College Baseball, Newton’s Third Law and the Swagger

By The Other Geoff (@Hollefreund)

Have you ever been recruited?

I’m not necessarily talking about football. It could be anything: sports teams, a job, a specific university, the chess club… have you ever had someone attempt to court you for a talent you hold?

Actually don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know about your late night antics in a Welsh bar while trying to woo some member of the opposite sex.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on some recruitment meetings. My son (not the five year-old if you’re keeping track), happens to be pretty good at baseball. You just rolled your eyes didn’t you? Bear with me, this will all work out.

Anyways, he’s just graduated from High School and being that he possesses a talent at this sport, he is being recruited by American Universities and Colleges. The meetings vary a bit depending on who is delivering the message but after a few, they tend to take on a familiar pattern.

The Head Coach, or the Assistant Coach, will meet my son first to see what type of kid he is; to try and establish his character and see what his plans are for the coming year. Afterwards, they’ll introduce themselves to my wife and I and we’ll discuss as a group the potential of our son attending their program.

I’ve found that the best coaches at tackling these conversations already know their perceived strengths and weaknesses, which schools they’re competing with, and how they’ll integrate our son into the team. Once this has been addressed, we get a chance to ask questions, I’ll save the details. Finally, the coach gets his chance to basically “blow smoke.” This is where you hear that your son is the greatest baseball player ever to play the game and they’re a future hall of famer – but only if they attend this program. I get it, I really do. This is the hard sell.

The way this went down for us meant that we had back to back recruitment meetings. While I sat through hard sell after hard sell, my mind started to wander. I’m used to dealing with life in 140 characters and quite frankly the GPA of your Co-Ed Post-Secondary Institution gets a little boring after the 10th run through.

I found myself wondering how this meeting would go if it were Arsene Wenger sitting across from me. The timing of these meetings was such that the Sanchez deal had just been done and it had emerged that a clandestine meeting with Arsene in Brazil had helped seal the deal.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized they probably weren’t all that different. We’ve heard snippets of how these meetings go before. Özil mentioned that it was Wenger’s charm and confidence in the player that influenced his decision to come to North London and I’m certain it was similar with Alexis.

I can imagine him shaking my hand and sitting casually across from me; his charisma and confidence occupying the room like the type of chiseled movie star they put in fancy cologne commercials. Once I’d calmed myself enough to think straight, he’d calmly tell me about a club that is going somewhere:

“Arsenal is a superclub in the making. We have some of the best players in the world and we consistently compete amongst Europe’s Elite in the Champions League. We have state of the art training facilities, a brand new stadium, and the best fans on the planet.”

“We’re currently revamping our youth set-up to be on par with clubs like Bayern Munich and Barcelona, and although we’ve had a barren spell in terms of trophies, we’ve gotten ourselves back on track with the recent FA Cup victory.”

“In players like Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, we are attracting the best players in the world and they are happy to play here. Here is the future vision for Arsenal Football Club and here is the part I see you playing in that.”

One thing that was distinct when talking to all of these coaches was a complete de-emphasis on money. We knew who had money to offer based on everything else that was being described: the facilities, the ballpark, the dormitories, and the success of the program. Sure we’d discuss the business end of the offer at the end of the conversation, but by no means did it dominate proceedings.

I’d never really thought about it before in this way, but once you enter those conversations, the recruiter knows if he can afford to put together a financial package for you or not – so it really is about all of the real factors that make their offer better than their competitors. Money puts the coach in the room, but it isn’t the focus of the discussion.

I can imagine that is something that holds true with Arsene. I just can’t see him talking about our new commercial deals and their impact on salaries. It is quite likely that money would only be talked about between an agent and the elusive Dick Law. Money, I think, would be discussed as an afterthought, maybe even handled with disdain.

