Friday, 9 August 2013

Gooner Book Review: The Wenger Code

Book Title: The Wenger Code- Will it survive the age of the oligarch?

Author: Richard Evans

Publisher: GCR Books Ltd

Price: £13.99 from (hardback)

Life-long Arsenal fan and acclaimed sports journalist Richard Evans sets out an intriguing and attractive mandate for his book The Wenger Code. The cover poses the long-unanswered question that few writers have sought to delve into- can Arsene Wenger's management style work in the modern game? So with an acclaimed writer who is a Gooner at heart, an intriguing character in Arsene Wenger as the book's main subject and a question of great interest to answer, this book promises much, and these promises certainly did enough to entice me into purchasing the book.

However, as with many books with set out such an ambitious itinerary, it failed to live up to my lofty expectations. Evans seeks to answer the rhetorical question using 'evidence  vividly bought to life from across the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons'. This appears to be a very smart idea, given that these two seasons epitomised Arsenal's shortcomings under Wenger in recent years, so evidence of Wenger's weaknesses, as well as his strengths, could be drawn upon to good effect. Alas, in his attempt to analyse the two seasons, Evans is drawn into simply writing season reviews, and fails to maintain the required focus on Wenger himself.

Evans also begins to slip into an unfortunate tendency for focusing  on minute, and largely irrelevant details, such as who deflected which shot, and failing paint the broader picture of Arsene Wenger's management. In fact, throughout the first two-thirds of the book Wenger is mentioned on in passing reference. For example, after concluding a lengthy description of a match Evans writes quickly 'and Wenger would not have liked that' in a desperate attempt to give his writing relevance to his original mandate.

As Evans' description of the season progresses, he is continually making attempts at a shallow assessment of the success of Wenger's philosophy, but his analysis of Wenger's shortcomings and the reasons for them, are more akin to the kind of excuses you may expect to hear from Wenger himself. Throughout his commentary of the 2011-12 season, Evans tirelessly curses Arsenal's bad luck, with three common complaints- injuries, refereeing decisions and one-off wonder goals. The facts is, none of these explain why Arsenal have repeatedly fallen short under Wenger in recent years, as all clubs could complain of having bad luck, and in truth, though we may not like to admit it, these are not the reasons for Arsenal not having won a trophy for eight years.

However, Evans fails to admit this, and devotes and entire chapter to his ranting on Arsenal's near misses. Looking in desperation for ways to certify his claims that Arsenal only lost due to these fine margins, scrambling for statistics stating how outcomes would have been different if all refereeing decisions had been correct; how Arsenal's injury record has changed since Colin Lewin replaced brother Gary and noting all the players who scored against Arsenal, who didn't score many goals for the rest of the campaign. For me, he still fails to convince as the statistics are based to a large extent on interpretation and factors that they fail to take into account, so hold little in the way of solid conviction. At least though, they represent an evidence-led and justified in-depth analysis that is largely missing from the rest of the book.

The entire season is commentated on is similar rather fashion, with vivid details and descriptions showing Evans' flair and prowess as a match reporter, but with little meaningful analysis or focus on Wenger himself. When the season is concluded however, the book's last chapter provides more interesting reading.

Using the more unconventional plethora of information that are football phone-ins, Evans seeks to gauge fans' opinions on Wenger's 'code' to reasonable effect, although he does suffer from using a rather small sample size. Evans then proceeds to write probably the most intriguing section of the book, and probably that which is focused most effectively on Arsene Wenger himself, in which, through the eyes of his publisher, Greg Adams, he takes the reader on a fascinating journey to Wenger's little-known roots at FC Duttlenheim, speaking to those who knew him, and sharing gems of detail regarding how Wenger learnt about the game and developed the keen passion he has for football today.

The postscript too, includes carefully chosen quotes which offer the reader gems of insight into the mind and philosophy of Arsene Wenger, but both passages are too little too late, to make the book a good read overall.

Of all the things the book suffers from, one the most significant and most surprising aspects that causes the book to fall short of expectations is that Evans is an Arsenal fan. You would think that this would allow him to write with gripping and endearing passion and indeed it does, but given the very divided nature of Arsenal's fan base with the AKB's and AMG's, it also causes him to be wholly impartial. Evans is, in Lehmann's terms- an AKB. Ultimately, when writing a book that seeks to critique the success of the very man the writer supports so strongly, this is a major hindrance. Hence, Evans' insistence that Arsenal's failings were cause by bad luck, and not Wenger's weaknesses, and that Arsenal's transfer policy is better than Manchester City's. Despite the valiant effort by Evans, the fact is, that the task of analysing Wenger's philosophy cannot be undertaken successfully by one who sits on either side of Arsenal's divided fan base, so unfortunately, the question posed by the book must continue to fester in our minds until an outsider comes along to tackle it, as only then, do I believe the question can be answered with the impartiality needed to write an effective book.

Gooner Rating: 3/10

No comments: