Tlisted below are nonetheless moments when Arsene Wenger sits at his desk in Zurich – of course overlooking each sort of pitch, from 11-a-side to seaside football – and wonders about the scale of the activity he has taken on. Perhaps dealing with Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola was simpler.
“When you sit here and think, ‘I have to improve football in the world’, you realise that it’s not easy, you know,” Wenger laughs, earlier than gesturing to the pitches under. “I would rather say ‘give me a team and down there I can show you what I can do’. But once you sit here and say, ‘how much, 211 countries? OK, thank you very much!’”
And but, as nice as Wenger’s managerial legacy is, there are such a lot of moments in chatting with him about his position as Fifa chief of world football improvement when it’s unattainable to not surprise how a lot the wider recreation might have benefitted from his uncommon perception.
“I can understand that as long as I was at Arsenal I didn’t care too much about that because I had to win the next game,” he says. “Once you have a global vision of world football, you realise something is not right.”
Wenger has most likely attracted most focus in the position for fronting the transfer for a biennial World Cup, however his actual work – and a very nice duty – is elevating the stage of the sport throughout the planet so each nation and each baby has an opportunity in the recreation.
“I believe really football can change the world,” he mentioned at the Fifa Women’s Football Convention in Sydney final month. “Not just on the football side, the human side. That’s the next step.”
Wenger is sitting right here on switch deadline day explaining in a wide-ranging interview with the The Independent precisely how. It is a selected problem when he goes to international locations like Ivory Coast and the president tells him they haven’t had an official youth recreation in 5 years.
“And here you have Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, you know we have the players, it’s a football country,” Wenger says.
“I always think there’s a little girl or a little boy who has a dream, has the talent and no opportunity.”
It’s all the extra irritating for Wenger since there may be now a robust argument that football is the hottest cultural pursuit the planet has ever seen, notably with the approach it continues to unfold into the United States and India, all the whereas producing big quantities of cash. Most of that, nonetheless, stays in a single nook of the globe.
“In Europe, it’s all done and we are a little bit not conscious of the needs elsewhere, because in some countries there’s no [football] education… it’s incredible.
“Football is conquering the world at an unstoppable speed and at the moment there is a dysfunction between the audience and the practice in some countries.”
In different phrases, there aren’t the sources to match the curiosity: the dream.
Wenger talks about how the first steps to fixing this are creating free centres of excellence for the finest younger expertise and spreading out from there to create grassroots buildings. Fifa is at the moment funding 25 academies, and the former Arsenal supervisor not too long ago had the coaches concerned at his workplace for the closing preparations. Such is the nature of the dialogue and the nature of his pondering, although, that an hour-long interview spreads into all method of areas. They embrace:
- How football could should “create striker schools” to deal with the lack of goalscorers
- How trendy academies provide excessive technical high quality however have meant “we lose a bit of that freedom, that creativity”
- How urgent has affected that
- “The trend in some academies is to recreate park football”
- How football isn’t producing anyplace close to as many good gamers because it might
- “Does the world produce enough good players? I think no”
- How this has led to an inflated switch market, the place “everybody thinks the same”
- Why international locations like Croatia and Uruguay are so repeatedly profitable
- How football is addressing these points
There’s then the classic method by which he affords profound insights about football, and seemingly easy traces that seize a lot, simply in sitting there speaking about it. Employing Wenger to immediately examine the recreation solely amplifies that, and it’s what he has spent the previous couple of years doing since taking the job in 2019.
“We analysed football in 205 countries and we found in half of the world there’s a deficit in education… which I mean as identification of talent, coaching programme, quality of coaching, quality of the competitions and integration in the first team.
“What we basically found out by analysing the whole world is there’s a huge correlation between the quality of the educational system and the results in the first team. That was mathematics.
“We proposed to each member association to help them to develop the education. Basically, if you have no education in life, you have no chance, so my purpose was of course to change that.”
