Are Our Players Too Soft?

This is just a quick conversation starter based on something that came up during Ian Wright’s interview with Dennis Bergkamp.

(If you haven’t seen the interview yet, what’s wrong with you? JM posted it in the comments in the ‘Art of Defending’ Post so go and watch it! People often ask if God is real… well, there he is, chatting away to another deity who’s not too far below him in the great Arsenal Pantheon).

There were many fascinating, touching and funny moments in the interview but one part of the conversation struck me as particularly interesting.

It starts with the two legends reminiscing about training at Arsenal (and in particular whether Dennis was ever bothered by Martin Keown’s maniacal behavior and overly physical play). Dennis naturally says he had no problem with big Martin (and implies he was more than happy to give a bit back, which we all know he was capable of).

Dennis points out that there were always two or three confrontations (or bust-ups, if you like) between players in every training session, but that he loved the intensity because it prepared him for real game situations. Then he adds: “I speak to young players as well nowadays. I don’t see that any more now. It’s just very polite and relaxed and everything.”

When I heard that it seemed obviously true (even if I had not really thought about it much before). Arsenal players of more recent vintages don’t give the impression on the pitch that their training sessions are trench warfare.

But it raises some questions. Is this how it is at all teams now? Are all training sessions everywhere laid back and respectful, with no fiery lunges or stray elbows? Would the likes of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce be thought of as maniacs if their younger selves were suddenly dropped into a 2019 training session?

Or is that blood-and-thunder approach still present at some clubs? It’s hard to imagine it at Manchester City. Maybe at Liverpool (but highly unlikely). At Manchester United it probably left the building with the purple-conked Gorbalian back in 2013.

If it exists anywhere it’s more likely to be in the lower-table and mid-table clubs, especially those managed by old school British managers like Steve Bruce.

You can see why the top clubs would not be keen on seeing their best players sidelined for weeks at a time because some psycho squad member has poleaxed them during training, whereas the lower clubs probably think their best chance against elite teams is to employ greater physicality.

So here’s the question: has Arsenal lost something by abandoning full-blooded contact in training? Has the Premier League? Has football generally?

Or does the modern way represent progress, a move towards a more sophisticated way of being a footballer?

Towards the end of the Wrighty-Bergkamp chat Dennis talks about watching Arsenal these days and says: “Sometimes it’s good, but a lot of times you don’t really feel it’s the Arsenal how we know it, with the passion and a few players who make the difference…”

Would some Chuck Norris themed training sessions bring the fire back to our boys?

Over to you…


For those that haven’t seen it, this is the video featuring Wrighty and DB10 Rocky refers to …


19 Responses to Are Our Players Too Soft?

  1. Gööner In Exile says:

    Morning all, good conversation starter Rocky. Has anyone watched this

    It’s a show of how polite modern training is. Worried me that in phase of play stuff they were playing against manequins!

    But I fear that is probably the same at all clubs these days.

    The boys of the Wrighty/Bergkamp interview that stood out:

    The love and camaraderie
    How easy it was to wind up Vieira as he prepared for ManUtd matches
    That the players booed every touch by Sol in his build up to first game at WHL.

    I look around the current team and think who would take it upon themselves to do this now?

  2. RA says:

    Morning, Rocky,

    Needless to say, I like your Post.

    As regards your question about whether a Chuck Norris (?) style training regime would re-light the fire feebly smouldering within our players, my view can be summed up thus;

    With ‘dry’ sticks, such as Kola, Granit, and Kos it would be quite possible to fan the flames, but the others are more likely to be rather wet, by comparison, and no amount of huffing and puffing would help change them.

    New sticks – new dry sticks – please.

  3. RA says:

    I heard that training games at Arsenal was normally between the first team squad, and a like number of mannequins.

    That’s OK, but what was worrying is that my informant told me the mannequins usually won.

    As a gangly boy I occasionally played for local ‘pub’ teams (and I use the word’ played’ in the loosest possible sense of the word – as I was rubbish).

    My most important responsibility was to home in on any ball kicked into the penalty area and head it out. Simple enough.

    One day, as I looked skyward at the ball, I received a clout on the leg, and misjudged the flight of the ball.
    This happened a number of times, and made me look worse than I was.

