Sunday, March 13, 2016
John Carlin, Simon Kuper and Arsène Wenger
My two preferred sports journalists, John Carlin and Simon Kuper, disagree on one important point: the merits of Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger. I like these two sports journalists because they rarely write only about sports, but they combine sports (mostly football -soccer in the US) with discussion of issues of broader interest. I wonder if they read each other. Carlin writes mostly in the Spanish newspaper El Pais and Kuper writes mostly in the Financial Times. The former wrote an article last week where he said that Arsenal would need a little bit of the impatience that the club officials at teams like Real Madrid show for their managers. Wenger has been in his postition now for almost twenty years, beating records of managerial tenure. Although he has never won the major football torunament, the European Champions League, he won several times the English Premier League, although many years ago, and several times the FA Cup (althoug they were eliminated today from this year's edition). However, Arsenal are an example of stability. A consistent playing style and transfer market strategy have not only allowed them to keep stable finances but also to regularly access the last stages of the Champions League (athough they only reached the final once, being deferated by Barcelona in 2006). Instead, Kuper admires Wenger. He sees in him football's Billy Bean, the mythical manager of the Oakland A's in baseball, whose statistical revolution was brought to the movies and the bookstores in "Moneyball". Wenger has been able to succeed competing with richer clubs with a broader fan base precisely because he keeps a scientific approach to evaluating strategy both on the pitch and in the transfer market. At the same time, he has promoted many young players and helped build a new stadium without bothering the tax payer. I understand the impatience of Carlin, and the Arsenal fan. If Wenger is replaced by the time of the game this week against FC Barcelona, perhaps they'll cause problems to my favourite team in a post managerial change reaction, but they will jeopardize the stability of the last two decades. Perhaps two decades are a lot (are they? is there empirical evidence across industries?), but then it would be better to replace the manager taking a broader perspective, and not only looking at the last game's score.