Talking Arsène

I work in software development with a team of developers located in Shenzhen, China. Most of our developers select a Western name. It’s done partly to make it easy for us lazy Americans, but also because it’s fun. It’s like when your French teacher chose the name of Hugo or Veronique for you to be called in class. In that class, you are a different person. A fellow I work with in our China office has selected a Western name of Value. Value is a calculation developer. He took over from a developer who selected the name of Round. You wonder–did their names subtly influence their hiring? It certainly is an effective way to remember Value’s development expertise. (And makes it a touch harder to remember Round’s more recent expertise, which is no longer calculations.)

It seems less than coincidental that almost 20 years ago, Arsenal selected a manager whose first name closely resembles the name of the club. By now, Arsène is very much Arsenal. And Arsenal is very much Arsène.

As with all public figures, Arsène Wenger in no way garners comprehensive acceptance by fans. One of his more famous and rabid detractors is Piers Morgan, who is more or less constantly demanding that he be removed from his role. Complaints about him usually have to do with this: Arsène is famously a bargain-seeker when considering players to buy. He would rather pass up a needed player than pay a tiny bit more than the value he has assessed, and he would rather identify a hidden gem or diamond in the rough and develop them than buy the finished article who can immediately contribute. As a result, the team often finds itself short of needed backup for key positions when injuries inevitably occur.

I am easily one of the fans that Piers refers to in his tweets as deluded, and who need to wake up, because I love Arsène. He is not infallible, not by a long shot, and his gambles do not always pay off. But he does things the way successful people have to do in other walks of life. He takes the long view, and he makes investments that require his particular touch and long-term attention. He uses a blend of art and science in a sport where short-term success can come quickly from science alone. And despite being the subject of near-constant questioning over decisions, techniques, approaches, he typically maintains a level of confidence, serenity, thoughtfulness.

Here is a typical post-game interview. I could have picked any of a thousand. Calm, cerebral Arsène.

But like all people, especially people in sports, he has another side, rarely seen. The other side is way more fun to talk about.

Here is one famous water bottle incident that followed Arsenal capitulating a lead against Tottenham.

And another; this is my favorite. It captures not just Arsène’s actions on a bad day, but the culture around football. Use sound; the narration is the best part.

Biblical indeed.

And that’s Arsène.

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