Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Arsenal Argument

If you're not interested in football - especially English Premier League - then feel free to ignore the rest of this blog. I have given this post the title "The Arsenal Argument" in acknowledgement of a group of Arsenal supporters who took issue with my claim that Manchester City Football Club - the current premiership champions and the team I have supported since their previous glory years in 1972, although one of the disputants accused me of being a former Chelsea fan with the implication that I am a glory hunter - have a sound business plan under the current administration: that is since Sheikh Mansour took control in 2008 and began a process of investment that led, within 3 years to an FA cup win and within 4 years to a premiership win. In doing so Sheikh Mansour invested close to £1bn of his own money.

The reason I am adding this to an educational blog is it reminded me that, just as Henry Higgins lamented the inability of the English to teach their children to speak, I lament the fact that education in Britain, and in so many other countries, seems to lack the ability to instil critical thinking skills in school children.

After all there are many ways to attack the argument that Manchester City lack a sound business strategy. You could:
Question whether Sheikh Mansour is truly committed in the long term to the club - you could ask the same question about the Glazers at the Salford Club who have loaded a successful business with massive debts or about Kroenke at Arsenal who refuses to invest money;
Question whether the investment is actually sustainable - again you could ask that about any investment in football. Look at the history of Blackburn, Leeds, Rangers, etc.;
Raise the issue of Financial Fair Play - although the best analysis of this I have seen is here A lot of people who raise FFP don't actually seem to understand it;
Raise the issue of whether the business plan is bringing football success. So far it is within the owners plan of success within five years. Whether it continues to do so is unknown - we cannot comment on the future -athough the fact that so many top players want to join the club and remaing there suggests it may;
Show that there has been a continuous waste of investment over the years.

However, the "discussion" that followed owed more to Monty Python's argument sketch rather than more classical, reasoned dialogue. The fact that the "discussion" continued after I had dropped off from ennui means that what happened was the three - four? five? - Arsenal fans continued a rant and then declared success was as if Michael Palin walked out and left John Cleese saying "It isn't" ad infitum to an empty room. In addition these gentlemen, I shall grant them anonymity, failed to actually address the idea of MCFC possessing a good business plan but rather indulged in a variety of flawed arguments that were completely tangential.

However, before we consider their arguments I'd like to raise the following.

1. I have no animosity towards Arsenal as a club or a team. I have cheered them on in premiership title races, domestic and european trophies for nigh on 40 years and, even though it benefitted City, was disappointed in the manner in which, in the 2010/11 season, they came fourth in what should have been a two-horse title race. Moreover, I have a great respect for Arsene Wenger as a manager and as someone who identifies and develops talent. I was, as an examination of my social twitter timeline will show, disappointed in the Arsenal fans who called for his dismissal at the start of the season. I also think it a shame that Kroenke et al.  have been unwilling to invest sufficiently in Wenger to enable him to effectively challenge for the title since 2004. Imagine how could Arsenal could be if they'd been able to invest the proceeds of their success as Salford did.

2. In terms of ownership of clubs I would much rather see a model in the UK akin to that in the German Bundesliga where fans own 50%+1 of the available shares of the club. However, that has never been the system in the UK and, to be honest, there is no difference, financially speaking, to money raised from selling shares to that invested by one owner. Morally one can question so many of the owners of the clubs in the UK, including Sheikh Mansour, but that is a different argument.

3. I must apologise for an error of my own. Many of the "arguments" raised by the disputants surrounded business investment from prior to 2008 and I stated that the purchase of Wayne Bridge was one of them. (I must say here I never rated Bridge as a player.) However, he was purchased in 2009. However, comments on some other players, and the stadium lease, were pre-2008.

So let us consider some of the errors in argument that took place.

1. Ad Hominem attacks. An ad hominem attack is one that attacks the disputant and not his argument. I was called a chav, a c**t and an ex-chelsea fan. I was called boring, a mug, a whore, deluded, a bore, etc. Such attacks add nothing to an argument and merely detract attention away from a weak argument.
As for pointing out that City - and City fans? - are hated. Maybe City are. Success is envied and hated. Liverpool were, Salford are, remember the chants of boring Arsenal? As for the fans - I dunno. Some maybe but if I take Salford fans as an example: some I hate, some I love. Other than some great City fans I know the best people to watch the derby games with are a couple of Salford fans. Why? No arrogance, no glory-hunting and they acknowledge the weaknesses in the team. Their are some City fans who annoy me - not just Bernard Manning and the Gallagher boys - because they fail to accept that some City players do crap. They have blind spots.

2. Points were presented as facts when they were, at best, a misrepresented concept. For example,
- Tevez pissing about on the beach raking in his salary when he walked out on the club. In fact he was not paid his salary and was subject to club fines.
- Tevez just walking back into the side having "pissed" all over the club. Again, if one examines the points being made Tevez was expected to apologise to club, Mancini and fans - which he did.
- Nasri being a bench warmer, Milner and Barry being poor investments. A quick glance at optastats blows these ideas out of the water.

3. Assumptions being passed off as facts. For example,
- Players only joining City for the money. This may, of course, be true. Let's be honest - how many people would turn down a massive pay increase? However, and again - let's be honest -  most of us value job satisfaction. There must be something about the vision presented to the players that makes the club attractive from a professional development perspective. Would you join altavista - do they exist? - if google came acalling.
- Robinho thought he was joining the Salford club. Again, oft-stated but based on what?

