On that note, to add to the effect of this article, before you read on please play ‘Keane – Somewhere Only We Know’ to have in the background.
At Arsene’s Arsenal, how often are journalists, pundits and fans tearing their hair out around what seem to be glaringly obvious repeated failings/ weaknesses? Whether it be a lack of leaders, lack of resilience, lack of quality, lack of accountability, lack of effective tactics being deployed, lack of effective game preparation, lack of appropriate fitness management, the list could go on. However, if there are so many obvious issues then why don’t the players seem to be rocking the boat?
There have been times where a player might take a stance. RVP is a good example. He publicly came out and said he wasn’t signing a contract and if I remember correctly he said it was because he felt the club weren’t meeting his ambitions. However, it didn’t start an uprising in the ranks. There didn’t seem to be a resulting disharmony. Crucially, there wasn’t any sign that he had “lost the dressing room”, just maybe lost a Dutch bloke who later admitted to swallowing a small child.
Ozil came out a while back and seemed to say something like “I ain’t signing da ting until Wenger signs his ting”. Baffling! This was a World Cup winner in his prime basically saying to all the pundits, media and fans “Fools. I’ve actually won big things and I’m saying Wenger’s so good that unless I know he’s staying, then I’m not staying.” When Ozil said that it was a massive curveball, rocked my world. Surely it can’t be that this guy, who has played under Mourinho and has openly declared huge admiration for him, believes that Mourinho’s antithesis Wenger is the only one who can bring success at Arsenal? And surely it’s impossible to love both Wenger and Mourinho by the way, I mean, what a slut you are Mesut, where’s the consistency in what you’re into?
Ozil being loose aside, let’s get back to the point. Arsenal have basically got a situation where despite underperforming for the best part of the last 10 years, the squad still seem to back the manager. Losing a dressing room could happen for a load of reasons, but usually whatever they seem to be, the commonality is that when a manager has “lost the dressing room”, then the dressing room doesn’t want that manager to be their manager anymore. That is not the case at Arsenal, the players have seemingly all in large backed the manager during his entire tenure.
However, I think the squad are lost, lost in a world which Wenger has created and made sure all his players are deeply embedded into. The case is more aligned with characteristics of Stockholm Syndrome than that of any conventional loss of a dressing room.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term Stockholm Syndrome (or need a recap), it stems from an incident in the 70’s where a guy in Stockholm decided to rob a bank (let’s call him Jose just for the hell of it). Jose got himself into a situation where he ended up locking himself in the bank vault with a few of the bank’s employees as hostages for almost a week. After they were released, the employees seemed to show weird feelings of compassion and loyalty towards Jose (e.g. seeing the police as the enemy rather than Jose). So then the term Stockholm Syndrome was coined, and has been associated in a number of different post-hostage situations.
Maybe that’s what’s going on at Arsenal? It would explain a lot. Many people have talked about how protective Wenger is of his players, and how he never shouts at them, ever. Every time Arsenal lose, I imagine that Wenger’s first reaction with the players is to make sure they don’t get too disappointed. I reckon he makes them feel like they were all unlucky and should never lose faith because they are amazing and they have the right intentions. You could argue that other managers might do this, and players are adults who surely must be able to see through the bullsh*t. I think if you think that then you’re underestimating how charismatic and convincing Arsene Wenger can be. I mean even highly intelligent people join cults or prescribe to extreme ideologies, so why couldn’t your average footballer be completely convinced by a man as smart as Arsene?
The football world is probably a pretty scary place for a player. Your ability, performances and character can get publicly ripped to pieces constantly, and you’re probably told throughout your whole career to expect it and deal with it. You’re probably told that fans are fickle, the journalists need to fill columns, and pundits need a reason to justify their existence. Whatever the case though, I imagine that even if you get used to it, you hate it, and most players retain an element of fragility and vulnerability their whole careers. So if you’re at a club which is underperforming and you don’t think it’s your fault, then you either will probably leave the club or hope the manager is changed because if for no other reason, you could do better elsewhere. But do better in whose eyes? Your own eyes? Or the eyes of the media and the fans? At what point does it become hard to tell the difference between the two?
Wenger I believe builds on that. The dynamics around what does good actually mean. I believe he creates a cocoon of bubble wrap around the squad and says “Football is art. Philosophies are more important than victories. Ignore the critics, they know nothing, they are self-serving, they have agendas. Who are they to tell you what is acceptable and what is not? I’ll protect you, I’ll stick up for you, I’ll make sure you’re well paid. In turn, all I ask is your unwavering commitment to our footballing philosophy, your team and me. If we win, we’ll do it our way.” Effectively, without the players realising, he takes them hostage, they are under his spell, and they truly believe he is the saviour and he’s seen through all the bullsh*t of the football world, and they are privileged to be on this journey with him.
Honestly, anyone seen the film The Village? I reckon that if players didn’t need to go to matches, Wenger would have people dress up as monsters outside the Colney Creche to stop his players leaving and being exposed to other people. His cocoon protects him and keeps him in a job. It enables him to give Kroenke the revenue he wants, and in turn stops any interference from above.
So how has he lost the dressing room you may now ask? Well the problem is with Wenger’s hostage situation is that even if Arsenal are not successful, the cocoon he has created ensures the players do not believe that any other stakeholder aside from him has their best interests at heart. The players are paralysed, and begin to be unable to accept any truth outside of Wenger’s truth. Crucially, Wenger has convinced them what good looks like, and good is not winning trophies at the expense of a philosophy or continuity. Good is not upgrading your squad with players who cannot fully adopt to the philosophy and non-confrontational culture. Good is not listening to the critics. Victory is having one common philosophy and being united. No shouting, no accountability, no drama.
It’s classic Stockholm Syndrome, the only difference is most of the victims are still hostage and even though they can do something about it by leaving clubs, the majority don’t want to because outside Arsenal it’s a big, bad, evil world which they are being saved from.
M. Night Shyamalan will make a film about this and Keane will do the soundtrack!