Book Reviews: Arsenal Managers

9781780722191Wenger: The Legend

By Jasper Rees
Published by Short Books

When Jasper Rees first penned this book in 2003, the title was Wenger: The Making Of Legend. Things have moved on, twelve months after it was first published The Invincibles happened; a season undefeated. Ten years beyond that, Arsène Wenger is the longest-serving manager currently plying his trade in the Premier League.

Much has changed in that time, for club and manager. There was an awe surrounding the subject for the initial publication. Events have not dampened the enthusiasm for Wenger nor blinded Rees to his faults. Criticism of those passing years aims to be constructive and not strident, succeeding for the most part.

Wenger’s early years were fleshed out by conversations with friends and mentors from those days. The studious man – dubbed a professor as a player well before England had heard of him – was obsessed with football from a young age. Tacit approval for the book came in the form of not discouraging this contact. There is a romantic air to it all, the cross-border forays to watch Bundesliga matches, European Cup finals in Paris and measuring the progress of his playing days by the increasing capacities of the stands of the clubs he joined. From his village to the pinnacle, a solitary club appearance in a European tie.

What you get out of the book depends on what you expect. It isn’t revelatory and that is probably the passage of time as much as anything else. You won’t get much of insight into the private person, Wenger has drawn a thick curtain around his private life. Not quite thick enough at times but you do understand more of him as a coach, how his background has forged the man now. It is a familiar tale thanks to the volume of column inches and broadcast minutes devoted to him, Arsenal and football in general. Whilst familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it does breed familiarity. There are insights which have been forgotten and having read the player’s own version of events, it is interesting to read a version from Wenger’s perspective. Again it focusses on the footballing aspects more than the man.

FFP rears its head as a long-standing theme of Arsène before UEFA brought their version into existence. It’s a point re-iterated in the book on many aspects of his managerial career; the economics. Scarred by the corruption which denied him more success in his Monaco days, there is an unnerving question asked over his transfer policy; is it dictated by the football manager or the economist? The inevitable conclusion is that it has swung too far into the realm of the latter, reflecting how the game has changed with the increased finances coming online.

Sometimes you wish for more depth but without direct input from Arsène Wenger, that would not be possible. A greater understanding of the coach can only come with that, to understand the feuds with Wenger and Mourinho, along with the latter instigating Chelsea’s ascension backed by Abramovich’s investment. The transformation of Wenger from revolutionary to establishment is clearly trailed through the book, how he became, as Harry Redknapp put it, a “nutter” like all the rest of the managers, eschewing his considered and calm approach on the touchline.

A worthwhile read, a search for Wenger the coach following a journey as it reaches its end. You can buy Wenger: The Legend here
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HCThe Life & Times Of Herbert Chapman

by Patrick Barclay

 

It’s something we all take for granted as you step from the train to platform yet without Herbert Chapman, you would be setting foot into Gillespie Road tube station. A small highlight of how far ahead of his time Chapman really was, how well suited to the Premier League era of modern football he would have been. Few, if any, managers have such an acute grasp of brand awareness even now in this marketing age. Patrick Barclay seeks to contextualise Chapman’s life, both as he lived it and the influence through the decades since his untimely death.

You need to take a step back at this point to appreciate how times have changed. The modern football supremo is expected to pass on tattle, focus on the personalities but offer the blandest of thoughts; Chapman offered his views on tactics and the future of the game in his newspaper column and he would, I think, have approved of  Barclay, one of the foremost football journalists of his generation, writing this biography. The work reflects the assiduous research he conducted, the involvement of not just the family but also those such as Darren Epstein, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews with a keen interest in exploring Arsenal’s rich history.

His influence is felt at the club to this day, not just in the bronze which sat majestically in Highbury’s marble halls. Like George Graham before him, Arsène Wenger is a keen student of Chapman’s ways with their philosophies being almost interchangeable, from their attacking instincts to the egalitarian wage structure.. Any poll to divine who is the club’s most influential manager tends to be skewed by the first hand knowledge of Wenger’s reign but his predecessor’s impact is laid clear here. The tactical innovations, floodlight football, competitive European club football; the list goes on as the extraordinary vision of the man unfurls.

But it is worth remembering that he was already a successful manager when he joined Arsenal in 1925. At then non-league Northampton Town, he argued for the current relegation and promotion to the Football League from a pyramid system below the professional game. He moved to Leeds City and having overseen their re-election to the League, he led them to higher placings before the intervention of World War I. During this time, Chapman was working in a factory and not involved with the Yorkshire club but when their financial irregularities came to light, he was still banned for life. That was successfully appealed and in 1921, he returned as Huddersfield Town’s assistant manager, quickly rising to take full control as manager. It was the beginning of their heyday, as they won the FA Cup and three consecutive League titles, two of which were under Chapman’s guidance.

His arrival at Arsenal signalled the club’s most successful spell yet but it wasn’t immediate, taking five years during which time he signed a number of those who would be pivotal in the 1930s. Buchan, Jack, Hulme, Parker, Bastin, Hapgood and James were all Chapman signings as the club began its ascent to the peak of the English game. It was largely in part due to him taking more control over the business of the club following Sir Henry Norris’ fall from grace. He was the first managerial autocrat in the club’s history but he would not be the last.

As much as there is an elusivity about the man, a sense of how he was perceived comes as his funeral cortège is greeted by crowds four-deep. It is the sort of reception a key political figure might expect today without the open divisiveness. Chapman was a man of the people, evidenced as he delivered his sermons from the pulpit at Islington Chapel to be acclaimed as “a friend of the Jewish people” by The Jewish Chronicle with his passing. He did not care for passports when it came to football, thwarted by the insularity of the British Establishment in trying to sign Austrian Rudy Hiden in 1930, circumventing the rules for Gerard Keyser to become the first Dutch player in English football.

This is a well-written and authoritative documentary of Chapman’s life and a must-read for anyone with an interest in Arsenal Football Club

Click on this link to buy The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman: The Story of One of Football’s Most Influential Figures.