Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Learn To Burn

All management structures have their strengths and weaknesses. Any rating of an organisation must be founded on both the infrastructural robustness of the body and the interactions of the key individuals with their unique professional profiles. As it is in the wider world of business, so it is with football.
Certain entities yield greater creativity and innovation. When these beacons of professionalism underachieve, their normal overperformance demands that the error be noted. Goldman Sachs have recently struggled in the sub-prime quagmire and No 1's are not supposed to trade so poorly. And, last night, Arsène Wenger displayed a very rare lack of strategic thinking in playing half-a-team in what was actually a rather critical match in Arsenal's season.
Some of this might appear a bit trainspottery but Arsenal face a far more daunting new year because of last night's defeat and the very top managers and footballing associations generally plan strategically to avoid creating their own obstacles to success. Briefly in explanation of why Wenger got it so badly wrong. The 2nd Phase of the Champions League pitches the top-placed outfits against the runners-up with no team being able to play a side from the same country. By finishing in second place, Arsenal's opponents are likely to be chosen from the Porto, Real Madrid, Milan, Barcelona or Inter rather than the distinctly more preferable Rosenborg/Valencia/Schalke, Lazio/Olympiacos, Celtic/Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon/Rangers, Roma and PSV/Fenerbache. Wenger's justification was the blooding of youngsters but any such gains are minimal in comparison with the holistic mistake. This strategic mismanagement is unusual from the generally watertight Mr Wenger. But it will matter. Arsenal would have had the luxury of a five week break from major events following a very difficult start to the year when tough games combine with the Of Cup Nations African. Instead a probably very difficult Champions League encounter awaits. If the Gunners survive this major test, their quarter final ties will land slap bang in the middle of a domestic run yielding Chelsea (away), Bolton (away), Liverpool (home), Man Utd (away). It would seem distinctly unlikely that the Arsenal squad will be able to challenge on both fronts throughout the constancy of a high profile window that the second half of the season now represents. And this is before the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB) have any say in the matter.
Of course, this is merely a black mark against an impeccable record of the ultimate strategic planner among Premiership managers. Compare with Sir Ferguson who has repeatedly failed to analyse tournament strategies to maximise the chances for Man Utd in the Champions League. Indeed, last night's Ronaldo injury time winner saved the Reds an awkward trip to Rome where a defeat would very likely have produced a similar dilemma to that now faced by Arsenal.
A big picture overview of a tournament and its rules should form a fundamental analytical base from which to create a team's strategy for a season both with respect to the competition in question and the impact on other tournaments. While England were drowning in quicksand of their own creation, Germany were deliberately underperforming (having qualified with three games to spare) so that they might achieve a suitable position in the seedings to optimise their chances of success next summer. Similarly, the Czech Republic landed the contrarian trade of the season to date when hammering the global gamble on Cyprus in the final round of Euro 2008 Qualifiers. Professional traders failed to read the rulebook and made the assumption that the Czechs had nothing to play for. In fact, they had everything to play for in order to place themselves in the seemingly preferable mighty second tier of seeds for the summer extravaganza. While celebrating their strategic foresight, the Czechs had a rude awakening. By kicking off three hours later than the Czechs, the Germans were able to perform a preference reversal and chose the third tier of seeds as the preferable strategic option for the Finals. The fact that the Germans maintained their options between Seeding Levels 2 and 3 to maximise their tilting of the summer playing field while the English sloshed around with suitcases of money forlornly looking for salvation via bribery is typical of the holistic strategic differences in planning between the two nations. Germany is run by clear-sighted professionals; England is run by the bookmakers, sychophants and the incompetent.
