets, only to seemingly drift away into the grateful hands of other clubs.
Conversely, the mechanism that works so well for successful clubs is seemingly quite simple and elegant – the manager identifies the targets and his chairman goes out and gets them. Whilst this is not a foolproof way of guarding against signing potential flops, it seems to have a much higher success rate.
How practical is a return to the club for David Dein? In an interview with the evening standard in 2014 when asked did he miss Arsenal he responded:
Do I miss it? The truth is, yes. I miss it on a daily basis. I miss the jousting, the daily relationship with Arsene. Of course I do.
Many will view it as a backwards step, under the pretext of you cannot return to the past. Well of course you can, if it is obviously the right thing to do. At the very least, Dein could not do any worse than the current heads of recruitment at Arsenal. His nous and experience would prove invaluable in the ever changing transfer world.
Comprehensive victories last season over Bayern Munich, Manchester United and former champions Manchester City, whilst brilliant, cannot mask an underlying trend. For every Bayern Munich and Manchester United, there was a West Ham and Olympiacos. The season before that was similar, a superb performance away to the champions Manchester City was trumped by a tame surrender at home to Monaco in the champions league. Opportunities that arise are too frequently spurned.
The club has a world class stadium, the nexus of a team capable of challenging and an experienced manager who has achieved much success and longs for one last shot at glory. Whilst Arsenal faces many problems as a club, none of which can be remedied by a quick fix or expensive appointment, David Dein would be a good starting point.