Some of the challenges themselves come from what has been one of the most transformational components in the trendy recreation. That is the approach a sequence of rich western European international locations resembling France, Spain, Germany and now England have basically industrialised expertise manufacturing. Wenger himself factors to how [France’s national football academy] Clairefontaine-fashioned underage groups had been thrashing England’s when he arrived at Arsenal in 1996, however that now not occurs. England has caught up. I put to him that the previous line from journalist and former footballer Eamon Dunphy – that “dictatorships and poverty” produce good footballers – now not applies.
It is typical Wenger, although, that that instantly results in one other fascinating path of dialogue.
“No, no, I would say it’s quality of education. What has dropped in recent generations is that of course park football has disappeared and now the trend in some academies is to recreate again what happened before. The game itself is a good coach.
“Why? Because, if I play in the park, I have to make decisions. If I’m shrewd enough to think why did that not come off, and have a right assessment, the next time I am in the same situation I am correct. We have lost that a little bit. And maybe today we are overcoaching a little bit sometimes, and we lose a bit that freedom, that creativity, that individual personalised training that happened before.”
A traditional instance of what Wenger is speaking about comes from one of the most well-known objectives of all time. In bearing down on Peter Shilton in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, Diego Maradona remembered a earlier event when the England goalkeeper went a technique. So, at this second of heightened pressure and consequence, the Argentina nice went the different approach.
The relaxation is historical past, however the evolution since has eliminated one thing from the recreation’s current. Wenger believes the biggest value of the extra homogenised academy system is with that elementary of the recreation – placing the ball in the again of the internet. Or, extra particularly, he believes it has resulted in a decline in strikers that has inevitably introduced a decline in traditional centre-halves, too.
The hermetically sealed nature of trendy academies has meant younger gamers are usually not “educated for the fight” in the similar approach.
“I think football has improved dramatically all over the world but some positions today are more difficult to find because maybe the evolution and the quality of the coaching has suppressed natural fighting qualities in positional play.
“The emphasis has become more on quality of passing, quality of coaching. What you lost from the wild football is, if you go out now to a training session here, it will be built to start with passing, after that the quality of possession.
“Before, the training pitches were not good, so you had to lift the ball to the striker. A striker had to fight to get the ball so, naturally, you develop qualities that, with the passing, you develop a little bit less.
“If we go out there and play in the park, you think you have to score goals to win the game. Then you have to fight.
“As well, the man-to-man marking has disappeared so it’s easier to get the ball. You are less confronted with fight. You see that in Germany. Since they play zonal they don’t produce strikers anymore.
“If you look at the global evolution, we have moved away from defenders who only defend, from strikers who only attack, from midfielders where some defend and some attack, to be more demanding completely. Technically, today, the players in every position need to be better because of higher demands than 30 years ago. The pace is higher, the athletic side is higher. So, today, the right-back is technically better, the centre-back is technically better. Of course, you had exceptions in history but maybe it has also kicked out specificity; the creativity of some players because of the pace.
“Overall, every player in each position has become a more complete player. I would say because we have gone in a more specific passing game today, the demands on the striker to score is smaller than it was before. Jurgen Klinsmann made an interesting point on that at the World Cup. He said to me, ‘I played with only one thing: I have to score. I feel the strikers today judge their own game by how they combine with other players. I only judged my game on did I score or not.’”
So, how does football resolve this? Wenger believes that is being deeply thought-about, and that Erling Haaland represents a throwback who might level to a brand new spin on an previous approach.
“At the end of the day, no matter what you do, football is always the quality of the one who gives you the ball and the one who puts it in the net. It’s true you find more good passers now than finishers.
“And you can develop these qualities. I think it’s something that will be addressed. Now, after 15 years of age, we have to start specialisation and positional play.
“Finishing under pressure. Finishing by being challenged and the quality of the movement… to get that responsibility on their shoulders, that their focus every day is to score, to fix them targets. So maybe we have to create striker schools, internally inside the club, or more specific work. I think it’s on the way to happening now.
