The Arsenalsphere is a divided space these days. Has been for a while now and it is getting worse. While different opinions have always existed, we now see more than a degree of animosity amongst fans who are divided into two broad groups – those supporting the manager and those desperate to see him out. Of course, if we zoom into either of these groups, we will again see a fair amount of disagreement over various details like the quality of certain players, use of tactics, etc.
But there seems to be a link that connects all fans. Everyone wants to know more about what’s going on. The acuteness of this need can be estimated from the speed at which rumours spread and even illogical and pointless stories lead to extensive debates.
I believe this presents an opportunity for the club to launch another pioneering initiative which can bring the supporters closer to the club in an unprecedented manner and can assuage their fears to a great extent. In simple terms, it’s the same thing that many have been demanding – more information, but I want to look at the mechanism that can benefit all parties involved without compromising the club’s interests.
We’d all love to know the exact details of all the players that Arsenal are tracking and the kind of bids that have been made. Is it realistic? I doubt anyone will say yes to that. It can complicate all the transfers and destabilize some players at other clubs. That surely isn’t the Arsenal way.
Similarly, some of the more discerning fans would love to know the reasoning behind the interest in players. But do we really want Wenger to share his trade secrets and give others a chance to catch up with him on that front?
Let’s be clear, the club cannot share everything that is going on. It will create all sorts of complications and within no time the whole set-up will be unmanageable. At some level everyone understands this and that is why no club provides all their details to the public or even to the shareholders (at least the minority ones).
The next logical question is – how much information can the club share? I will add to this a related question which seems equally important to me – how does the club share the relevant information with the fans?
I want to start with the latter question because that is the key. The club needs to identify certain discreet individuals with proven loyalty to the club. This could be players like Lee Dixon or Martin Keown and/or a small number of life-long fans that the club can trust. These could be senior members of the AST and one or two top bloggers who can reach out to a wide cross-section of the support.
We can call these people opinion leaders. Fans trust them and understand that theirs is an honest opinion with genuine concern and appreciation for the club. For the sake of the discussion let’s say the club invites Lee Dixon, Tim Payton (of AST), and Goonerholic (an excellent blogger with a sterling reputation amongst all the fans). I have chosen these names based purely on what I have read online so I am not claiming they are the perfect choice or the only possible ones but hopefully it illustrates the point that I am trying to make. The club have a lot more resources and know a lot of the fans and ex-players well so they can make the choice based on their analysis.
The key variables in selecting these individuals should be
- They are trusted and respected by a vast majority of the fans
- They are capable of understanding complex issues
- They are discreet and the club can rely on them to value the sensitivity of the information being shared
The club should invite this group for a tête-à-tête with Arsene and other key members of the staff, including the board and the management. Some details should be shared with these people and they should be allowed to probe for details that address the sincere concerns of the fans.
For instance, wouldn’t you love to know how Bendtner and Benzema stack up when a great many details are analyzed? Most of us have limited statistics and the moments that stay in our memories to go with. Often, once we form an opinion about a player, we only notice the negatives (or positives) and things just get worse (or rosy).
Do you really think Wenger could be where he is if he had been just like us? Surely, his approach is a lot more objective and complex than we even begin to imagine. So wouldn’t it be great if some people can get insights into that?
For fans it is easy to say that defence is a problem and Wenger should spend. There is no accountability involved. If he does spend and the player doesn’t play as well, we can always blame the player, and the manager for betting on the wrong horse. Criticism is easy and doesn’t need any skills.
Squillaci had all the attributes that the fans were asking for, bar one. He was experienced. He’d won titles in other leagues. He was also a fighter, at least he was supposed to be. Only his price tag wasn’t as big as some would want to see. Even then, when he was signed many rated him better than Koscielny just because of the aforementioned attributes. Many of the same fans can’t stand him anymore. Such contradictions and the unerring fluctuation in fan opinions is directly related to the limitations of the information available to them, although that is not the only factor.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating if someone could understand the actual process that went into signing a player? Looking at all the scouting reports and detailed statistical analysis that might have been done to reach a conclusion can be a real eye opener.
