Is It ONLY About Trophies?

By on October 2, 2009
Arsene Wenger
Ted Harwood is a regular guest contributor to Arsenal Station. He lives in Chicago, IL, and has been an Arsenal supporter for the better part of a decade. Here, he follows-up on yesterday’s Arsene Wenger-anniversary post. He also writes about movies, music, and other cultural artifacts on his blog, Running Downhill.

The thing I always wonder about is how many supporters seem to think that winning trophies in football (or other team sports) is something akin to running a four-minute mile, i.e. it is something that a person can do if they just train hard enough, show persistence, and do their best, and that consequently, if one DOESN’T win, it’s down to not trying hard enough, or caring enough, or “losing the plot” or some such nonsense.

Winning championships in team sports is more about assembling the best squad that you can, preparing them as best you can, putting them on the pitch, and hoping your preparation and hard work translates into performances and also merits luck from the football gods, but in reality comes from doing those other things well. Every Premiership season brings with it 19 losers; every Champions League season 31. These are, for the most part, excellent, excellent football teams.

Arsene Wenger in the crowdNobody can rightly say that Arsène Wenger doesn’t do the best job that he can every day he comes to work.  No one on the planet works harder for, or cares more about, Arsenal Football Club than Arsene Wenger.  Even the most passionate, fanatical diehard supporter of the club pales in comparison. At 60 years old, and after 13 years at the club, the man still works 12-16 hour days and probably dreams about the club every night. He is responsible for overseeing the athletic side of what is quite possibly the best-run sports club on Earth; he assembles groups of talented young players that 99% of England envies.

Football trophies are won and lost sometimes on the strength of three or four moments of madness, and nothing that Wenger could do would prevent Martin Taylor from crushing Edu’s leg. Nothing he could do would prevent Rosicky’s muscles from acting up. And all the while he has to face squads of equal or greater talent and equal or greater monetary value, and yet, it is not enough to finish in the top four in England year in, year out. It is not enough to reach the finals of the most prestigious club competition in football.

We all want to win, but so do Manchester United supporters. So do Tottenham supporters. And Shrewsbury Town supporters. To act as if the trophy is the singular hallmark of a good manager or a good side, rather than simply the highest in a long list of them, is misguided at best, and possibly psychotic at worst. Such thinking is a formula for continual depression.Arsene Wenger Statue

Isn’t it much better to appreciate sport for the little things as much as the big metal shiny things? The way that Cesc dinks through balls over the top of defenses for Van Persie to trap into the path of his swinging boot? The way that the team creates fifty little triangles of passing around the edge of the area? The way that the football is faster, niftier, and healthier in the North of London than it ever had been before? This is what Wenger brings, in addition to his unquestionable desire to win.

He has not lost the plot; he has written the book. For this, we should thank him.


Being a supporter is not only about winning trophies, it’s about the joy you get out of supporting and watching your club every week. Besides, let’s be honest… winning the league is great but the feeling lasts about a week or so and then it’s on to the next season. No one even talks about the Invincible season anymore, so that just goes to show you. In reality, for an individual, trophies and their attendant celebrations are a fleeting, temporary joy. The club retains the trophy and whatnot, but what remains of the trophy for the individual supporter years later? Memories…

And I have great memories of seasons in which we won nothing. Look at the win in Milan two years ago, Theo’s goal at Liverpool, etc… those are just the more recent ones. We didn’t win the Champions League in 2006, but who will forget the Madrid matches or away to Valencia or Cesc’s goal against Juventus? One of Arsene’s sides of which I am fondest is the ’98-’99 team that didn’t win anything. Because, most importantly, it is the seasons where you don’t win that an individual’s relationship to the club is forged and truly developed. If the players believe in Arsene (see today’s interview with Cesc and Clichy’s recent interview), how can we not?


  1. Amerigooner

    October 2, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Here here! As they say, arriving at the destination is fun, but the journey is also its own reward.

  2. Manoj

    October 2, 2009 at 12:25 am

    What a great article..finally someone who has expressed my feelings about Arsenal. Thanks

  3. Steve

    October 2, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Agree completely.

    Plus, you didnt mention Arsene’s achievements. Going a whole season unbeaten. What a magnificant feat, something I doubt I will see in my lifetime again. Two doubles. FA Cups. Scalps at Madrid and Milan. A new bleeding stadium for God’s sake.

    I feel so lucky that Arsene is our manager and hope he stays for a long time. Trophies will come in time and they are all the more sweeter having gone through disappointments.

