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 …