At least the English are consistent. According to yesterday’s Guardian, “England’s young near bottom of basic skills league“, an interchangeable headline on and off the football pitch.
Arsenal’s form in September has been duly recognised with Arsène and Aaron Ramsey picking up the Manager and Player of the Month awards from the Premier League. One of football’s urban legends means the wheels of the nascent title challenge will come off due to Wenger’s accolade, his fifteenth such during his reign at the club and his first in eighteen months. For Ramsey, it is well deserved and due recognition of his form. In media eyes, his redemption will be complete; they need to clean their glasses because most of us knew he was a better player than he was ever being given credit for. Trivia fans and those desperately seeking omens will be interested to know that any Arsenal players receiving this award in September have gone on to claim the season’s award; Dennis Bergkamp (PFA & FWA 1997-98,) Thierry Henry (PFA & FWA 2002-03 ) and Cesc Fabregas (Young Player of the Year 2007-08). No pressure, Aaron…
And Bergkamp provides a welcome distraction to the international break. You have read Stillness and Speed: My Story, haven’t you? In this morning’s Daily Telegraph, he openly talks about his desire to return to the club. Not the lofty ambitions of manager for the Dutchman, a simple coaching role,
I don’t see myself being at Ajax for the rest of my coaching career. I don’t see myself as a manager. I see myself as being part of the coaching staff. I really enjoy that role, especially the individual training with the strikers. I’ve spoken to or have heard about others [former Arsenal colleagues] who would also love to come back.
The others he mentions – Henry, Vieira, Adams – all proclaim the same feelings about the club as the Dutch God, they have all stated their desires to return to the club with varying degrees of credulity marking their comments. Of the trio, only Bergkamp has taken the time to prove himself in a role he wants to fulfil at Arsenal. Henry is still playing of course and may yet do so but as great as captains of the club they were, neither of the latter has transferred that leadership to their careers off the pitch. As sweeping generalisations go, the less successful a player, the more successful they are as managers. If you look at the current bosses of Premier League clubs, how many can be genuinely classed as successes as players as well? Laudrup, Hughes, Lambert? Beyond that? Ferguson’s domination of the trophy has skewed the success rate in English football’s top flight and the future may yet see other illustrious names added to the list of Ancelotti, Dalglish and Mancini who were able to combine successful playing and managing careers, even if the latter duo’s success is considered flash in the pan. That has as much to do with Ferguson’s strengths as their failings.
As is always the case with Arsenal, talk turned to Mesut Özil. Bergkamp’s effusive praise summed up the mood surrounding the German at the moment and I am sure that will continue; as sure as some naysayer will surface at the first hint of a drop in form. The similarities between the two are easy to see but it is part of football culture to christen a player as “The next” rather than the original, certainly until they are well into their careers. Or the media hype takes off, whichever is first. The Dutchman purred about Özil’s thought behind passes, forcing others to play the ball rather than finding the nearest player; the wilful choice to create play beyond the next pass. Bergkamp was fortunate, Wright and Henry could be fed passes which would be converted. The current Arsenal team does not have that dominant striker yet; whether Giroud can fulfil that role remains to be seen. His all-round contribution is not to be under-estimated though but it is.
Bergkamp’s disinterest may be rooted to some level in his unwillingness to fly, aware of the limitations that puts on managerial ambitions but as football becomes more technical, specialist coaching will extend beyond the realms of the goalkeeper. It will move to replicate other sports in that respect and perhaps that is the niche that the successful player will fill in the future, concentrating on their own strengths and passing on their knowledge to their heirs apparent.
Elsewhere, Bacary Sagna’s contract position is vexing The Heil’s source and concerning to the extent that a new deal has not yet been agreed. We have been here before and whilst others have left, you sense Sagna would do so reluctantly. In that respect, the situation is more akin to Walcott than the conniving van Persie. This season has shown the full back’s value to the squad, his versatility saving the manager when injuries struck and strengthening had not taken place. Carl Jenkinson has huge potential, emphasised by his call up to the England Under-21 squad, and a run of games in the side may prove that potential realised but when there is an outstanding defender already in situ, the pressure eases to immerse the youngster in the side immediately. We don’t have to rush young players through any longer and the club can certainly offer Sagna enough money to conclude the business. Whether they want to determines that outcome.