The Scandinavian winter has a lot to answer for. Having received so much media coverage before their Europa League tie with Arsenal, Östersunds effectively failed to turn up on the night. At least in part, that must be down to the Swedish club having just resumed playing again after three months in footballing hibernation. Nevertheless, despite their poor performance on the pitch, Östersunds have a lot to teach Arsenal off it.
Gunners Must Learn From Östersunds FK
Lesson One: The Importance Of Having A Committed Chairman
In the run-up to the match, there were numerous interviews with the Östersunds chairman, Daniel Kindberg. He may be the only football chairman ever to have combined military service with a booming real estate business and is clearly a fascinating individual. Far more importantly, however, he is a genuine fan of the club he leads.
Kindberg resigned from the Östersunds board nearly ten years ago due to dissatisfaction at how the club was being run. Astonishingly, many of the club’s players showed their solidarity with him and threatened to resign too. He not only returned to the board but eventually became chairman and was able to turn the club around. He started with the appointment of Graham Potter, a then-unknown English manager. Potter subsequently led Östersunds to three promotions, a Swedish Cup win last season and this season’s Europa League campaign. However, Kindberg did not stop there. Instead, he has continued to be the ultimate “hands-on” chairman, involving himself closely in everything going on at Östersunds, from transfers to the club’s now famous cultural activities, in which he himself has appeared.
The contrast with Arsenal’s own “Silent Stan” could not be more dramatic. Indeed, Kroenke is almost the ultimate “hands-off” chairman. However, he is not alone in that, because Arsenal are not the only major English football club whose chairman’s main interest appears to be not football itself but another sport entirely. In Kroenke’s case, it is NFL, where he seems intent on turning the LA Rams into Super Bowl winners. The same is true of the Glazer family at Manchester United, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL team. And at Liverpool, the main interest of the owners – the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) – is the fabled Boston Red Sox baseball team, whose legendary ground they are named after.
In the increasingly globalised 21st century, billionaire owners are obviously not averse to having controlling interests in more than one sport. As yet, however, not one of them has achieved success in more than one sport at the same time. Kroenke’s Rams (when they were in St Louis) and the Glazer family’s Bucs may have won Super Bowls in the past, just as the Red Sox have won several World Series under the ownership of FSG. However, that was before the billionaires concerned became involved with football. Given the demands of top professional sport, it is at least questionable whether even a billionaire owner can achieve success in two major sports simultaneously.
Instead, a committed, focused fan like Kindberg arguably provides the model for a successful football chairman. Östersunds are obviously not the size of an Arsenal or a Manchester United. However, they are still an ambitious, innovative club whose success seems in large part down to having a man at the top who is truly dedicated to the club. That is surely a lesson for many far bigger clubs, including Arsenal.
Lesson Two: The Importance Of The Collective
In all the interviews they gave before the Arsenal match, Kindberg, Potter and everyone else involved with Östersunds stressed the importance of the collective. They emphasised that whatever success they had achieved had been down to their working together towards a common goal. Even their ballet performances were all about reinforcing this sense of connection, not only between the players and non-playing staff but between the club and its local community.
Again, this is in stark contrast to what has happened at Arsenal over the last decade or so. Instead of a feeling of unity that draws players and fans together, Arsenal have been riven by divisions. In large part, that is down to Arsene Wenger, who appears to have become more authoritative and less collaborative with age. Whereas Alex Ferguson responded to the passing of time by freshening up his ideas and his coaching staff, Wenger has drawn more and more power to himself.
The irony is, of course, that Wenger himself was at his best when he was part of a two-man team with David Dein. Famously, Dein organised everything off the pitch, particularly transfers, allowing Wenger to concentrate his talents on what happened on the pitch. Since Dein’s acrimonious departure in 2007, Wenger has not had anyone else of comparable stature and footballing knowledge to bounce ideas off and, crucially, organise the club’s off-field activities.
That may be changing now with the appointment of several key people in important positions behind the scenes. In particular, Sven Mislintat has taken over as the club’s new head of recruitment. Nevertheless, Wenger’s reaction to such appointments has been quizzical at best and hostile at worst. For example, he openly questioned the quality of Mislintat’s first new recruit, centre-back Konstantinos Mavropanos. All the signs are that Wenger continues to forget that the first two letters of his surname spell “we” and instead will insist on continuing to go it alone. That, more than anything, might be the single biggest factor in his decline as a manager.
Lesson Three (The Biggest One): The Importance Of A “Reset”
Before he became the Östersunds chairman, Daniel Kindberg had insisted on the absolute importance of a “reset” or “reboot” of the whole club. As he said this week,
“I said I would come back [to the Östersunds board] on one condition: we start with a blank slate. New values, new ideas and new methods. At that time, we didn’t really have a fanbase. There was negativity all over. I wanted to kick the blame culture out of the club and start again.”
Kindberg was speaking about the situation at Östersunds nearly a decade ago. However, he was also articulating the hopes and dreams of many Arsenal fans today, who want nothing more than such a reset for their club. Right now, negativity and a “blame culture” infects the club.
The problem is that it is not easy to achieve such a new start, and that is especially true when the club is run by a manager who has been in place for more than 20 years. The fear is that until Wenger finally goes, whenever that may be, it will be impossible for Arsenal to effect an Östersunds-style transformation and begin moving forward again.
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