Football Features

Social media subs? Five bold predictions Arsene Wenger has made about football’s future

By Chris Smith

Published: 16:15, 26 October 2021

From the election of Donald Trump to smartwatches, The Simpsons have been prolific and famous in their spooky predictions of the future.

Whether or not he’s been inspired by Matt Groening, the football world has had a fortune-teller of its own in the guise of Arsene Wenger. Since leaving Arsenal in 2018, the French tactician has come up with some wild forecasts about what lies ahead for the beautiful game.

Granted, he’s come close now and then, but for the most part, Wenger’s psychic powers have felt more like stabs in the dark than eerie foretellings. Still, they’re pretty fun to think about, so feel free to dive in…

1. Automated offsides

Officials being told to keep their flags down behind the safety blanket of VAR is extremely irritating. How many goals have we seen chalked off now that were clearly offside? So many celebrations are cut short that when a genuine goal actually goes in, you often lose the moment through second-guessing yourself.

Well, Wenger has lifted the lid on a potential solution, suggesting offside decisions could become automated as early as the start of the 2022 World Cup.

“There is a good chance that offside will be automated in 2022,” he said at a press conference earlier in October. “I am bound to secrecy, but this will be the next of the major developments in arbitration.”

This isn’t the first time Wenger has brought up automated offsides and, in April, he laid out his rationale for the idea.

“Automated means it goes directly from the signal to the linesman and the linesman has on his watch a red light that tells him offside or not offside,” he said.

“At the moment, we have situations where the players are on lines to see if they are offside or not. On average, the time we have to wait is around 70 seconds, sometimes one minute 20 seconds, sometimes a little bit longer when the situation is very difficult to appreciate.”

“The semi-automated goes first to the VAR, who signals it to the linesman. I’m pushing very hard to have the automated offsides, which means straight away the signal goes to the linesman.”

This may well be an improvement on the current system, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of even more humanity being sucked out of the game.

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2. European Super League

From what may come to what very nearly did; Wenger was often laughed off for his prediction of a European Super League back in 2011.

“I see more a European league developing over time rather than one team going out of the country,” he said over a decade ago. “The national leagues will survive but maybe in 10 years, you will have a European league.

“I’m not sure 100% that I’m right but I feel inside our game there are some voices behind the scenes coming up to do something about that, especially if the rules become too restrictive for these clubs.

“Personally, I believe only in sporting merit. So, if such a league is created, it has to be by transfers up and down, although that is practically very difficult to resolve and we do not want to kill the national leagues.

“Teams would have to play in both the European league in midweek and the national league at the weekend. It means all these teams have two teams.

“The way we are going financially is that even the money that will be coming in from the Champions League will not be enough for some clubs because they spend too much money.

“The income is basically owned by Uefa and they distribute the money to the clubs.”

Okay, so technically Wenger was wrong on this one. But only technically. Indeed, just a year later than the Frenchman predicted, Europe’s biggest clubs attempted an ambitious breakaway only to see their plans crumble amid severe supporter backlash.

That said, some pretty rotten changes to the Champions League were put in through the back door and according to reports, the Super League project is very much still alive, if not in a slightly different form. So just how wrong was Wenger in the end?

3. Free transfer dominance

Ever since Neymar switched Barcelona for PSG to the tune of £200m in 2017, the transfer market has felt a little out of control. Some thought the coronavirus pandemic may have calmed things down a little but, well, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea paid a combined price of over £250m for the services of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Romelu Lukaku this summer.

But then again, PSG mopped up in the “free” (as free as it gets in football anyway) transfer market this summer, bringing in Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Geoginio Wijnaldum and Sergio Ramos without paying an up-front transfer fee. Real Madrid also signed David Alaba, Barcelona grabbed Sergio Aguero and Jerome Boateng joined Lyon all in similar fashion.

As it turns out, Wenger could see this sort of market coming all the way back in 2017.

“I think in the future, you will see it more and more. Why? Because the transfers are so high, even for normal players,” he said.

“You will see more and more players going into the final year of the contract because no club will want to pay the amount demanded. In the next 10 years, it will become usual.

“I think the performance on the day does not depend on the length of the contract, if that was true we would sign everyone for 20 years and be happy.”

4. Robots and social media tacticians?

We’re all for the advancement of technology and embracing social media. Sure, there are downsides, but football and the wider world have opened up remarkably thanks to the level of connection we all have at our fingertips.

But robot managers? Substitutions being decided on social media? Please, no.

“I’ve said many times, you could imagine the next chairman who says that the social networks can make a change in the second half,” Wenger foretold in November 2018.

“That will become more and more entrenched. It will happen. I personally, would not accept it. I’m from the old school in that respect. But we’re going in that direction.

“If you imagine the power of social networks. What is even worse, it’s not the majority, the minority is the most extreme, it’s a bit like the problem with democracy, it’s a dictatorship of the minorities.

“It’s not for me, there’s something I call intuition, I grew up and used my own eyes.

“You can as well imagine that in 20 years, a robot will sit in front of you.”

We’re firmly with Wenger with this one. Keep managers human and substitutions in the dugouts.

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5. 3D training

Wenger was a pioneer in the physical side of the game during his time with Arsenal, helping stamp out the rampant drinking culture in the English game and bringing it in line with the level of professionalism found in Europe already.

Now, it appears his attention is shifting to improving the brainpower of footballers.

“We have gone from the football player to the athlete-football player with the measurement of the physical performances,” said Wenger. “All the players who could not produce the quantity demanded have been kicked out of the game. Because of the physical qualities, the space available and the time available to make decisions has been reduced.

“We have seen from feet to head everything has improved. The physical time dedicated to improve is now limited. Maybe the next step is to see what’s going on in the brain. The next step could be speed of decision-making, quality of information taken and the flexibility of decision making.”

So, just how does Wenger envisage making players more advanced upstairs? Three-dimensional and virtual reality training, that’s how.

“I see the next step being technology used to train our brain,” he added. “We could see that in three-dimensional training. [Where] you can put your ‘helmet’ on and see the game in your position, and practice your brain to make quick decisions, to anticipate what’s going on. It looks quite impressive when you are in. You can put the right-back in his position, and see the exact same vision as he has when he is in the game.

“The vision factor, and the quality of information you get before you get the ball, will certainly be a decisive evolution. The modern manager has to be very open-minded to all kinds of influence that can make him better. You must always try to move forward.”

It seems pretty wild. But then again, would anyone have predicted someone in the pristine physical condition of Cristiano Ronaldo (at 36 years old no less) playing the game watching on in the 1980s?


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