    Who can say that the double in 2002 wasn’t fantastic? After getting raped 6-1 the season before at OT we won the league there. After battering Liverpool only to lose in the last 10, how awesome was it to knock them out and go on and win the cup?

    2003 was crushing as we were the best team for 9 of the 10 months of the season and Arsene was ridiculed for claiming Arsenal could go unbeaten. Who had the last laugh?

    I have no time for spoilt, ignorant fans who demand instant success

    • ArsenalStation

      October 2, 2009 at 12:31 am

      “Trophies will come in time and they are all the more sweeter having gone through disappointments.”

      Exactly right, Steve. When this group of players wins the league, imagine how satisfying it will be considering all the stick they and we have gotten in the last couple of years. It will probably be the most satisfying championship I will have seen and I’ve seen 3.

  4. jena

    October 2, 2009 at 1:14 am

    no one is demanding instant succes- but five seasons without a trophy deserve to be questioned. five seasons of selling our best players , reporting profits and winning nothing deserve to be questioned. Five seasons of the manager going against common sense to buy players to sort out the team’s glaring shortcomings deserve to be questioned.

    this game is about winning trophies- thats why we are losing palyers to teams they think can win trophies. Almost every other great player who has left our club has pointed to lack of trophies and the “perpetual young team” as a reason for leaving.
    When is this team gonna mature and win something?Most of these players have been playing for 4 or 5 seasons. Are they good enough to wear the Arsenal jersey. Are players like Diaby, Bendtner, Song, Denilson and Eboue gonna win us trophies? These are questions we should be asking as die hard supporters and not praise singing AW even when he has not delivered for a while.

    • Steve

      October 2, 2009 at 1:35 am

      I think you need to understand that we HAVE to report profits, if we reported losses we would be out of business, simple as that. We don’t have a sugardaddy to bankroll the team. That is why Arsene is a God send.

      As for our best players leaving, I don’t agree with you at all. I think everyone who watched Adebayor and Toure last season would agree that they were past their best and offers of 25 and 15 respectively were too good to turn down.

      Hleb, Flamini, Diarra and Gilberto left the season before but they hardly qualified as ‘our best players’. Hleb was frustrating, Flamini only had one good season, Diarra was a muppet and Gilberto was a great servant who deserves his pay day in Greece.

      I could go on about Henry and Vieira but this is tedious. At the end of the day, Arsene has made decisions in what he believes are in the best interest of the football club he has built.

      I don’t think anyone could have predicted Abramovich’s intervention at Chelsea – without that I’m sure we would have won more trophies. Arsene decided to jettison his Invincibles to build a new team capable of competing with Chelsea (and now Man City) in the medium to long term. I am convinced we will see the fruits of Arsene’s labour soon.

    • jack

      October 2, 2009 at 2:00 am

      I couldn’t agree more with you jena,it’s time we were allowed to question this football club.Im fed up with this attitude from a lot of the so called ” real ” fans that how dare anyone critisize Arsene,your not a real gooner f**k off and support the spuds or the chavs.I agree that football is all about winning that for me is the bottom line,the bottom line for Arsene these days is more of a financial one.That is a great question jena asks,Are playres like Diaby,bendtner,Song,Denilson and Eboue gonna win us trophies?There isn’t a gooner on earth the would answer yes to that question.Wenger brought all of them here and there not fringe squad members these are first team players its a joke.Ijust hope we get top 4 this season because if we don’t we’re in big trouble and my guess is Arsene wont be hangin round if we’re not in the champions league either will our good players for that matter.

      • Steve

        October 2, 2009 at 2:30 am

        You say players like Diaby, Song, Bendtner etc are not good enough to win a trophy for Arsenal and its true. But we have Gallas, Cesc, Arshavin and RVP who can. You look at seasons past under Wenger, you could say that Grimandi, Garde, Wreh, Hughes weren’t good enough to win us a trophy but it was Bergkamp, Keown, Adams, Vieira, Petit and Overmars that did in 1998.

        For God’s sake, 3 keepers won a medal in 2002!

        Wenger brought the players here believing that they will mature into good players. I’m not saying he’s infallible but he has a better track record than any other manager with young talent.

      • Joseph

        October 2, 2009 at 2:49 am

        People can’t judge player fairly, that’s why wenger is better than average fans. Eboue is better than Neville, Diaby is better than Carrick and Fletcher combined. Song is the best DM in the Premier League this season.

