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Arsene Wenger: His “genius” is his own worst enemy

Last April I ran this piece and in light of last night’s news leak, I thought it bear reprinting. Unless you’ve been under a rock, Arsenal are going through their worst spell ever under Arsene Wenger. After suffering a defeat to West Brom they’ve won one league match in five and that against lowly Hull. After the results of the weekend we find ourselves sitting in sixth in the table. And truth be told when you look at the team and the upcoming fixtures, it can and likely will get worse.

But news is coming out that Arsene wants to stay on. The board, without any clear leadership or vision, are cowed by his control within the club and have willingly offered him a new 2-year deal. After the loss to West Brom, many clearly thought that this was it. The board had to act and had to recind the offer. But as we’ve said news is coming out that he wants to stay and the club want him to stay it’s just a matter of when to announce.

Wenger believes that he can fix this. Wenger truly believes that he is the only one who can right the wrong and put the good ship Arsenal back up. And that’s where he gets in his own way and when you look at it, it’s a typical trait for people often labeled genius.

It is said that geniuses lack no ego. They are arrogant. No matter where you look, arrogance and genius walk hand in hand. Literature, music, science – the list goes on and on.There’s a story that Beethoven and German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe encountered some royals strolling toward them. Goethe moved out of their path; Beethoven did not.

This may or may not be true, but Beethoven did write “Prince, what you are, you are by accident of birth…. There have been thousands of princes and will be thousands more; there is only one Beethoven!”

In a recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that there is a link between creativity and arrogance. The researchers found that undergraduate students who think of themselves as being creative and who regularly engage in creative activities score less than average on a measure of honesty and humility. This in turn indicates tendencies for some or all of self-importance, entitlement, immodesty, greed, and deceit.

Psychologists measure personality traits by a metric of “the big five.”  They  are Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Openness. One study showed that these core traits are universal from culture to culture. Researchers believe that they have biological origins in describing how human beings relate to each other.

Genius types are often unable to adopt innovations that didn’t originate within their own little worlds. For instance Ettore Bugatti when confronted with the fact that he continued with cable actuation brakes (designed by him) long after other cars had hydraulic brakes, Bugatti is said to have replied, “I make my cars to go, not to stop.”

No matter where you go when you look at these types of people – creative geniuses, their own genius winds up being their blind spots.

If it all seems very familiar – it should. It sounds very much like Arsene Wenger

Once lauded as the creative genius that revolutionized the Premier League, he hasn’t or has decided to ignore recent innovations or changes to the global football. As the football has caught up with his ideas, the creative genius felt he didn’t have to move with the times. After all, you just don’t forget the things that made you who you are. He went back, repeatedly to his way of thinking and thought that would carry him through.

In one essence he is right, you don’t forget how to train players. That will always stay with you. But what can happen is that you are so blinded by the fact that you think you know better that you don’t look around you and notice the world has changed and you haven’t.

We can either accept change or we can put on our blinders and go back to our old habits. Which is what Wenger has done.

The evidence of this change was all around even before we got to this point. We all see it. Look at all the players who left because of the change in times – financial promise. They left because he didn’t see the change or acclimate to it. He felt like he has always felt,  that his ways of running the club and of developing a football team based on a social togetherness and a fatherly kind of love – would see him through it.

And for a brief moment it looked like it would. But it hasn’t. Not really. The two cups in two years were great but they didn’t come with any noticeable knock on effect. Everything was status quo and the importance of moving forward seemed lost on Wenger. Especially in January when he had the opportunity to do something about it and failed.

Wenger still believes his ways are the best ways despite everything to the contrary. This is why you will see him bring up excuses when it doesn’t go the way he anticipated – money clubs, FFP failing, injuries, no one available, mentality, etc.

In his mind last summer he thought only getting Cech was all he needed to make a title run. And for a while it looked like it was,  however, as we all know injuries inevitably struck and all was derailed and his action was – negligible inaction. He thought as he always has that his system would win out and the injuries would be not as severe this season. Now pressers where we used to think “oh how erudite he is” now just seem like arrogance and stubbornness.

Increasingly it looks like Wenger is crumbling under the pressure. Not because of the falling apart of last season’s title run mind you but of the increased questioning of his methods. He’s used to being viewed as affable, approachable and charming. His pressers were often in stark contrast to some of the more confrontational managers. But now as each day passes and issues remain unaddressed, we see new him fall further down a hole becoming something akin to Russell Crowe’s take on John Nash in a Brilliant Mind.

For those that lauded the man we have seen him spiral downward to become a caricature and we cringe. Even those who vocally want him gone, can’t imagine that he should go out like this. We want to remember our greats within the era they were made in. But as Wenger continues to ignore the realities of the world we are in and deflects criticism after criticism, relying only on his tried and true ways of doing things our view of the great man is altering. What we could be left with is an image of a once great man, too consumed with his own genius to realize that it’s a hindrance and likely the making of his downfall. And at least for me that is a sad thing.

Psychologist Carl Jung said, “To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.” I want Wenger to be remembered as the highly successful managerial genius that brought us so much glory. I’d rather not have him remembered for staying long after he should’ve gone.

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