05 September 2013

Arsène Wenger's the manager players want to play for...

With the inter-lull looming and the transfer-window shut (oh, glorious transfer-window! I just can't quit you...), we have quite a bit to feel good about. The signing of Mesut Özil, of course, vaults us into the top echelon of the Prem League. If you believe the Specious One,
"the signing of Özil makes [Arsenal] title contenders." Of course, he plays mind-games eight days a week, so we'll take it with a grain of salt. However, the larger, perhaps more-subtle conclusion to be drawn from our signing of the midfielder, widely considered to be among the best in the world, is the one that relates to the man who made it happen.

Over the years, we've come to worry that Arsène had become a once-great manager, one for whom the world's best no longer wanted to play for. The departures, the missed signings, the failure to win silverware—these and other factors pointed to an ineluctable conclusion: Arsène's star had faded to the point that he couldn't attract or keep world-class talent anymore, not with his stubborn commitment to his financial principles or "socialist" wage structure. No more. I'm not referring just to the fee we've paid for him. Signing Özil establishes Arsène as, arguably, the manager to play for in the Prem.

Yes, Ferguson's retirement is a factor, and I don't mean to give that short-shrift, but a quick glance at the other managers in the Prem suggest that it's only Arsène who offers a personal draw strong enough to convince players to leave their current club to join a new one. Of Chelsea's vaunted war-chest and Mourinho's ambition, yes, they made two big signings, but nothing on the scale that was discussed over the summer. No Rooney. No Lewandowski. No Khedira. In fact, one could argue that Chelsea did little better than treading water after losing Lukaku. Pellegrini did nice business but again failed to lure any of the world's biggest names. The big story du jour is, of course, the grumblings out of Old Trafford, a situation that ESPN has dubbed an "utter farce of a transfer window". After pursuing Alcantara, Fabregas, and Ronaldo, Moyes was only able to convince Fellaini to join him, and only at the last minute and by overpaying. For as frustrating as our summer had been up until Monday, we've emerged with arguably the best signing of the season.

After all, Özil is among one of the world's most talented players and has his best footballing years ahead of him. For him to choose Arsenal over Real Madrid (and other suitors) is a significant moment for him, for Arsène, and, most importantly,  for Arsenal. It establishes him as arguably his club's best player, thrusting him towards a mantle of leadership. It confirms Arsène's status as one of the world's most-respected managers. Lastly, it re-establishes Arsenal as a prestigious club, if not through silverware (yet) then through respect. Of course, he's only one player, but he is a game-changer, and it will be sooner rather than later that he makes his mark. His arrival also transforms perceptions of the club from "a once-great club that great players leave" to "a soon-to-be-great club that great players want to join". Some critics have suggested, for example, that Özil owes his assists-tally to having Ronaldo to pass to. There's an element of truth to that, but even Ronaldo worries, saying that Özil's departure "is really bad news for me as he was the player who knew best my movements in front of goal". In other words, the fear isn't that Özil's numbers will drop; it's that Ronaldo's will. In the striker's own estimation (and, let's face it, he's not prone to bouts of self-doubt, at least publicly), it's his greatness that depends on Özil, not the other way around. With that in mind, come
January, I doubt we'll be casting about to sign a great striker as we did this summer. Instead, we may have to fend off the suitors. Fancy that.

Look at this heat-hap of  Özil's passes in La Liga and Champions League play. Can you imagine what Giroud will do, receiving all of those passes that arrive right on or around the PK-spot? I wrote yesterday about the potential relationship betwen the two; imagine what a more-clinical finisher will do. If you're not salivating at the prospect, you must be dehydrated. Or daft.

However, before we let ourselves be seduced by the sumptuous delivery and service Özil will provide, let me return to the larger point: this signing restores much of the shine to Arsène's star. For all of the names we've missed out on, and for all of the criticism he's withstood, it's not for nothing that Özil chose Arsenal. As much as one might make of the influence of fellow Germans Podolski and Mertesacker, in the end, it seems that Özil's decision rested largely on the feeling he got from talking directly to Arsène:
I talked to [Arsène] at length over the phone, and he told me his ideas and he trusts me, and I need that as a player. I realised I would not get the full trust of the manager [at Madrid]. I am a player who needs to feel that—and I felt that with Arsenal, and that’s the reason why I’m signing for them.
In other words, one of the world's best players joined Arsenal because its manager instilled a sense of trust in him. Yes, £42.2m had their say, as did the idea of winning silverware, but if those were Özil's most-important considerations, I daresay (without disparaging our club) that he might have had better options. PSG. Real Madrid. Manchester United. Instead, what seems to have clinched the deal is his belief in and respect for Arsène and his football philosophy. Of course, success has a way of confirming the value of any philosophy, and in the signing of Özil, Arsène has taken a dramatic step in confirming the value of his. This should be a beautiful process to watch.

VVC.