4. Gross generalisation. Several players were listed as being poor investments: Robinho, Santa Cruz - athough his career was hit by injuries - Wayne Bridge, Adebayor, etc. The thing is all managers make such mistakes. I could mention Arshavin - never fulfilled potential at Arsenal, Shevchenko, Veron, etc. etc. I am sure all managers would like to be the perfect talent-scout and man-manager but they aren't. Even Alex Ferguson - as much as I dislike him, he is, possibly, the best at the moment - makes mistakes. Think Hargreaves, Bebe, Veron, etc. Why good players - and RSC had a good record under Hughes at BLackburn, Adebayor starts well at many clubs before fading, etc. - fail to produce for one club before success for another is complex.

To then generalise from some poor investments - and to be honest although I think the signing of Robinho opened the door to other profile signings and may not be totally poor, Bridge, Adebayor, RSC, were bad signings - to say all signings were poor is a gross generalisations. Look at Silva, Kompany - although he was pre-Mancini, Tevez, Yaya Toure, Lescott - who was superb last season - Clichy, Nasri, Aguero. You will see that good investments outweigh the bad.

5. Totally irrelevant - although inaccurate - comments
- City buying success. Well - yes. Every successful club throughout the decades has bought success. Arsenal and salford dominated the EPL because they had the money to invest in players. Liverpool in the seventies and eighties had the success because they invested in players. Barca and Real Madrid are successful and have invested in players. This success allows further investment. Guess what? City now have money and can invest. Is this unfair? Is it heck.
- City spending more than others. Well they can now but looking back at the investment in Arsenal, Salford, Chelsea, etc. and adjusting for inflation it is actually comparable.
- City have no history? Well, this is just a joke comment surely? if by history you mean premiership history they don't but that does not mean they have no history. All clubs have history. Look at some of City's for example. 1968 - league winners, 69 - FA cup, 70 Cup winners cup and league cup - the first European and domestic double by English club, 76 league cup. Throughout 70s they were constantly challenging for league titles and trophys and then fell victim to bad business management.
-No class? Interesting. For so long they had so little class they were often described as people's second favourite club. Now they're winning they have no class.
- Wenger great at bringing on talent citing Viera, NAsri, etc. True - and acknowledged as above - but irrelevant to the argument.
-City being "given" the stadium. (not sure if this is just factually bad though.) Actually, City pay a good chunk of rent on this, and they invest in the surrounding area - check the development plans, and they support events including concerts.
- Still at least no one mentioned being bad for English football - after all we only have Hart, Lescott, Johnson, Milner, Barry, Richards in the first team let alone an academy which according to the arsenal news website is the 5th best in England (Arsenal are third and well-done to them. As I say I have no had feelings towards them.)
-Winning on goal difference. Enough said on this one.
-City not winning for 44 years and two trophies not making you a dominant force. Well no it doesn't but I never claimed it did. Nor is it relevant. (It's interesting to compare Mancini's start to one Sir Alex Ferguson who does lead the dominant force. Appointed 1986. He made several major, and expensive, signings in 87/88 but didn't win his first trophy for another year - five years in all compared to Mancini's 1.5 - and didn't win the title until 1993, having broken several transfer records on the way.) City have a young, talented squad and, if they keep them happy, the millions invested so far will pay off in success for many years.
-Parked the bus at the Emirates. Yup - they did. However, they were going through a blue patch and needed to try and get a point against what was a decent squad. So showing respect for another team is bad business management? Shall we ask about the two other Arsenal games last season?
- City's fanbase confined to Manchester. Gotta laugh at that. So local fans support their team? Why do Arsenal have a global fanbase? Why do United? Why do Liverpool? Again, success breeds success. I'm not one of those fans who derides people from other areas for supporting their club and i hope City will be able to continue to build a global fan base. (It's worth watching the City/Arsenal game from teh Bird's nest stadium - where Arsenal were outclassed by the way - to see the mix of City and Arsenal fans. On another interesting note I love this interview with Jackie Chan.)
-Viera commenting that Arsenal don't sign world-class players when he wasn't world-class when he went there. Again, this is irrelevant but it does allude to the sad fact that Arsenal are not currently financially able to compete for the signatures of current world-class players. Hopefully, Wenger will keep doing what he does so well and spotting a prospective world-class player. Unfortunately, Iithout investment from the board I cannot see them keeping.  I am afraid that I have to agree with Usmanov on this.

The bottom line is that not one of these arguments has any relationship to the idea that City have a sound business plan. They add nothing to the debate and so can be discarded.

To bring this back to the purpose of the blog - education - I think it is vital that all students recieve some training in Critical Thinking in order to avoid some of the key errors made the other night. Yes, 140 characters is difficult to sustain an argument but we need to return to basics:

1. Keep the focus of the argument in sight. It was about City's business model not past success, whether Wenger is a great manager/scout/etc.
2. Make sure you check your facts - and again I apologise for the Wayne Bridge error. The easy thing now would be to use that to construct a strawman attack on the debate but that is another fallacy.
3. Make sure your points are relevant.
4. Avoid ad hominem attacks. They do nothing except expose yourself or a weak argument.
5. Avoid generalisations.
6. Avoid passing assumptions off as facts.

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