HARARE – The last time that Arsenal won the English Premiership was back in 2004 powered by the brilliance of two Frenchmen; Arsene Wenger as manager and Thierry Henry as the chief striker.
This is a memorable season for all die hard Arsenal fans like me because the Gunners did not lose a single match for the entire season, in fact they gave their fans a bonus of 10 extra matches without tasting defeat after the end of the season, taking their tally to 49 games unbeaten.
What more would you want from a team? What more would you want from a manager?
Back then Arsenal were still using Highbury as their home ground and Patrick Vieira was the captain. Back then, the Gunners’ main sponsors were 02 which is a scientific symbolism for oxygen. Times have changed and Vieira has moved on to other clubs and eventually Manchester City, where his bread is now buttered as a club football development executive.
Times have changed too for the Gunners who relocated to The Emirates, a beautiful and more spacious stadium which their sponsors Fly Emirates built for them about eight years ago. Wenger is still the manager and he still believes in his youth brigade philosophy which has produced such brilliant players as Henry, Vieira, Alexander Hleb, Francesco Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and now Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Wenger believes that results are produced by a system and not by brilliant individual players. I believe that too.
This is why even after the departure of Vieira and the legendary Henry, the Gunners went on to play in the final of the European Champions League in 2006 and the semi-finals of the same tournament in 2009 respectively.
Yes, they lost dismally to losing finalists Manchester United but they lost as a team and it’s a system that failed to eke out the desired result and not individuals failing a team although at prima facie, it would appear as if that young man, Kieran Gibbs with whom Wenger had invested his trust and threw him into the last line of defense may have cost the team.
Wenger will tell you that it’s a system that failed to click and I will, to a larger extent, agree with him.
Arsenal have now gone for seven years without winning the league title, fine. But what is seven years when Manchester United went for 26 years without winning the league title from 1967 to 1993? What is seven years when Chelsea had a 50 year wait to win their second title?
What is 7 years when Manchester City last won the league title in 1968, two years before I was born?
Having been at the helm of Arsenal (who are the 13 times winners of the English premiership) for 16 years and having won three English titles and several FA Cups with the Gunners, Wenger has grown in stature and what some analysts may see as an arrogant streak in his belief in the youths is for me the best way of how to manage an English club or any other club in the modern era of football.
It is just a question of time before we celebrate yet another brilliant season by the Gunners.
Yes, we will celebrate another brilliant season without Robin van Persie who realized that Manchester United was a great club at the age of 29 and joined them. We will celebrate without Fabregas, Nasri and Alex Song who have moved to other clubs.
It is important to note that Wenger’s philosophy has worked because of the tremendous support he has received from the management, a management that has invested their trust so much in the ability of their manager.
For 16 years, the Gunners have stuck with their man in both good and bad times and he has built a culture that football is not only played to score goals but also to entertain. Only a system can do that, not individual brilliance.
When all is said and done, there has to be a difference between football and Athletics and Arsenal have demonstrated that. FC Barcelona have demonstrated that too.
Now, we see Manchester City doing the same. This is a departure from the boring kick and rush football often associated with Manchester United and athlete Usain Bolt (world 100m record holder) has made a mockery of Manchester United by suggesting that he wants to go for trials at Manchester United.
He probably thinks that one does not need to be skilful in order to play for Manchester United.
I congratulate Manchester City for winning the English Premiership title in the 2011/2012 season. They have invested in football by buying young players in the mould of Sergio Aguero, Mario Ballotelli, Nasri and others.
The story of Arsenal reminds me a lot about CAPS United, the third biggest force in Zimbabwe’s domestic league and the story of Wenger reminds me a lot about Charles Mhlauri and his all-conquering squad of 2004 and 2005.
Like Arsenal, CAPS United are known for their sleek passing game that is lacerated with beauty and like Wenger, Mhlauri is a firm believer of a system than individual brilliance.
This is why when he assumed the role of CAPS United coach in 2004; he re-called all the players which Rahman Gumbo had loaned to other clubs as he had considered them to be surplus to requirements.
These included Artwell Mabhiza who had been loaned to Arcadia United, Ashley Muza (now Rambanepasi) who had been loaned to Sporting Lions and Raymond Undi who had been loaned to Masvingo United.
The reason why he brought the trio is because having come through the CAPS United production line he knew that they were quite familiar with the system.
He brought Cephas Chimedza who had been discarded by arch-rivals Dynamos after having been convinced that his type of play would easily feed into the CAPS United system. The rest is history. We all know the results.
CAPS United swept everything that was on offer and for the entire season, they lost only one league match at home to Highlanders.