    The strategy of the bloke who was doing the kicking was to run behind me, even if it was in the goal area, and deliver a studded boot to my calf or thigh.
    There was usually no ref – or it was someone from the watching families.

    We lost. After the game, this guy and several of his grinning team mates came up, and said something like “no hard feelings — it was just a game — shake hands” and put his hand out.

    I hit him on the nose — hard — and told his mates to apologise on my behalf when he had his wits back — and to explain it was my dodgy leg that was at fault.

    the captain of my team came up and laughed saying if I had not done that I would have been dropped next game. I hit him on the nose too — hard — and said that was for him, because the team had not supported me when I was being kicked from behind, and he could stick the next game up his …….

    I was 15 at the time — they were all pub regulars with paunches — and none of them could catch me!! 😁

    Fire in the belly — that’s what Arsenal need!

  4. Rasp says:

    Thanks for the convo starter Rocky.

    Sadly I think the days of the sort of blokey machismo that Wrighty describes is a thing of the past due to the change of emphasis from referees (the dreaded health and safety culture) and the influence the new money has put on the style of play demanded from our on field entertainers.

    Having said that, we were undeniably the ‘easy to bully’ side in the EPL for the last 6-8 years. The new players and change of manager have improved our status in that regard. I do feel we lack players who know how to tackle (Xhaka) and have some who don’t really want to tackle. But tackling is still part of the game and we can improve. Our work rate is better and that counts for a lot.

  5. RockyLives says:

    I suspect the biggest generator of love and camaraderie is success. When players have struggled, fought and eventually triumphed together it must forge bonds that last a lifetime.

    Rasp is right, I’m sure, that the blood and thunder approach to training is no longer considered sensible or acceptable, but the players still have to face blood and thunder when they go out on the pitch for the real thing. Have we gone too far in sanitising the training sessions?

    Redders, never mind Chuck Norris, it sounds like we need you down at London Colney.

  6. Sue says:

    Christ, even in GIE’s clip, Xhaka gave the ball away, for Auba to score 😂🙄

    I also agree with Rasp….
    I wonder if RA tackles… take out about 5 people in one go, unintentionally, of course 😉

  7. Mike M says:


  8. RockyLives says:

    Mike 😀

  9. Mike M says:

    “Big 6” opponents who are not soft:

    Henderson, Milner, VDV, Robertson, Mane, Firmino, Wijnaldum, Fabinho
    Fernandinho, Ederson, DeBruyne, Aguero, LaPorte, Jesus,
    Alderweirald, Rose, Sissoko, Wanyama, Ndombele, Alli, Kane
    Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Zouma, Barkley, Willian, Jorginho, Kante, Abraham
    Pogba, Maguire,


    Laca, Sok, Gwen, JW, Luiz

    Probably why Manure are struggling more than us and why we’re improving but need a little more steel.

  10. RockyLives says:

    Thanks Sue – I’ve voted for Gwen.

  11. Sue says:

    Nice one, Rocky 👍
    Quite an eventful night – Congratulations to Eddie on his hat trick, unlucky not to get a 4th.
    Kolasinac assisted… Xhaka.. er… lunged 😂
    De Gea hobbled off… those poor Mancs will be sweating now…. could that be an annihilation on Sunday?!

  12. RC78 says:

    You know who has tough teams

    Inter Milan

    These teams have quality and robust players especially Inter and Atletico

    Our team is OK but I think we could use a Van Dijk and Fernadinho

  13. RC78 says:

    Neuer – Trippier, Van Dijk, Koulibaly, Alba – Kante, Gueye, Pjanic- Mane, Lewandowski, Ronaldo

    That s a really robust team

  14. RockyLives says:

    True, but this ex Arsenal team would knock the krap out of them:

  15. RockyLives says:

    Or this one…


  16. RC78 says:

    Hi RL, was trying to blend the talent and the robustness…

  17. RockyLives says:

    I know RC.

    I was just playing.

    Your team is indeed a good combo of both…

  18. Morning all

    This International Break seems even longer than the last one but luckily we have a little fun post from Rocky to take us into the weekend.

    ……………..New Post ……………..

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