        People tend to glorified winners and to dis losers. This article ask you people to look inside to see the truth. Winning and losing is years of practice and preparation + a moment of luck + a lapse of concentration of the opponent + a helping referee. When you won a game, you feel you are the best. When you lost, you feel you are worthless. But you are you. You don’t become a better player by winning, you become a better player by practicing more. I think this is something everyone should realized.

      • ArsenalStation

        October 2, 2009 at 7:36 am

        jack and jena, no one IN THIS ARTICLE is saying that we are not allowed to question Arsene or Arsenal. Neither I nor Ted feel that way. But what we are saying is that Arsene Wenger has earned the right to see this project through to fruition. We knew that building the stadium would mean going with a decided youth policy and if we were to pull out now and just start buying like crazy then in effect it means the last 3-4 years (not 5 years!!!) was done for nothing. I believe in the players because Arsene does and he has given me reason to. (All except for Diaby!!!). Questioning the man is fine… I wonder why he didn’t start Arshavin in the FA Cup Semifinal, I question why he repeatedly plays Diaby, why in crucial matches in 2007-08 our starting wide players were Diaby and Eboue, why he let Flamini go over Adebayor, etc…. The list is endless. Everyone makes mistakes. But, be honest, the man has been right far more than he’s been wrong. And, like the players, I fully believe this team will reach its potential in the next two seasons and prove him right once again.

    • ArsenalStation

      October 2, 2009 at 8:02 am

      jena: “this game is about winning trophies- thats why we are losing palyers to teams they think can win trophies. Almost every other great player who has left our club has pointed to lack of trophies and the “perpetual young team” as a reason for leaving.”

      Hleb left for personal glory at Barcelona. Even he said that winning the treble in Spain didn’t really matter that much because he barely played. And Flamini didn’t hardly think that AC Milan were really gonna win Serie A in 2008-09 with Juve coming back, the competition getting stiffer, and them having finished 5th the year before and missed out on the Champions League. I just wonder who are these other “great players” that have left the club specifically due to a “lack of trophies.”

      As for Diarra, he never looked anything special in his short spell at Arsenal. He had one or two good matches despite having a decent run of games in Oct.-Nov. I, for one, was not said at Diarra’s leaving. Also, we must consider his attitude problem, coming out with those statements on the morning of a big match against Chelsea, etc…

  5. Vjs

    October 2, 2009 at 1:56 am

    lovely article…gives a wider perspective of being a fan of the club,…moresoever of what a fan must understand and how he must be so as to be happy….

    Wonderfull article mate…goes above all the tittle tattle of the arsene methods, success, problems etc. The best i have read till now.. no kidding..

    • ArsenalStation

      October 2, 2009 at 7:30 am

      Thanks vjs.

  6. sam

    October 2, 2009 at 2:00 am

    The name of the game be it football or marbles is to win.

    If AW deviates from this policy and insists on pretty

    soccer,he is a on man bandwagoen.

    we will have to wait and see when the season ends.

  7. Joseph

    October 2, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Great! Great piece of writing! Thanks for the posting.

    We are on a mission to conquer England with our attack, positive Arsenal football – It is Arsenal against the world. Our style is our soul. There is NO WAY I will accept we trade our soul for trophies. NEVER.

  8. aj

    October 2, 2009 at 3:52 am

    No it’s about improvement year on year.Clearly last year we went backwards.Despite getting into the Champions league semi we largely played poorer than the season before. Let’s see what happens this year.
    I think many people think that we are not actually challenging for the league which is why they are critical.I don’t think people expect trophies but they expect to compete for more than fourth place.

    • ArsenalStation

      October 2, 2009 at 7:28 am

      aj, we improved on all our previous Cup campaigns last year and despite not playing as well as in 2007-08 you must remember that we were doing it with what was essentially a completely new midfield following the exits of Hleb and Flamini.

  9. Soop

    October 2, 2009 at 5:21 am

    I’m sorry, but I completely DISAGREE with the sentiments in this article. Football _IS_ about trophies, just like every other professional sport. Pretending it’s not is simply deluding yourself into accepting that we’re no longer good enough to seriously compete for trophies anymore, and that’s a fact.

    Yes, we all want free-flowing football, and the suits want the club to be profitable, but ultimately it comes down to what we win. If football was about style and creating chances we would be top dogs, but the only stat that matter after 90 mins in the goals scored.

    And if anyone thinks that seeing the club lift a trohpy is only a fleeting moment, I was at the Leicester game in 2004 when we sealed the Invincible season, and I still to this day get goosebumps thinking about how special it was.