Back then, CAPS United were using the National Sports Stadium as their home ground and had turned it into a slaughter house.
Back then, United were being sponsored by NetOne and their Belgian partners and they had an executive that was led by businessman, Andrew Hodges who ate football, slept football and drank football.
Above all this, he was down to earth that one would easily mistake him for an ordinary soccer fan or a cheer leader. Together with Mhlauri, he is credited for the most successful CAPS United squad of 2004 and 2005 and after him nothing happened at this Hillside – based outfit.
United are now famous for fighting relegation than fighting for honours. They have lost the aura of invincibility which used to define them during the Mhlauri-Hodges era. Now they can lose to any team.
The system that Mhlauri and Hodges introduced has long since been replaced by mediocrity in the field of play and the leadership style that Hodges introduced that led to the success of the team has disappeared and the club is now operating without an executive.
The ‘executive’ seems to have one man who is the CEO, the Chairman, the Secretary and the treasurer. Now, you don’t run a football club like that and get the desired results. This explains why despite having the best players in the league, United are still struggling for identity.
It’s a club where anyone can come and coach including Alban Mafemba, Moses Chunga, Maxwell Jongwe, Gishon Ntini, Fordson Kabole and Sean Connor.
I would not be surprised to hear that Gibson Homela is now coaching CAPS United despite having stayed out of football for many years and despite having failed to successfully coach both the Warriors of Zimbabwe and his beloved Zimbabwe Saints.
You will not see that at Highlanders and Dynamos because these two clubs always want to preserve their identity and culture at all cost, you do not just walk in and do as you please.
Currently, CAPS United Football Club has no playing culture which culture was introduced by the likes of the late Ashton ‘Papa’ Nyazika, Obediah Sarupinda and perfected by Steve Kwashi and Charles Mhlauri, the sleek passing culture.
The reason is that the club is bringing people from outside to coach CAPS United and yet these coaches do not understand the CAPS United brand. Some of them are staunch Dynamos supporters who want to introduce the Dynamos culture of smash and grab football to CAPS United.
CAPS United need to go back to the basics by appointing an executive that runs the club, the way Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United, Highlanders and Dynamos are run.
The executive committee may be made up of former CAPS United sons and/ or loyal fans who understand the culture at CAPS United. As I noted above, the players must report to this executive not directly to the owners of the club.
Santiago Carzola, Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta have no business knowing who the owners of Arsenal are but they have business knowing its executive which is made up of Ivan Gazidis (CEO) and others.
But at CAPS United, it is a different story, Farai Jere, one of the owners of CAPS United is more visible than Maxwell Mironga who is purported to be the CEO of a non-existent executive.
The problem is that as the owner, you sometimes feel that things are not going the way you want because of the money you have injected into the club and there is a tendency to be emotional when making decisions.
I believe that only an executive committee can make professional decisions about the direction a club should take because there is no emotional attachment involved.
There is no doubt that Jere has done very well in terms of bankrolling the team. He is probably the reason why we still have a club called CAPS United given that most clubs run by individuals have folded in succession in the last six or so years.
Sporting Lions, Eastern Lions, Lengthens and Bantu Rovers fall into this category. Jere and his partner Twine Phiri love this beautiful club and this is demonstrated by the money they have poured into the club. But in order for their investment to bear fruit, they must operate behind the scenes. Let’s go back to the Hodges years and we will see the results.
I am not saying bring back Hodges, not at all. All I am saying is that there is need to have a clearly defined executive which runs the show in terms of appointing coaches, buying players et cetera.
Otherwise, I do not see Taurai Mangwiro lasting the distance if an executive committee is not put in place. In my view, Mangwiro is a very good coach and he is a sober-minded person who prefers to stay away from unnecessary controversy.
I believe he can work well with Mkhupali Masuku who is also a cool character and Baba Gari (Brenna Msiska) who is one of CAPS United’s illustrious sons. But these guys deserve support from an executive that has a vision for the success of the club.
An executive that knows the culture of CAPS United as a brand. My intuition tells me that the CAPS United glory days may just be coming back if the CAPS United Owners can listen to this piece of advice. Zvinonzi akubayira zanhi ndewako.
Bravo Carzola!!! Bravo Podolski!!! Bravo Olivier Giroud!!! Welcome to Arsenal Football Club.
Dr. Fainos Mangena is Senior Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Fort Hare, South Africa.
He is a winner of the prestigious African Humanities Program Postdoctoral fellowship and the author of a very popular book entitled: On Ubuntu and Retributive Punishment in Korekore-Nyombwe Culture: Emerging Ethical Perspectives. He is also a Business Ethics Consultant and a Journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com.