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Five leadership and governance tips from Arsène Wenger


Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger / AFP PHOTO / IKIMAGES / Glyn KIRK

Arsène Wenger has called time on his role as the manager of Arsenal Football Club, after a period of 22 years. He has been the most successful manager in the club’s history and in spite of the trouble in the last few years of his tenure, he leaves with the admiration of most of the footballing world. He is widely acknowledged as having revolutionised football in England and I think there are many lessons that Nigeria’s political leaders and our political space at large can learn from him.

Game Trumps Fame.
Wenger was largely unknown when he took over at the helm and it was in the same way that he used to find relatively unknown players and turn them into world-dominating superstars. He didn’t necessarily go for the famous, more established players, as they would have made his team and tenure unsustainable. The lesson for political leaders here is that the biggest names aren’t necessarily the ones who will get the job done as ministers, commissioners and heads of agencies. After all, what shall it profit a team manager to spend half of the first season scouting for players to take the club forward, only to appoint ‘gbatueyos’? If a leader does not pick individuals that can deliver in their positions, the club will be relegated.

Live by your Philosophy.
Wenger believes, even till now, that there is a way football should be played and there are values a football club should have. He was a huge advocate for these values and stuck with them even in the face of adversity. It is probably the reason he retains the global respect that his rival Jose Mourinho despises him for. For Nigerian leaders, the step is to living by a philosophy is having one. We have politicians who swear by Awo and Zik in the morning, by their own stomachs in the afternoon and by Idi Amin in the evening. They cross-carpet without shame or restraint and some have even denied the campaign promises in their manifestoes. They do not stand for anything. This is why governance in Nigeria, to borrow local football parlance, is “anywhere belle face.”


Be Innovative.
When Wenger came on board, football changed. His team had to go on strict diets and adopt healthier habits, inculcate different training regiments and so on. This is why Arsène’s first five years at the club were probably his most successful. After that, everyone else had adopted the same approach. The lesson for our politicians here is that they will not succeed at tackling the problems we have as a nation by using the tactics and formulas that have been failing for two generations. Look at our insistence on an anomalous federal system, which is mostly unitary in its functioning; or our approach to the supply and distribution of petroleum products; or ‘fighting corruption’. These methods have been tried and tested and certified redundant. We need politicians innovative enough to change politics.

Be Adaptive.
The greatest chink in Wenger’s armour was probably that he was a purist. There was only one way to skin a cat, or in his case, to play football. And so he would set up his team to face the most formidable opponents in Europe the same way he would set them up to face minnows in the lower English leagues. The result was frequently that he got caught out. The lesson for our politicians here is that what works well in one area might be completely unsuitable for others. We need leaders who stop doing things by rote but rather are strategic and dynamic in their approaches to problem-solving.

Know when it’s time to bow out.
While his legacy remains untarnished by the decline of Arsenal as a blistering hot title-contending team, Wenger would be so much closer to sainthood if he had not waited so long to say goodbye. He was a decent man through and through, but it had been clear for many years that he was no longer at the top of his game and he was probably holding the club back somewhat. In Nigeria, we have several politicians who are holding back constituencies, perhaps the whole country even. Many have done nothing of note in all their time in office. Many know they are not adding value. Many know that there can be no real progress under their leadership. People like this need to be honest with themselves and make way for the club (the country) to move forward. Otherwise, the time will surely come when the supporters (their constituency) will have had enough and will vote with their feet.
Merci Arsène.

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