I won’t pretend to be a research doctorate in Annual General Meetings and their various intricacies. To be frank, I see it as a stage-managed social exercise conducted with an outer view to placate and appease supporters; but with most of the genuine concerns and queries being spin-doctored away by murmuring sweet nothings into said supporters’ ears.
With memories of Arsene Wenger’s shocked face as he heard the words ‘Silvestre’ and ‘geriatric’ mentioned in the same sentence still fresh in my retinas; I opened the old twitter to sit through what I imagined would be a fairly uneventful AGM, with questions being answered but unanswered and all of us learning very little new of substance. I was right on that count- the plutocrats sitting on the golden throne with the diamond-studded microphones religiously avoided answering any questions with concrete information, and instead indulged in a slightly cringe-worthy procession of mutual back-patting and parroting of facts that bore no resemblance to the questions asked. Things got hostile, there was much heckling and jeering from frustrated shareholders; and that is when Arsenal Holdings plc brought forward their polar bear.
Arsene the polar bear got up, smiling and ready to absorb all the bullets, divert all the attention. The only person to speak without pre-prepared notes; he drove right into a rousing speech full of Marc Antony goodness. Whether it seemed better because of Ivan Gazidis’s robotically delivered monologue, Stan Kroenke’s bizarre ‘I don’t know why I’ve been asked to speak’ opening line or Peter Hill-Wood’s bumbling performance, I don’t know. Perhaps it did. All I know is that, sandwiched between the spells of sustained applause he got, Arsene Wenger spoke with conviction, determination, hunger and character (traits he often associates with his players) and showed us that we have a person who loves the club at the helm of it, a luxury not many clubs can currently afford.
I don’t disagree that this account and all my accounts of Arsene in fact are slightly tinted, being the unabashed Wenger fanboy that I am. But this speech was the only saving grace of a largely unsuccessful event. The twinkly-eyed jibe at the media, gratitude and thankfulness for the confidence shown in him, underlining his loyalty to the club, talking about how the club wants to run… all these things said were in no way new or revolutionary, they were just more genuine. Spoken with clenched fist, loud tone and excellent French accent, you could see that Wenger felt what he spoke. When he said ‘I believe’, you really felt as if he believed; unlike when Ivan Gazidis said ‘I believe’ in which case you just felt as if R2D2’s mechanical intonation believed.
Just like Marc Antony keeping the public from flogging a dead Caesar, Wenger built up his seemingly-dead team’s manifesto in the face of ‘fear and discontent’. And just like the bigging up of Caesar, there was glorifying that tested patience, talk of world class youngsters, remarkable consistency and not getting enough credit that has been heard before and snorted at before. But the essence of the speech justifies all this needless pillow-talk:
“To stay at the top, top level, we must be united. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be criticised, or that the Board shouldn’t be criticised. But to the outside we must seem united. It’s the only way to survive at the top. If you’re not united, you have no chance.”
Bingo. Maintaining the king of all poker-faces while tirelessly working to smoothen things out beneath the surface. It’s anyone’s guess if the people concerned are tirelessly working beneath the surface or not, but we must play our part in maintaining that poker-face. Stay united on the outside, trust the qualities of this team that our French Marc Antony so feistily advocates.
To conclude, the AGM was kind of a show event, chock-a-bloc with unsavoury instances. The one thing of matter I learnt is the one thing I’m going to put into practice now. Commencing the poker-face of unity…