Wenger’s pre-match press conference before the Everton game was quite humorous and interesting. Le Boss spoke on many topics and seemed to be in a jovial mood. Amidst the usual pre-match talk of injuries, signings, and the ceaseless Spanish Inquisition, a journalist asked Wenger how he is going to judge the season at the end.
Part of Arsene’s reply was
… at the end of the day I believe you can be proud of your season when you come out and say we have gone as far as we could, we have given absolutely everything. And this team, since the start of the season, promised that we will give everything in every single game and at the moment they are achieving it. If that is respected, you can always come out of a season with pride.
Now, I am not a spiritual or religious person but there is a verse from the Bhagvad Geeta that has stayed with me since the time I first read it when I was still in school. This is probably the most famous and some might say the most abused verse from the Geeta.
कर्मणये वाधिकारस्ते मां फलेषु कदाचन ।
मां कर्मफलहेतुर्भू: मांते संङगोस्त्वकर्मणि ।।
2:47 SRIMAD BHAGVAD GEETA
The English transliteration could be,
Karmanye Vaadhikaraste, Maa Phaleshu Kadachana;
Maa karma-phala-hetur-bhooh, Ma Te sangostwakarmani.
Since the Bhagvad Geeta is one of the most profound, philosophical classics of the world, this verse has many interpretations. And given the depth and complexity of Sanskrit even direct translations are many in number. I was a little disappointed with the initial results of my google search for an explanation and translation but we can use the following as a rough literal translation.
Your right is to work only,
But never to its fruits;
Let not the fruits of action be thy motive,
Nor let thy attachment be to inaction.
On the face of it, this might be something that would not make sense to a lot of people, especially if you are not already acquainted with the philosophy of the Geeta. Our modern world is extremely result oriented and talk of work without any right to reward is not easy to digest. I would love to indulge in a detailed philosophical discussion here but that is not the purpose of this article so I won’t go in depth.
To explain it in simple terms, this verse emphasizes on the importance of detachment while highlighting the need to perform ones duty/work. As per my understanding, the most a man can do is to perform his duty to the best of his ability. Life is complex and there are many factors at work beyond the control of man and hence it is very likely that we will not get the desired results of our labor. In such a situation if we are motivated only by results there is a strong likelihood that we will be disheartened and lose interest.
The verse advises man to work for the sake of work and not for the sake of results. In such a situation, if the results don’t go our way, we can still carry on with what we are doing with the knowledge that it is work that is important and not the results.
If we think from the point of view of Arsene Wenger, the best he can do is to work hard every day, take decisions based on his knowledge and understanding and be loyal to his principles that have taken him this far. During the season if someone else performs better, if we face unfortunate injuries, the referees get some key decisions wrong, or any external factor beyond our control influences the year end results, he can still be proud of the work done during the year.
Similarly, some players might score some goals, get some assists and rake up good tangible statistics. Others might pick up a serious injury and be out for a long time. Some might struggle on their come back. It is impossible to judge all of them on the same parameters of the limited, measurable statistics that we have. At the end of the day, the player has to ask himself if he did everything within his powers to perform his duties.
Arsene hit the nail on the head in the last line – “if that is respected…” We live in a world where thousands of people are ready to pass a verdict on every decision and after every game. Managers become incompetent fools after a few bad games and they become heroes with magical powers after a short run of positive results. In other words, respect for the person and his work is lost, acknowledgment of the circumstances at work is missing and everything is simplified to the point of meaninglessness.
I have often wondered how Wenger manages to remain so loyal to his principles in the face of constant, stinging criticism. For a lesser man, self-doubt would creep in and it would be impossible to continue working at such a high level without compromise. Courage of conviction is only seen when the foundation of one’s beliefs is very strong. Arsene has, with these comments, demonstrated that his clarity of thought and philosophical insights about life are just as good as his footballing intelligence.