The reason I am talking about these things is that I am completely convinced Wenger has a method to his apparent madness. People say he has the ability to find quality players but isn’t willing to spend. I don’t think it is about ability but more about a process. He has a process that works better than anyone else’s and finding the right player and identifying the price for that player are both integral parts of that process.
Now, one can easily claim the process is not working but that is more an expression borne out of frustration at the current state rather than something based on a clear understanding of what actually goes on behind the scenes.
The chosen people who get access to some of these details can then provide the fans with their honest analysis. They don’t have to tow the party line and say everything is perfect, that would defeat the purpose, but we would all be better off if someone we trusted gave us an opinion based on authentic information.
The sincerity of these individuals is the key to bridging the gap between the club and the supporters. That is why they have to be intelligent, trustworthy individuals who can be the opinion leaders and add to the thinking of the majority.
There will still be those who want to insist their opinion is valid and will call these people cronies of the establishment if their thoughts don’t match but we can’t really do much about these people.
Then there is the issue of how much information can be shared. Obviously, if all the information given to these individuals could be made public then the club could just as easily publish it on the official website. It would expose the secrets of Arsenal’s success and that is why discretion is of paramount significance.
So one might expect those involved to write about their experience as follows,
We met with Arsene and it was an amazing experience. The club are looking at 6 central defenders and have analyzed them on 20-30 variables. There are four or five scouting reports for each guy. We also saw comparison with the players we currently have and the difference is not that big. Indeed, a couple of our guys are much better than the names we read in the papers…
Or it could just as easily go like this,
The club are looking at 6 defenders and we saw the analysis and comparison with our players. Two of the defenders we are looking at are excellent and I would like to see the club spend over the odds to get them…
Indeed, it is quite possible that two different individuals might have these opposing views after the same meeting.
The above statements are just examples and speculative. I don’t expect the exact descriptions as I have mentioned. At the very least the language will be much better than what I am able to write and one would expect the content and analysis to have more depth.
The point is that fans will get reliable, first-hand information and the club will not have to disclose the relevant details that are essential for maintaining a competitive edge. Don’t you think it will be infinitely better than all the supposition we have to deal with or the malicious rumours that are doing the rounds?
There is a feeling among many fans that Arsenal are not doing anything or not doing enough. At the very least, such an exercise should put things in the right perspective and help settle the nerves of millions of fans around the world.
There is a fair argument that it is not as easy as I am making is sound. Who is to say that the person chosen won’t talk to a few near and dear ones and reveal the secrets in private? This might not be done out of malice but how many of us can truly resist from sharing such a once in a lifetime experience? And once the details are shared with one or two, it is bound to spread. We all know how it works.
Clearly, it is not an easy task but I think Arsenal are at a stage where they have to push the boundaries of convention and find the way to reach out to the supporters who have genuine concerns because a couple of bad moments can unleash an avalanche in the current environment.
There are enough intelligent and trustworthy individuals at the club and amongst the Gooners to make this work. But it can only begin with the right intent. Either it has to come from the club or from the Supporter’s groups. And working out the details will take some time. But once the intent is demonstrated the vibes around the club can change.
Would you rather work to see something like this come to fruition or you think booing and marching actually solves more problems that it creates?
There are other details related to this, like the criteria for selecting the individuals can be more detailed, but the article is already too long so I will leave those out. Hopefully, I have been able to explain what I have in mind. I don’t know if it will help or will be forgotten in a day or two. The idea is to put a thought out there. I also understand that someone might have thought of this already and it didn’t work out. If so I’d really love to hear more about that experience/attempt.
I consider this an exercise in Fan Relations or Supporter Relations and not Public Relations, which is a broader term and doesn’t involve the kind of passion that is necessary for something like this to work. Moreover, it involves real desire and a genuine attempt from both sides.
Give it a thought. If you think it won’t work, try and identify the reasons and if possible, the solutions. If you think it makes sense please share it with others. Over to you.