In the past I have, without giving it due consideration, called for some British back-bone/steel within our ranks, but I now accept this to be extremely short-sighted and too patriotically jingoistic. English footballers are flawed, limited in natural talent and their abilty to use the ball intelligently. The media are just as culpable, fawning over serial under-achievers, like Shearer, Beckham, Neville, Cole, Terry, Lampard, Carragher, Gerrard et al.
The coaching set-up isn’t much better. With all the money sloshing around in football, every major club has a foreign coach/manager, no English manager has won the title since Howard Wilkinson (who was out of his depth at international level), and still England football fans wait for the much-publicised root and branch shake-up that was promised after the shambolic 2010 WC campaign. This year’s Euro’s weren’t really much better. England’s so-called ‘golden generation’ were mostly flat-footed plodders who were severely out-played at the top level.
All of which brings me to Arsène Wenger. In a moment of sheer bloody-minded anger it is easy to pick holes in his philosophy and criticise his short-comings. It is quintessentially the English way. Put someone up on a pedestal so we can knock them off, laughing and mocking as we do so.
You get the feeling that whatever path Arsène Wenger had taken in life, his name would be familiar to us, and the more you consider his character and philosophies, the more I realise how fortunate we have been as Arsenal fans to witness that first-hand.
Herbert Chapman will always be my favourite Arsenal manager, because he revolutionised the club and put us on the footballing world map, and because when I started supporting Arsenal, Bertie Mee was manager. For me back then, seeing the likes of Charlie George and Ray Kennedy being sold was every bit as painful as seeing some of the modern-day stars go. But Arsène Wenger is a unique one-off. He would probably have been the saviour of English football.
There have been many conversations about how Arsenal play, and whether or not it is a hybrid Barcelona-style. Well…yes and no.
Firstly the two cultures are completely different, as are the footballing set-ups. Barcelona get to play their reserves in a lower division of the Spanish La Liga system, an option that has never been available for England’s major clubs. Barcelona probably have the best scouting system in the world, plus the work-permit regulations that affect us are not applicable in Spain, which is why they along with Real Madrid attract the cream of young Brazilian and Argentinian talent. Lionel Messi went to Barcelona at 13, our infra-structure is still set-up in a way that all our youngsters at the club are British, or their family have moved and settled here. Nonetheless, it still puts us at a huge disadvantage.
Secondly I think Barcelona and in particular Spain have benefited from the greatest exponent of Total Football, and the man whom Arsène Wenger draws inspiration from, Johann Cruyff. It’s fair to say that the Dutch played a brand of football during the 1970’s that was on a completely different level than had ever been seen before, and for many neutral observers would and perhaps should have justifiably been World Champions. From 1970-73, the European Cup belonged to Holland, First Feyenoord beat Celtic in 1970 before Cruyff lead Ajax to three successive victories. And it was Johann Cruyff who delivered Barcelona’s first European Cup in 1992. But like Arsene Wenger, his passion is to develop the younger players, and after winning the European Cup he took on the task of restructuring Barcelona’s youth academy.
Over the past six years the world has witnessed Cruyff’s work through Barcelona and Spain. Our model is completely different to Spain’s, Johann Cruyff stepped back from front-line management to concentrate solely on his youth project, whereas our structure and resources mean that Arsene Wenger has to do the lot, including over-seeing a stadium move as well as jousting with billionaires.
We so nearly had it all. Double98 touched on it in his Post, the combinations of Pires and Henry, Bergkamp and Ljungberg, the whole unit ticked liked a Rolex watch. Swashbuckling artistry at its best, and when it peaked there wasn’t a team across the land who could live with us. Talking of Rolex’s, it really is all about timing. Arsenal’s 2004 vintage was as close to football perfection as it gets, and even now, eight years on, I’d fancy them to beat any of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona’s sides, Mourinho’s sides and Ferguson’s MU. Had we not been so knackered when we met Chelsea in the CL QF 2nd leg, we’d have brought home the European Cup that our football so richly deserved. So to summarise, I’d argue that ‘The Invincibles’ played a better, more effective brand of football than Barcelona. That’s why I believe he would have improved the England national team beyond recognition, and possibly even delivered a World Cup. We really should thank our lucky stars for his staunch loyalty in an age where there is far too little of it on display.
Des Kelly wrote a really good article in the Daily Mail recently stating that the only person he would trust at Arsenal to have the club’s best interests at heart, is Arsène Wenger. As I said earlier, it’s easy to find fault, but when you consider that he is the only manager ever to deliver a completely unbeaten league programme, (having been openly mocked for even daring to predict such a feat just a year too early!), you have to concede the man has a touch of genius about him.
For those demanding trophies, it is worth remembering that after Bertie Mee’s ‘Double’ winning side of 1970-71, Arsenal had to wait another eighteen years before they won the title again, in 1989, picking up a solitary FA Cup in 1979, and a League Cup in 1987. Put in that context, Arsène Wenger’s record at Arsenal is phenomenal. Never outside of the top two between 1998-2005, and in his sixteen years a top four finish every year, including serious financial restraints and fighting against billionaires for the past six years.
He has revolutionised English football, and we are richer people for being able to share that amazing journey. He undoubtedly would have been our nation’s footballing saviour, but he became ours instead, and though there have been many testing times, and more to come no doubt, from a purely selfish point of view, I’m glad he chose us.
Written by Herb