I have been reading ‘What money can’t buy’ by Michael J. Sandel, a normally rather dry and far too serious book for the football blogging world. It explores the moral limits of market thinking, and one of the subjects it covers has always intrigued me: intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in people. This, in my view, is a subject of great importance to Arsenal football club.
Sandel gives a number of interesting examples of how money sometimes kills something that is far more important than free market transactions: moral responsibility and intrinsic motivation.
I would like to highlight two of these, and please bear with me as the link with Arsenal will be made eventually.
The first one is with regards to ‘donation day’ at a high school in Israel. During this day students go door-to-door to collect money for charity. An experiment was done by a couple of economists to determine the effect of financial incentives on the students’ motivation. The students were divided into three groups: one group was given a brief motivational speech about the importance of the cause and sent on its way; the second and third group were given the same speech but also offered a monetary reward based on the amount they collected – 1% and 10% respectively. The rewards would not be deducted from the charitable donations; they would come from a separate source.
The unpaid students collected 55% more in donations than those who were offered 1%; and 9% more than those offered 10%.
The second one is regarding a location for storing Switzerland’s nuclear waste. One location designated as a potential nuclear waste site was the small mountain village of Wolfenschiessen, in central Switzerland. Economist surveyed the residents before an official referendum was due, and 51% said they would accept the waste site being built in their community. Their sense of duty for the greater good appeared to be bigger than the concerns about the risks.
The economists than offered a financial incentive: what if the Swiss parliament proposed to build the nuclear waste facility in their community and offered to compensate each resident with an annual monetary payment – a considerable amount: how many would then favour it?
The result: support went down from 51% to 25% and increasing the monetary payment did not make any difference.
These examples show two things to me: people are motivated by things like wanting to do good, public duty, and pride; money is not always the one and only factor when trying to achieve the best possible outcome/ changing people’s behaviour.
In the premier league we have gradually started to accept that spending lots of money on fees and salaries is the only way for clubs to be able to keep hold of their players and attract new ones. At Arsenal, we have had a number of players who left us because they simply could earn more money somewhere else and, to some extent, because they believed they had a better chance of winning silverware at their new clubs.
A football career is relatively short and players will want to maximise their income as much as possible. Although most players who left Arsenal recently were already multi-millionaires, I understand and respect that, however mercenary of them, they left Arsenal in order to better themselves. And if Van Judas had not deceived us so much with his faked love for the club and ‘I am a Gunner-for-life’ rubbish, I would already have forgiven him.
However, there is something else in football too and this has to do with pride, with the desire to leave something behind for generations, with becoming football-immortal. The pockets of Adebayor, Nasri, Van Judas, etc might be bursting with shiny gold coins, and they can even show a medal to their friends and family, but immortal they are now very unlikely to become. Bergkamp is immortal, Henry is immortal, Adams is immortal, etc, and not just at Arsenal: speak to any football fan in the UK, or even Europe, and they will eulogise along with you about the sheer brilliance of these players.
I am not naïve and realise the club operated back then in a different economic reality compared to recent years, and I also realise that we have once again entered a new phase, in which we ought to be able to compete better with the largest clubs in Europe, as well as the all-over Europe mushrooming oil-funded clubs, both in terms of attracting top talent AND paying them market-rate wages.
But this will not be enough, and we only have to look at Man City to realise that, in order to achieve a period of sustained success, much more is required than an expensively assembled team of top footballers.
We need a large number of players with not just technical and tactical qualities, but also an intrinsic desire to give their all for the club, and remain loyal: to want to win and take Arsenal to the very top again.
Arsenal has history and class; we are a club with strong values and principles and enormous pride. We now have a great stadium, play CL-football year after year, and (still) have a great reputation.
But it is important that our players, new and established, feel at home at Arsenal; that they, as well as potential new signings, recognise and appreciate our class and history. It is also important they believe they can win silverware with Arsenal; that we are not an in-between stop towards bigger and better things: that we are the final destination, the football Walhalla!
For that, the club’s management needs to (further) develop and promote an ambitious vision which the players buy in to. There also needs to be a fair and yet (at least fairly) competitive wage structure, and there needs to be a healthy dose of courage and bullishness to invest money in new, quality players, if and when required. And the club also needs to stick to its values and principles.
For me, it is paramount to keep hold of all our key players; and this includes those that reach the mature footballing years.
How can we expect our players to develop loyalty and remain intrinsically motivated to give their all, and want to win silverware at Arsenal, if the club does not look after those players who have been given their all for us?!
I understand why the club had to let go the likes of Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Henry and Ljungberg, Toure and Clichy, etc in the last seven/eight years, but it is now time to show that we do look after our players and reward them for their loyalty and hard work at the club. Arsenal need to offer their players – young and established – (a sense of) continuity and proper care, and it needs to start with the likes of Rosicky, Vermaelen and Sagna.
Players will always have to be able to make the grade and remain good enough for Arsenal of course.
But if we want our players to properly care for Arsenal and go the extra mile, they will have to feel the same from the club.
Enough now of the cashing in on established, older players who still have a lot to give to our club, and whose experience, hunger and loyalty are of great importance if we want to win silverware again, as well as keeping hold of our big, younger talents.
Let’s offer Sagna a fair and multi-year contract; let’s tell Vermaelen he is part of the team and we’ll do everything to get him back to his best; let’s tell Koz he is part of Arsenal long term plans and he is going nowhere; and let’s show all our players the club continues to have real ambition to be the top club in England and Europe.
It will give us a competitive edge against the Oilers for years to come.
“We become just by doing just, temperate dy doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” Aristotle.
Written by: TotalArsenal.