    We have too many fans who have a loser’s mentality, justifying our lack of trophies by pointing to other factors as being more important. It’s simply not good enough, and neither are we – at the moment.

    • ArsenalStation

      October 2, 2009 at 7:30 am

      Soop, you are misunderstanding me. I watched that match on television and of course I get that same feeling when I watch it. But is only a memory. And I get nearly similar feelings from other Arsenal memories that I have of magical moments from seasons in which we won nothing. Football, like life, is about the journey, not the destination.

  10. Joseph

    October 2, 2009 at 6:08 am

    “I don’t see Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal having four first-team players not good enough to slip on the jersey. Those teams don’t carry passengers.” said Cascarino.

    There are always pessimists but, we know, Arsene did well for us. And yes, we have to have profit to stay from becoming Portsmiths.

    Marc Overmars Signed for £5.5m, sold for £25m
    Nicolas Anelka Signed for £500,000, sold for £22m
    Kolo Toure Signed for £150,000, sold for £16m
    Emmanuel Adebayor Signed for £7m, sold for £25m

  11. Joseph

    October 2, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Some Fans are like babies. They are self centered and think they can grab all the candies, everytime. They don’t know about earning money and all they can do is spend.

  12. Joseph

    October 2, 2009 at 6:13 am

    People can’t judge player fairly, that’s why wenger is better than average fans. Eboue is better than Neville, Diaby is better than Carrick and Fletcher combined. Song is the best DM in the Premier League this season.
    People tend to glorified winners and to dis losers. This article ask you people to look inside to see the truth. Winning and losing is years of practice and preparation + a moment of luck + a lapse of concentration of the opponent + a helping referee. When you won a game, you feel you are the best. When you lost, you feel you are worthless. But you are you. You don’t become a better player by winning, you become a better player by practicing more. I think this is something everyone should realized.

  13. Ted Harwood

    October 2, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    I should add a couple of thoughts to (hopefully) clarify my thoughts in the article a little bit.

    My intention with writing this article was more about taking an optimistic view of things. Too often in my life have I allowed crushing defeats to ruin my day, my week, my month, my year…anyone who spent any length of time with me after my beloved Minnesota Vikings lost in the 1999 NFC Championship game can attest to that. I wrote the above to try to offer a different way of thinking about competitive team sports, a way that can place Arsenal’s “failure” into some kind of context within not only the game, but within one’s everyday life.

    I wrote this piece almost in the confessional mode. I have battled through immense anger and sadness at Arsenal’s lack of trophies over the years, and I feel that I have finally reached a point (borne of maturity, experience, wisdom, I don’t know, this sounds pompous, I know) where I can place defeats on some kind of continuum between abject misery and stoicism.

    Never at any point did I suggest that sports isn’t about winning trophies–of course it’s about winning trophies. Without that goal, the levels of achievement in human sporting history would look much different. But only one team can win. So what is one to do with the other nineteen, ALL, ALL of whom strove with as much dignity as the next? Is one to think that their efforts, because they didn’t cop a bit of silver, were meaningless? This kind of thinking, while understandable in the short term, seems nihilistic and pointless in the long term.

    It’s easy and accurate enough to say that Wenger hasn’t gotten the best possible result every year. And of course, he’s open to criticism (something I find it hard to offer up most of the time, but that’s due to my natural bashfulness). Look, the man’s not perfect, and he can’t always get what he wants. But equating a post suggesting an alternative way of thinking about the meaning of team sports with blind, idiotic devotion to some sort of Christ-like figure seems absurd. To defend the man’s innovations is not to ignore his errors or his failings, but there is a time and a place for that. I did not intend to “justify the lack of trophies” by pointing out how it was more important to play beautifully. I only wanted to say that trophies are the achievement at the top of the list, and to simply throw out everything else great about Arsenal in one angry swipe at a lack of silver seems, well, depressing, at the end of the day.

    I wrote the article because it was the man’s anniversary, for goodness’ sake; I wanted to reflect on what he had brought to Arsenal, to FOOTBALL, and what I thought those things could mean for the fan sitting in their living room, sitting in their seat in the Emirates, sitting in the pub, who would love nothing more than to see Wenger lift a gleaming vase decorated with red and white ribbons. That’s the goal, that’s what gets everyone out of bed in the morning, but how will you still get out of the bed if your 5% chance of winning goes begging? This is how I do.

  14. Earle Bird

    December 11, 2009 at 2:25 am

    I love reading your site but I have been using my iPhone to surf the web more. Is there a mobile specific version of your blog I could use?

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