Arsenal Doomed To Being a French Player's Midnight Dream?

DENZEL CHRISTOPHERContributor IDecember 7, 2010

Arsene Wenger: Arsenal's stubborn but greatest manager.
Arsene Wenger: Arsenal's stubborn but greatest manager.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Over the years, Arsenal has acquired a French look. A curious look at their signings points to one distinct conclusion; Arsenal football club is French and a Frenchman must play for Arsenal. That, in of itself, is not bad as that’s what the European Union is all about—the free movement of people within a larger geo-politico-economic space or entity.

Where the Gunners are concerned, this Euro leaning has meant, increasingly, only all things French. Let’s see shall we?

Since Monsieur Wenger came in, one can count on one hand how many non-French players he has signed, compared with the French Legionnaire he has assembled over time. To be sure, they have included some gifted players—Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera Emmanuel Petit, Nicholas Anelka, Robert Pires and, currently, Sami Nasri.

Unfortunately, there has been a transfer of certain weak traits as well. French players are among some of the most technically excellent players in the world. The best of them have been like painters on the field with their football skills and movements—Eric Cantona, Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and, of course, Zinedine Zidane.

However, with that comes drawbacks as well. Except for a few, they are not physically imposing for the most part and can be distractingly stubborn. Names like Nicholas Anelka, Slyvain Wiltord, William Gallas and Patrick Viera need no further commentary with reference to their less than gentle personae.  

Indeed, Anelka led the mutiny which sank the French soccer armada at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa this past summer. Gallas nailed Arsenal’s championship prospects a few seasons ago with a petulant after-match display against Birmingham City unworthy of a captain.

Perhaps born out of frustration, Henry had a forlorn air about him which left a subdued impact on the team during his last few years at the club. There were games where he was clearly disappointed with his some of his teammates’ play or lack thereof.

Some French national team experiences have had a negative knock-on effect on the club than should have been the case. The infamous Gallas-Nasri feud began aboard a flight while representing “Le Bleu”, where it was alleged by Gallas that Nasri showed disrespect to Henry by taking his seat.

That "familiarity breeds contempt" virus has infected the club’s French African players as well. Togolese born footballer Emmanuel Adebayor had a sensational last two years as a Red. He earned the contempt of fans due to his prima-donna transfer-seeking drama that echoed Viera’s earlier antics, which unsettled the club on both occasions. The Ivorian international, Kolo Toure, had an on-going “cold war” with the combustible Gallas. He later revealed that he left because he felt “somewhat bullied and intimidated by his former teammate.”

Read more:

The less said about Lassana Diarra’s short-lived career at Arsenal, the better. Part of Wenger's excuse was, “I hate to see talent wasted, but to challenge for honours you need players who want to play for the club, and whilst I rate Diarra highly, we have no place for the wrong attitude.”

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In many ways, the widely respected manager has turned the club into a conveyor belt for French footballers. In Arsenal they see a home away from home.

Regrettably as a result, English players have been few and far in between. Indeed, there seem to be an unspoken perception, however sophisticated its denial may be, that British players don’t have what it takes—they are all brawn and no brains. In other words, they lack basic technical skills required in the modern game.

To be fair, the manager has tried to create a good club climate, however selective his approach has been.

A sound club environment is incredibly important. It represents the culture of a club on a smaller scale and shows how good or bad its organization is. In addition, culture reflects leadership. In the Strasbourg born manager, Arsenal has a capable, if biased, boss whose strict transfers policy and behaviour have meant that his team’s performances have looked vulnerable or stressed.

In essence, the culture of the club, which is based on the club's leadership, has fed and reinforced each other, negatively, these last barren five years.

Successful business culture—whether found at Toyota or Southwest Airlines, General Electric or Intel—result directly from the confluence of effective leadership and smart strategy. It's a confluence that Keim and colleague Angelo Kinicki, also a management professor, have explored extensively.

Their ideas come together in a class called "Leadership: Aligning Strategy, Talent and Culture" offered regularly by Executive Education at the W. P. Carey School of Business;

I am not in any way peddling xenophobia, nor am I anti-French. I speak the language at a basic level and hope to master it in the future. The club needs a rich diversity of players and not to remain every French player’s haven. Wenger sees and represents a certain football world view/strategy and may never change or adapt soon.

Is he a visionary? Absolutely. Is he set in his ways? Undoubtedly. Has he done all he can do for the club? Perhaps. Has he been the club’s greatest manager? Indeed so. Is it time for a new hand at the wheel? I defer till the end of this season.