Money allows the conversation to happen, and our additional financial firepower means that these meetings are happening with a higher caliber of player, from a Park to a Sanchez if you will, but it isn’t the subject of the meeting at all. How curious indeed.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, as an Arsenal fan, money has dominated our conversations over the last decade. Do we have money, how have we financed our stadium, can we compete financially, what about Financial Fair Play (not in this blog), how much are our shares worth, when can we ditch our weakened commercial deals for better financial packages? We’ve all become pseudo-accountants ready to pillage the latest financial statements for a hint of that legendary transfer fund war chest.

But money itself, doesn’t recruit the best players, if it did Spurs would be a lot better than they actually were after cashing in on Bale. Certainly you have to be able to pay transfer fees and wages, but that isn’t what I mean. If you take money out of the equation, if you assume we can afford the players we are engaging, what sells them on the Arsenal (besides it not being located in Liverpool)?

I think it’s all of those things that I mentioned, world class players, a manager that is amongst the best in the world, the best facilities, fantastic support, and most importantly, the opportunity to actually win things.

I’d make the argument that this is the club’s reputation. And our club’s reputation is changing yet again; it is evolving, if you will, from a solid Premier League team consistently making it out of the Champions’ League group stages to a club who is part of the World Elite. We’re not there yet, we’ve got to win more trophies including the Champions League and there is more work to be done behind the scenes with our youth academy.

But the signs are positive that we’re headed in the right direction. If you were to pin me down right now and ask what I thought the club’s future direction is, I would answer just this: to become one of the best clubs in the world; a superclub with a reputation of winning trophies while developing our own talent. Money enables that vision to come to fruition but it isn’t the vision in and of itself.

This change makes the Dutch Skunt’s (skunk + c**t) comments two summers ago that much more baffling. Let me remind you for the purposes of ridicule: “unfortunately in this meeting it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal FC should move forward.”

What a complete and utter tit.

This isn’t a new thing, something that happened by accident over the last two years. It is the result of the planning and vision that occurred likely in the latter half of the 90’s and perhaps even sooner. We’re reaping the seeds sown by people like David Dein, Danny Fiszman, Ken Friar, and even the manager himself, along with many others.

Newton’s Third Law of Physics states “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Action and reaction: think about it. In football, there are clubs that act and there are clubs that react. It’s not hard to figure out who the actors and reactors are. Take a look at the transfer market and identify who kicks off multiple transfers. Certainly James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos’ moves to Real Madrid will cause reactions, just as Barcalona’s purchase of Luis Suarez allowed us to move for Sanchez (for the record I’m ok with our reaction on this one). Some teams rarely react to the market, choosing instead to influence it.

They act, and they act with a certain swagger. You know the swagger right? It’s that slow walk to gangster rap; it’s the way you act that tells everyone else who’s boss; it’s Flamini drinking Saint-Géron straight from the bottle with his sleeves hacked off in a smoke filled Marseillais café. The swagger says “I don’t care what you think, I’m doing it my way” without being overly arrogant or condescending. You can’t react and still maintain your swagger.

I laugh a bit when I think about us passing on Fabregas. I didn’t at the time but I’m glad I can now. That’s what a big club does. We acted based on what we needed and didn’t react when he became available. We were in control. I’m not so sure we would have passed him up five years ago (player needs aside).

The same could be said for the possible sale of our captain to Manchester United. If it happens, there can be no other way to look at it as United buying a player that isn’t good enough to be in our starting XI. What a stark contrast to the position we were put in over the Dutch Skunt – remember contractually they were/are both entering their last year of their contract with us. We’re calling the shots with Tommy.

I’m not going to tell you which College my son is going to. I can tell you that the coaches that acted the most professionally, the programs with the best reputation, the ones whose future vision was clear, and the ones who were perceived as being in control, stand the best chance.

That to me is the best way to think about the evolution of our Arsenal. From reaction to action – having the ability to shape what happens around us and not having to rely on anyone else. We are in control of our own destiny. That to me is supremely exciting. We’re getting a swagger back that we haven’t seen since the days of the Invincibles, and more importantly, we’re set-up as a club to sustain it.

You know it!

The Other Geoff

You can follow him on twitter : (@Hollefreund)

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