“If I look at Haaland, Haaland is for me the real typical striker. He looks like he is ready for the fight, ready to be focused on only scoring goals. Like [Olivier] Giroud is a real striker in mentality, that explains why he’s still playing at 36. 36! And [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, [Karim] Benzema – they have been educated for the fight, they have been educated to finish as well.
“In France now, you have some good strikers again. Germany, where they had big strikers, they have less. They are thinking now how they can change that again.”
It could convey a change in centre-halves, too, given how interlinked the two roles are. As somebody who used to play in that space himself, Wenger now feels Jamie Carragher is correct that it could be the most demanding place in the recreation.
“At the end of my career, you wanted centre-backs to play out from the back. Today you want the centre-back to play like a number 10 and to defend as well, to be tough. Fighting and to play. It’s tough to always find that balance.”
That, for Wenger, can be the place the magnificence lies.
“You know, football is magic for me because there is a good balance we have to make between the technical, the physical and the tactical,” Wenger provides. “So, for example, one of the things we are cautious to change is the offside rule because we want to keep that balance right.
“If I play for example against [Kylian] Mbappe, the only advantage I have is to play him offside. If offside is even more difficult for me to play, I have no chance anymore. So what can I do? When his team has the ball I can run in the box because I wait for him. The rest, I have no chance! Haaland is the same.
“So, when you press, the defence has to move up, and the space is behind me. Against the quick players, it becomes even more difficult. That is a good example of the evolution of the game. The attack gives you a new problem. The defence responds by analysing your superiority. Then the attack finds a new solution and creates again a new problem and the defence comes behind.
“So I would say now how do you slowly fight against the pressing? It’s by getting the players better technically. Evolution is created by opposition.”
There is an analogous dynamic in the switch market, which has influenced some of this summer time’s excesses. Whereas it was once that Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane would command the file charges as a result of they had been of their prime and had established careers that provided absolute proof of high quality, that kind of expenditure is now geared in the direction of a lot youthful expertise. Even youngsters like Rasmus Hojlund and Jude Bellingham have gone for big charges. Part of that’s their potential, notably with Bellingham. Part of it’s the premium on their positions, notably with a striker like Hojlund. Part of it’s the pondering.
“What is happening now is because clubs think that confirmed players are so expensive, they try to fight for the younger players. They are thinking they will get them at the cheaper price. The fact that everybody thinks the same makes the prices of the younger players too high, in my opinion. Why? Because it is at 19, 20, 21 where you see if the player has the capacity to cope with the pressure.
“For the confirmed players, with the high levels of transfers come high wages and even clubs like Real Madrid cannot cope with both. What is the trend in the top markets? They get the players to go to the end of the contract to be capable of giving the players the wages they want. And it looks like now the competition with Saudi Arabia will even increase that, so overall I would say there’s more fight for the young players.
“But two questions. Does the world produce enough good players? I think no, and I believe as well that the prices depend on the identity of the buyer. If he is tomorrow president of Young Boys Bern [gesturing towards Fifa media officer Stefan Curtis] and I am Arsenal, I will come to see him. ‘Who are you? Arsenal, OK, English, I have a good player.’ In Switzerland he would sell for £5m, in England for £50m. So somewhere, the identity of the buyer fixes the price.”
It’s a theme that brings collectively a lot of Wenger’s work, and why it’s so essential for the recreation, in addition to the way it’s performed.
So a lot of the cash is concentrated in western Europe, and notably the Premier League, which has in flip generated much more mega curiosity round the relaxation of the world. Many international locations don’t have something like the similar sources, although, which has meant they can not maximise the potential expertise. The expertise they do have is in the meantime rapidly purchased up, decreasing the high quality of their home competitions in addition to the cash the football tradition can consequently make investments.
Part of Wenger’s nice mission, past simply altering the world by altering the football world, is to raise the stage of their complete recreation; to revive a vitality.
