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first_img Previous Article Next Article Playing to his strengthsOn 17 Sep 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Arsenal chief Arsene Wenger’s approachable style has netted exceptionalresults.  What could other businessesachieve by adopting his, and other football managers’ goalsOne manager in Britain, whose name is known in almost every household, isquietly, almost stealthily, revolutionising the approach to personnelmanagement in his chosen field. And that field is football. His name is ArseneWenger, the Frenchman who, this May, led his side to a second League and FA Cupdouble in four years and last week moved up to top position in the PremiershipLeague. Wenger has been managing Arsenal for almost six years and the traditionalfootball press still don’t know what to make of him. They have dubbed him ‘TheProfessor’, a title which suggests their unease. To be likened to an academicin the macho world of British football, is not exactly a compliment. Yet, he has motivated and inspired a squad to play so far beyond theircapabilities, that they romped home to the title, even beating their old rivalsaway at Old Trafford to clinch the trophy. And he did all this, apparently,without raising his voice – a rarity in a game where coaches habitually confusevolume with eloquence. So how does he do it? The best way to answer the question was to meet the man, as I did at theArsenal training ground one Friday afternoon at the tail-end of last season.His assistant, Pat Rice, an Arsenal veteran both as a player and coach, maycall him ‘boss’ as he passes by Wenger’s office to head home, but that, and thekind of workaholism that seems endemic for those managing a big football clubthese days, is pretty much where the resemblance to the stereotypical footballmanager ends. Born in Strasbourg in 1949, he was a decent footballer (though never cappedfor France) who simultaneously acquired a degree in economics at StrasbourgUniversity. As a coach, he has managed teams in France, Japan and England, withmore than a modicum of success. The experience of managing differentnationalities – especially tough in Japan where he arrived without being ableto speak the language and had to inspire a relegation-threatened side – hasconvinced him that the old adage that football is a simple game complicated bythe players isn’t quite true. “It’s very easy for communication with a player, and between playersfor that matter, to be superficial. But footballers want to feel they arelearning and they have to feel it in here,” he says, pointing to hisheart, “that you understand them and want them to develop”. “If they feel deep down that you are only interested in them as anumber in the team, or to fit into a tactical system, they won’t be as happyand may not play so well. I always tell my players to go out and expressthemselves.” He builds players like his striker Thierry Henry by cosseting them, ratherthan cajoling or shouting them. He has a stack of videos of world-class playersin his office, a subtle reminder that they are not necessarily indispensable. Wenger also keeps the game simple for the players, preferring not to changehis team’s formation, or style of play, whatever the opponent, instilling inhis side the belief that it is how they play thatmatters, not the calibre ofopposition. This is in sharp contrast to another foreign coach Claudio Ranieri,who has been criticised for changing his system more than once during a game.The liberating effect of this on some of the Arsenal players Wenger inheritedwas soon apparent. Footballers such as Tony Adams, imprisoned in one zone ofthe pitch and allowed out only for corners or set pieces, suddenly startedmaking forward runs. Adams, who retired this summer and is thinking of emulating his mentor andgoing to university, insists Wenger’s arrival added years to his career as aplayer. Most of the hype about the Frenchman’s effect on players has focused onhis scientific approach to diet and training sessions but Adams says his newboss also freed his mind, making his work more enjoyable. At the same time, the changes Wenger introduced, such as new stretchingexercises at the start and end of every session, raised morale as playersrealised they were benefiting physically. Probably one of the most underratedfactors in improving motivation is giving staff the feeling they have the righttools to do the job. Typically, he downplays talk of a scientific revolution at Arsenal.”This was a big club already when I arrived and it did some things someways, I’ve just done some things differently.” His ‘express yourself’ approach seemed to backfire in the first half of lastseason when the club started earning more publicity for the red cards it earned– twice as many, over the same period, as Manchester United – than its style ofplay, but the players then decided to reform. The most conspicuous example of this was when midfielder and sometimecaptain Patrick Vieira, who was sent off once and booked eight times beforeChristmas last season in the Premier League, but booked only three times in thesecond half of the League season. Wenger notes: “The players realisedkeeping their discipline improved results.” Even when the club was getting the most stick, the players stuck together.In contrast, when the wheels started coming off United’s season, captain RoyKeane made a habit of berating his teammates (and, to be fair, often himself)for a lack of desire, hunger or commitment. Ferguson has done the same,dropping the euphemisms to suggest his team had become too secure having, inmany cases, just signed new contracts. This seemed to suggest the best way tohandle footballers is to keep them insecure, not an approach many employers inother sectors would publicly espouse even if they privately practiced it. For a time, Wenger was known as ‘Clouseau’, but the comparison to PeterSellers’ bungling French detective was, oddly, evidence of the players’affection, rather than a lack of respect. He is equally relaxed about the players’ relationships with each other. Withso many French players on his books, there is scope for the kind of cliques anddivisiveness which has marred the Dutch national side over the years but Wengersays: “You can’t stop the French players wanting to talk to each other, orsee each other socially, you just have to trust them.” In person Wenger can seem relaxed, almost languid, polite yet slightlydetached, almost as if some other part of him is watching everything he’sdoing. His friend, Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, admits: “I’ve neverseen him angry.” Yet he cares deeply about winning, so much that even as a fan, and then as aplayer, he used to pray to God for victory. His differences with the Unitedboss have often been played up by the media but as he told the assembledjournalists on the day I met him: “The only thing that’s personal aboutthis is that we both want to win the same competition”. Ferguson has, inthe past, psyched out opposing managers with his remarks to the press, butWenger rises above the jibes, a tactic his players have come to admire. The need to win is, he insists, almost physically painful. When he startedout he didn’t know if he had the mental, emotional or physical toughness tohandle the pressure. “I worried I might not survive,” he admits. Theexamples of Houllier, hospitalised with a heart condition last season, Celtic’slegendary coach Jock Stein, who died of a heart attack during a game in 1985,and Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon coach forced out of the game for 18 months by aheart attack, all suggest the concept of work-life balance has yet to make animpact in football management. Wenger says: “This is a young man’s profession, a single man’s,especially when you’re starting out. I have seen this business damage so manyfamilies. Before, if someone rang me and asked me to go to Turkey I could go assoon as I had packed my luggage.” Having a wife and daughter has, headmits, made moving about harder but also enabled him to switch off from thepressure. During a season, though, he rarely has a whole day off, sneaking a couple ofhours here and there to read a book or to chat with his family. Only in thesummer does he completely escape – to France for a week with his family. When he signed a new contract with his club last year, he made it clear heunderstood the risks, saying: “Maybe I could leave two or three yearsearlier than normal, who knows? If you question my sanity at taking this jobfor another four years, you would be right to. It was a choice between apassionate life or a quiet life. For me, that is no choice.” He has nothought of retirement, believing that he will just wake up one day and knowthat it is time to do something else. This season will be a crucial test for Wenger and, ultimately, forfootball’s ability to bring its approach to personnel into the second half ofthe 20th century at least. New managers can now study their professionacademically at Warwick University partly through the sponsorship of the LeagueManagers Association. One of the first students to pass the course was Wales’manager and ex-Manchester United legend, Mark Hughes. LMA head John Barnwell says the idea is to offer support to what he calls”personality appointments” – coaches selected because they had agreat name as a player rather than for their track record in management ortechnical qualifications. Yet the initiative seems well timed if the culture ofmanagement in British football is going to change. Wenger’s style paid off last season and already this summer – his stars wantto stay at the club. “When they feel they have stopped learning ordeveloping, that’s when a player is likely to go” is his simple credo. Butmake no mistake, if Wenger doesn’t deliver the results next season, the mediawill be insisting that the right way to manage footballers is for red-facedblokes in sheepskin coats to treat them as bright children who just happen tobe too old to go to school. In other words, there’s more riding on this year’sPremiership title race than football and pride. Paul Simpson is the former editor ofFourFourTwo magazine              How to achieve business goalsfootball-management styleThere are92 managers in the Football League but as with management in other businesses,their approach to the job tends to fall into a few basic stylesThedictatorThe players do it his way. Can be asergeant major-type who bullies players verbally to impose their will or a‘hard man’ who is quieter but tough and intimidates through looks and demeanour.Pros They produce teams thatknow their tactics well, are resilient, physically fit and disciplined.Cons Dictators are not goodwith difficult players because they find it hard to make an exception or bendthe rules for them. The act might also only work for a while. One of GeorgeGraham’s problems as Arsenal boss was that after a few years, players had grownaccustomed to his tongue lashings and rather than being intimidated were justbored.Best examples in the game SirAlex Ferguson, George Graham, Kenny Dalglish, (it’s something to do with beinga Scottish manager).Best example outside the gameRichard Desmond (Express Newspapers)Thewheeler-dealerShrewd, personable, lives on his witsand/or hunches, often has a charismatic personality, a high media profile and agood eye for the transfer market.Pros Their profile andpersonality can breed confidence and make their club more interesting to themedia than it might otherwise be. Their high profile takes pressure off playerswhich may help the team’s confidence, and players never grow complacent due tothe manager’s unpredictability.Cons If a team is successful,the players may feel too much attention is being focused on the manager.Wheeler dealers often fail to put as much thought into preparation andorganisation as they ought to, sometimes seem to be lacking in long-termdirection.Best example in the game TerryVenables, now at Leeds United, a gifted tactician and an entertainingpersonality who relates well to players. Yet Venables’ gifts are undermined bythe suspicion that he finds it hard to focus on the job in hand with theintensity of, say, a Ferguson.Best example outside the gameTony Blair.TheorganiserFull of theories, has read every newmanagement textbook that comes out, a computerised mind, obsessed by theirschedules and preparation which must be followed to the letter. Can sometimesforget the players are human beings.Pros The team is well prepared,knows its job in detail, well-organised and up-to-date in terms of tactics andorganisation.Cons If things go wrong, themanager may be reluctant to change his system, preferring to blame and/orchange the players. The players may also feel they can’t express themselves andthe detailed briefings can become oppressive.Best examples in the game DonRevie, whose dossiers on his opponents as Leeds United and England manager wereso thorough players felt exhausted after reading them. Fulham manager JeanTigana has shown a similar stubbornness in sticking to his preferred system ofplay, irrespective of whether it suits the squad’s own abilities and styles.Best example outside the gameBill Gates.ThedemocratNice guys who want to build teamworkthrough friendship and encourage players to express themselves.Pros Team spirit is high ifthings are going well, players feel free to experiment, communication betweenplayers and manager is good, and players can respect the manager for having theguts to be approachable.Cons Democracy can seem likeweakness if results aren’t going to plan or there’s a serious issue which needsto be handled – discipline, for example. Best example in the gameArsene Wenger.Best example outside the gameRichard Branson. Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more