Much has been written about Arsène Wenger’s penchant for foreign players – French players in particular. Over the years he has been ridiculed for playing teams full of foreigners and for his seeming adversity to English youth. This culminated in a league match against Crystal Palace on 14 February 2005 when Arsenal named a 16-man squad that featured no British players for the first time in the club’s history.
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor felt that this was the beginning of a worrying time for English football”. In March 2006, Alan Pardew chimed in with – “Arsenal’s Champions League success was not necessarily a triumph for British football” Arsène disagreed and said that he saw the issue of nationality as irrelevant and stated, “When you represent a club, it’s about values and qualities, not about passports”
Other pundits including Trevor Brooking director of football development at The Football Association defended Arsene, he felt that a lack of English players in “one of England’s most successful clubs” was more of a reflection on England’s limited talent pool rather than on Arsene.
Arsène preferred players that were nimble, adept at passing and those that displayed a high level of technical ability. Using his uncanny knowledge of worldwide players he brought in players like Petit, Vieira, Henry, Pires, Van Bronckhorst, Overmars, Toure, Gilberto, Wiltord, Anelka, Ljungberg, Silvinho, Lauren, and Edu, these players formed winning teams the likes of which had not been seen at Highbury since Herbert Chapman’s teams of the 30’s.
His explanation for not buying British players has always been that few “local” players displayed the attributes that he was looking for and those that did were overpriced in comparison to European players. More recently, with the riches of Chelsea and the Manchester teams Arsene was not able to compete on a level playing field for the British players he admired or for the better foreign players so he was forced to turn his attention to youth players, both foreign and British.
Today, in his youth and under 21sides he has a squad of 30 English and 19 foreign players many of whom already have international experience at various levels.
In Theo Walcott, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere he has five full England internationals, these players might well form the core of the English team for years to come. With another 25 English youth players in his care who can say just how many more will make the international team?
Who would have thought that Arsène Wenger might be the man to turn around England’s fortune by developing the nucleus of the English team?
He is a multi faceted man that should not be counted out.