Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger won over hardened skeptics with a speech at Tuesday’s annual meeting of Arsenal shareholders. The positive mood in the room at the end of his address was reminiscent of that famous Gordon Gekko speech from the movie Wall Street.
The last year has been admittedly been the most difficult of Wenger’s 15 as Arsenal manager. His team collapsed at the end of last season, and the malaise continued in the beginning of the current one. He defended his recent trophy-free record in a room full of people who may have been calling for his firing only a few weeks ago.
He assured shareholders that his reassembled team has the quality and ability to compete for honors -– as Arsenal has done since his 1996 arrival -– despite losing two world-class players [Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri]. He did it by linking the club’s current struggles with universal values that corporate honchos everywhere can’t help but support.
Gekko convinced Teldar shareholders that he could save their company by doing the same thing.
The Vanishing Principles of Courage and Greed Drive the Modern World
Everybody knows Wenger is tight with Arsenal’s money. The club spends a percentage of the revenue it generates. He doesn’t pay for stars either. He creates them. This is a key piece of the club’s self-sustaining business model, of which he is the fiercest defender. He believes it is the only way way Arsneal should compete (in the long term) against others that have greater financial resources.
“I believe that the values we defend are highly defendable because we want to do things with class.” He said. “We want of course to be very ambitious. We want to be very brave. I believe that this club has always been very brave in its decisions. The courage is a quality I admire because it is a highly needed quality in the modern world.”
The courage to defend what one values (in the face of a barrage of critics) mirrors Gekko’s approach. Except the principle the corporate raider defended was “greed.” He called greed the driver of “upward surge of mankind.” In explaining why greed was so good for business, he got the room full skeptics on board with his plan.
Staying on Top Because of Accountability to Shareholders
Courage and greed will get you to the top. But how do you stay there?
Wenger saw Arsenal through a transition period. While winning trophies, the club financed and built the state-of-the art Emirates Stadium after moving from Highbury. The last decade saw Arsenal adhere to a strict salary structure that has led to the departures of talented players, who sought riches elsewhere. Having finally paid for the stadium, Arsenal can compete for some of the world’s top (young) talent going forward.
Wenger didn’t hide from the fact that Arsenal hasn’t won any trophies in over six years. But he is proud of the fact that the club is competitive on the field and the envy of most others off of it. This model is another way of remaining accountable to shareholders and the room full of club owners appreciate that he defends their accounts better than his players defend goals.
Gekko cited accountability in explaining what made America the world’s greatest industrial power in the 20th century. Wenger thinks the model will ensure Arsenal remains competitive at the highest level for another 15 years.
“The way we can compete is to try to be intelligent but as well to be united because it is very difficult to be consistent in football,” he said. “We have been more consistent than anybody else in the world in the last 15 years. To stay at the top, top level, we have to be united.”
In the end, Wenger won over the room. His speech, brimming with charm and quiet passion will certainly insulate him from discontent at the board level for another year. We can only wait and see what famous film speech he will channel next season. Should he do Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman?
See the video below for Wenger’s speech to Arsenal shareholders.
See the video below for Gordon Gekko’s speech to Teldar shareholders.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr/Catatan Bola Photo Gallery
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