“I believe the globalisation of the world has concentrated the big money in a few number of clubs,” Wenger emphasises. “This few number of clubs has a huge potential and the rest of the world watches the Premier League. So, what does a guy in China or South Africa do in the morning? He thinks ‘ah, Premier League’. Why? Because the best players play there and that reinforces the Premier League even more, so that means the concentration of the money in the small number of clubs has created even an inflated market.
“And then once you have all the best players in the world in the same league, that means if I have a Chinese player in the Premier League, all China will watch the Premier League. That reinforces even more that superiority.
“What I want to create is that in Angola, for example, we produce as well players who are good enough to produce a quality in their own championship, that the guy can have a choice. ‘Yes, I will still watch the Premier League but in my league something is happening as well – oh, here we have as well some good players’. Then it creates interest.
“That’s why I tell you the deficit of education today is detrimental to the quality of the championships and as well to the quality of the national teams worldwide.”
This is the “dysfunction” Wenger spoke about.
“For example, the television audiences in India are very high, in China very high, but the players are not educated at the same pace,” Wenger maintains. “What we want is to provide them with the capacity to play. That’s our target.”
If the targets are the similar for each nation, the challenges are completely different. While an emphasis will inevitably be on international locations of inferior sources, these with extra sources can convey the reverse downside, which is privatised football; or teaching that prices mother and father more cash. The most blatant instance is the United States’ “pay to play” system.
“We have in some countries a lack of football culture,” Wenger concedes. “A lack sometimes of structures, and in some countries, because the private academies have taken over, a child from a poor background cannot pay to get into the football school. It’s exactly the reverse of what I want to do.”
It’s additionally the reverse of what football represents.
“You can play with an orange or you can make a ball with paper. That’s why football is so popular. But today if you want to get to a good level of education in football, in some countries you don’t get it. I find that not right because, in many countries, there are some private initiatives, but the parents have to pay to get the children in there.
“For me it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. If you are good, you come in. Our academies are free, just open to talent. You have to adapt and find a solution in every country.”
It is right here that one other Wenger thought opens a complete new avenue of dialogue. In this case, it’s how some nationwide groups consistently overperform.
“What we found out, and what explains countries like Croatia, like Uruguay – who are small countries, three million people – is that a number of good players on a short surface is more important than a number of good players on a big surface.”
In different phrases, they’ve realised easy methods to use their dimension to a bonus, by with the ability to convey the finest expertise collectively extra simply and luxuriate in a multiplying impact.
“I realised 40 years ago from a study I made for Netherlands, why I want to put the best with the best. Because they play against each other, they stimulate each other. That explains countries like Netherlands, Croatia, Uruguay.
“They keep creating teams and players because they have a good level of education and identification of talent.
“Croatia was in the last four of the last two World Cups so that means success is not limited to big countries. It is just limited to the quality of education and organisation.”
It can be a newly romantic advantage of worldwide football, which has inverted so much of the recreation’s historical past. It now affords a vitality that the membership recreation can’t. No matter how huge the inhabitants, worldwide managers should make do with what they’ve. The greatest golf equipment simply purchase what they lack.
“Yes, the international team game is rewarding the quality of the educational work. The club game, and I am a big fan of big clubs, is the recruitment of the best players from all over the world. It’s fantastic, but I think you need the two, to give everybody the chance.
“For example, Croatia today cannot compete with their clubs, at the top level, because the players leave early. Then they come back and compete with their national team so they are rewarded for the quality of their work.
“That’s our target. In Africa, it’s the same. In Concacaf it’s the same. I come back from Australia, football is unstoppable.
“The boy or the girl wants the dream. When they watch football players, when they see the World Cup, when you watch it, you have the dream, which is to play football and to lift the World Cup. We create the dream. But we do not have at the moment the capacity to fulfil this dream.”
That’s what he’s pondering as he sits at that desk. It is in some methods the similar as when he was a membership supervisor, chatting with why the recreation is so well-liked. It’s to fulfil the dream.