Losing the dressing room. It’s common vernacular when the press and twitteratti are trying to make an argument against a manager who seemingly can’t get his team to respond on the pitch. The question is being raised today whether or not Arsene Wenger has lost the Arsenal dressing room.
For those of you that may have had the joy of being blissfully ignorant of this weekend’s episode of the Wreck of Arsenal, Arséne Wenger decided to sit Alexis Sánchez against Liverpool. The reason that would later be reported was that Wenger was displeased with an outburst Sánchez had with his teammates.
In the aftermath of that report, Wenger has denied said claim and pictures of the two shaking hands at training have been shown. So the question remains – has Arséne lost his dressing room.
First, we have to take a look at how that phrase can be used. To explain it, let’s look at this from Duke University entitled “Broken Managers – The Process and Consequence of Losing the Dressing Room”:
Media usually attributes such massive loss of respect towards a manager to one or several particular moments. I distinctly remember a commentator referring to Bolton Wanderer’s 5-0 defeat against Stoke City in the FA cup semi-final in season 2010/11 as the moment when the then-manager Owen Coyle “was never the same figure in his dressing room”, leading to a dismal run of performances in the next two seasons, before he got sacked during season 2012/13. A 2012 ITV documentary of Jose Mourinho also highlights Chelsea’s 2007 Champions League semi-final loss against Liverpool as the moment when the relationship among him, his players, and the club owner Roman Abramovich deteriorated to a point where Mourinho felt “it was all gone”.
Crude it may seem at the first glance, such analysis is intriguingly plausible, given how difficult it is for a manager to maintain a sense of respect from his/her players, and how such respect could easily vanish in the most trivial of all matters. The often downplayed truth is that managers, like referees, are generally regarded by the others with contempt rather than admiration. As Eduardo Galeano portrays in his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, managers are the ones that limits and shackles the players as mere parts of his arbitrarily designed tactical system, and denigrates a “play” down to a “work”. If managers’ blandification of players and the game of football in general are all for the purpose of delivering success, then specific occasions that represent failure in achieving such purpose might be more than enough a reason for the players and the spectators to lose faith towards their managers. Another season’s worth of payment and sacrifice for absolutely nothing, they would think.
Typically, the most common reason for this term to be used is a string of poor results and the inability of the team to arrest them. As it continues you start to see the pointing of fingers, leaks of discontent and when you watch the players on the pitch the continual cycle of the inevitable.
And even the best managers aren’t able to shrug it off. Wenger largely has been able until now avoid such criticisms. And there is some evidence to the contrary that may still be the case.
In public, players have called for the retention of manager. They’ve argued they’ve let him down. That they owe him. But if that’s the case then why come out again and fail yet again?
We’ve argued that Arséne is his own worst enemy. He clearly still believes in himself, which is admirable. He is still a highly intelligent person. And we’ve written (Bad Genius. Is Arsene Wenger’s Brilliance his Downfall?) how at times, that can blind him to the reality of the situation.
Even in his comments today ahead of the Champion’s League tie versus Bayern, he has come out and talked of how he “built the club” and should be able to decide his own fate.
Fact is Wenger is blinded to what is going on around him – it’s all very Nero-ish.
But back to the matter at hand. In the check list of things that seem to link up with losing a dressing room we have positively ticked off the following:
- String of Losses
- Leaks of dressing room discontent
- Inability to arrest the situation and gain positive foothold
- Disenchanted players
All that would point positively to Wenger not having the control over his players he would think. And to be honest the players may not even realize he has lost them. Wenger believes in his way of doing things and the players (for the most part) believe in him so they go about their routine and it doesn’t change anything.
It’s a troubling trend for someone who prides himself on being seen as a fatherly figure to his players. It was that kind of approach that has built him some fierce loyalties among current and former players. In this modern environment though it doesn’t work.
But here’s the thing about “losing the dressing room” it would require the players, professional footballers to actually sabotage their form. It would require them to go out and willfully not perform.
Think about that for a second. We’ve identified the aspects of losing a dressing room – at least as it’s personified in the press and on the twitteratti. But really to lose a dressing room and continue the downward spin requires a willful act by the players.
Again these are professionals and regardless of what you think about their on the field performances they want to win. They are doing what they can to try and bring that.
I’m no fan of Francis Coquelin but I don’t think he goes out there to purposely be craptastic in order to get the gaffer fired. No, simply put his skillset isn’t good enough for what we need and he performs at level commensurate with his ability.
In the end the press is right all those items above have been met and their criteria for losing the dressing room has been identified. It all makes for great press doesn’t it. It gets us the frustrated supporters to read it and nod along with it, creating the echo chamber and clicked links the press wants.
Winning and losing are defined by fine margins. One of those fine margins is preparation. Wenger hasn’t lost his dressing room. They are likely frustrated and certain players may be disenchanted by losing – who wouldn’t be? What it really comes down to is Wenger once again not having his team prepared to play. Thinking his way is the right way and not getting them ready for an opponent.
And when it all goes wrong, Wenger’s self-belief in his system overrides any other perspective even the rather visual need to change things up.
So has Arséne Wenger lost the dressing room? No, he hasn’t. He simply continues to do what he has always done, rely on himself and his theories to get them through things while the rest of the football world has evolved and changed.
No, sadly it’s just Arséne being Arséne.