Wenger – The Tortured Executive

Wenger declares money will be spent in the summer but would that solve the problems or just deepen them?

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Arsene Wenger took aim at his critics once more as Arsenal ended a difficult week on a high with a nervy 2-1 victory over Aston Villa. It was not a brilliant win in a game which showed again Arsenal are far from being a formidable side.

The Arsenal manager said: ‘I’m not 30 years in this job at the top level to be destroyed by people saying I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Wenger says he has more time in football than all his critics put together, which is true. However, nobody says Wenger doesn’t know what he is doing. His critics say that he isn’t flexible, that he blocks new ideas from reaching the squad and that he doesn’t admit he made major mistakes.

What we see from Wenger is a classic economic dilemma, known as the “sunk-cost effect”.

In a fascinating article about “Sunk-cost” - published in The New Yorker, Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University explains: “Giving up on a project, though, means that somebody has to admit that he shouldn’t have done it in the first place. And there are lots of executives who would rather be tortured than admit that they’re wrong.” If you’re faced with this problem, it’s tempting to look to those times when staying the course has worked out.

Wenger is that sort of executive, who is not giving up on a project that is torturing him and Arsenal fans. He now says Arsenal can now spend more, but I’m not sure that’s the solution. It might even deepen problem. That’s because, as Arkes and others have documented, a greater investment in a project increases people’s belief that it will succeed but won’t solve its original problems. It is a case of what psychologists call the “escalation of commitment.” Meaning, it’s the continuation of wrong investments. Just with more money.

Wenger thinks that his “30 years in this job” will help him but what would really help him is a strong board, who would impose new ideas and new thinking. “Taking the original decision-maker out of the picture and letting a fresh pair of eyes look at the pros and cons can help” Arkes says and points out and to a Staw study of a bank that found that loan officers were reluctant to acknowledge that loans they’d made had gone bad, whereas new executives were far more likely to take the loss and move on”.

Arsenal need new “executives” that will help Wenger (or even replace him). Unfortunately, Arsenal have a board of non-football people, who listen to “I’m 30 years in this job” rhetoric from Wenger and just bow.

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