In that it relates to this post, the Euro 2008 Seedings Chart is below with FIFA rankings in brackets:
Seeding Level 1: Austria (91) Switzerland (44) Greece (11) Netherlands (9)
Seeding Level 2: Italy (3) Czech Republic (6) Croatia (10) Sweden (24)
Seeding Level 3: Germany (5) Spain (4) Portugal (8) Romania (13)
Seeding Level 4: Russia (22) Poland (23) Turkey (16) France (7)
The science behind achieving the correct management structure in football is highly developed with MBA-style strategic thinking allowing innovative teams like Sevilla to succeed by establishing a hierarchy and a culture that dovetails with the football club itself. The flattened hierarchy works as an interlinked entity and every cog in the machine is replaceable - do not expect any downturn in form following Juande Ramos chasing the money. The transfer strategy is shared between manager and sporting director as part of a complex interlocked business structure. Arsenal have a similarly enlightened approach although the model is skewed to take account of Wenger's exquisite transfer policies. Less sustainable structures are the ones at Milan or Chelsea where oligarchical ownership sees the proprietor decide transfer policy with imposition of his selections being placed on the hapless manager. Surely part of Ancelotti's glumness has to be related to spending so much of his life in close proximity to Berlusconi and Galliani. In the absence of a suitable death, these hyper-owners pursue a strategy as long as it suits their life strategy. Clubs like Milan are safe as the club are branded alongside Berlusconi's political machine while one would make the assessment that Thaksin Shinawatra's devotion to the blue half of Manchester is a short-medium term publicity tactic.
We have chosen to exemplify Sevilla and Arsenal and admonish Milan, Chelsea and Man City both because it feels like a good thing to be doing and because fans should celebrate the teams who are utilising highly creative business strategies to succeed in a psychopathic sectoral environment. Neither Arsenal nor Sevilla abuse the betting markets as part of some kind of off-ledger grey market slush fund. Their infrastructure is sustainable. Milan too will survive until Berlusconi's (hopefully imminent) demise but what happens then? As for Man City, no comment...
We should also celebrate Arsenal and Sevilla because they limit the games exposure to all sorts of dirty money and financial shenanigans that form the core financial strategies of the operators behind the other teams. A remarkable feature of footballing corruption is how frequently it directly or indirectly mirrors the corruption endemic in wider society. While the mainstream media debates the legality or otherwise of some secluded political donation, the real criminality isn't even addressed. No true bottom-up democracy should allow political donations from businesspeople (nor indeed anyone else). This distortion of our democratic right should be made illegal and there should be state funding of the political parties in Britain. The media does not wish for us to focus on such matters. But why should the rich be able to buy political influence? In Victorian times, the slaveowner globalisers simply ran their business empires from the luxury of one of parliament's rooms for ex-public schoolboy MP's. The same individuals today prefer for MP's to perform their deeds by proxy. And the political funding issue is only one of many that demonstrate the inappropriate linkages that exist between capital and government. Take the Carlyle Group. This private equity company is renowned for sailing as close to the winds of legality as possible in the imposition of its innovative business model. By co-opting serving and recently serving government heads and ministers onto their visible and not-so-visible "boards", the Carlyle Group is able to benefit from insider trading. By basing one's trading strategy on known near-future infrastructural readjustments, rule changes, governmental reviews etc etc, the private equity firm is buying into a sector or a company at a very cheap price as the wider financial public is not yet aware of the soon-to-be-launched financial or regulatory breakpoint. Of course, this is a standard masonic template that has been employed across time but the rewards for successful implementation of a corrupt strategy of this type are far greater today. Lets have a swift glance at QinetiQ, once the ministry of defence's research wing. After being forewarned of the impending sale, the Carlyle Group bought in and they and the civil service managers of QinetiQ achieved handsome returns - Carlyle's £42 million investment yielding £374 million in three years while the establishment suits saw a two hundredfold increase in the value of their investment. This example of insider trading is illegal but par for the course. Abramovich behaves to much the same hidden agenda in football - the parallels are obvious.
Markets warp systems. Improperly policed and regulated, the platforms allow the psychopathic abuser of markets to develop skewed incentives and cornered markets, corrupt competitive advantages and criminalised core competencies, high stakes and short-termist trading strategies masquerading as a sustainable system based on capital. Wherever the free market allows money to distort the social incentives within a political system, a psychopathic template will become the infrastructure of choice for the individuals who utilise the libertarian nature of such a system to exploit their way to the top of the tree. Whether we are focusing on betting markets, bungs and oligarchs with their suitcases of money in the football sector or insider trading, cartelisation or monopolisation in the financial markets, we are faced with the same scenario.
Money destroys aesthetic and financial value which are its prime reason for existence in the first place.

© Football Is Fixed/Dietrological