Written by Illybongani
Much has been said about the perceived success (or lack of it), of Wenger’s ‘Project Youth’, particularly since the move to the Emirates. Arsenal Football Club are now seen as standard bearers in the development of young professional footballers. But is this accolade warranted or is it a misnomer?
Let’s look at some facts and make our own minds up.
Prior to the move away from Highbury, Arsène Wenger’s blueprint for success was pretty much orthodox, a high quality team of experienced internationals added to pre-season with one or two further experienced internationals, often French or African. Added to this mix was the occasional high potential youngster, like Fabregas or Anelka.
By anyone’s standards this was successful. Two Doubles and an unbeaten season will be the benchmark we measure ourselves by, and indeed others measure us by, for the foreseeable future.
Then we moved to a new stadium. History shows that this is more often than not a particularly difficult time for the club involved. Look at Coventry, Southampton, Leicester amongst others as examples. Then came a global recession that could not have been anticipated by the Board. A truly perilous position to be in. Therefore we had to cut our cloth accordingly.
We will probably never know the restrictions placed on our expenditure by the move. The Board continued to spout rhetoric that there was money for Arsene if he wanted it. This money never really materialised, instead Arsène went down the line of importing more and more youngsters both from home and around the world. ‘Project Youth’ had truly begun.
However, it was only because of a catalogue of injuries that became to be the norm season after season that these youngsters were thrown into the mix. Well, that is the perception of most people – but how many kids have we actually moved through the production line and out the other end?
In the early years of Arsène’s tenure, Ashley Cole was probably the only player to be given his debut and to be guaranteed a place in the side. In the last few years there have been more but many of those have been purchased (and stolen) from other clubs. However, you could argue that they have been given the opportunity to learn ‘the Arsenal Way’ before being given their opportunity.
The only ‘true’ Arsenal-bred youngsters grown from embryo to finished article at Hale End have been Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Emmanual Frimpong. Given time, Henri Lansbury may be added to this list. Does this make the ‘project’ successful? Certainly not along the lines of Barcelona, but then who has produced as many, in quantity and quality, as them? But that group may well be the core of the England (or Ghana!) side over the next 5 years – and in anyone’s book, that must be deemed a success.
Other players, thought at one time to be the next big thing, have come and gone – JET, Traore, Merida, Barazite, Aliadiere, Bentley to name but a few. These players and many like them have attracted transfer fees in the region of £80m (boosted by Cesc) since our move to the Emirates. Does that give further credence to the success of the ‘project’ or the further evidence that far too many have not met the standard at Arsenal?
An examination of the current youth set up shows a number of ‘next big things’. The question is, will they be a Fabregas or will they be a Bentley? And if they end up a Bentley, does that make them a failure?