Stephen Sidwell is interviewed in this month’s Four Four Two magazine, along with John Halls, Graham Stack and James Harper, ostensibly as a congratulatory piece on Reading’s promotion but also tying in the fact that all are products of Arsenal’s Youth Academy.
In the piece, tucked away towards the back of the magazine, Sidwell bemoans the fact that none of the 2001 Youth Cup winning side has progressed to the first team, observing that they were deemed to be the best of their generation so if they could not break into the first team, “what chance have other youngsters got?” A further comment that Aliadiere had left the club to obtain first team football is printed as if to substantiate the points made. This is however, slightly disingenuous, as the journalist and Sidwell both know. The Frenchman has been loaned out to gain first team football on a regular basis in part to gain experience for when (or if) he returns but also to aid his permanent recovery from a bad injury. Up to that point, he was on fringe of the starting XI, being a substitute on a regular basis.
Sidwell believes no doubt that he was good enough to play in the first team on a regular basis. It is commendable that he has this confidence in his abilities and he should be proud of achieving a professional football career. However, rather than blame the club for not making the grade at Highbury, he should be looking at the reasons why. The answer to this is quite simple. The central midfield since Wenger’s reign began has predominantly contained two future World Cup winners at any one time, up until this season when at the time of writing, there is only one. In the beginning it was Petit and Vieira, subsequently Gilberto and Vieira with now the Brazilian being the only one. That is some pedigree for a youngster to put themselves up against, particularly when you consider that they have contributed to the success of the club in the last decade and were all playing the football of their lives, something that has been proven by the moves that Petit and Vieira have made away from Arsenal. It cannot be seriously held that Wenger has a greater obligation to the club’s youth players rather than bringing success to the team.
There is a fair point about the lack of opportunities for younger players up until this season. The answer is the same for Stack, Halls and Harper. In the positions that they play, established internationals were already in the first team with more on the bench. This is a sad fact of life at the top clubs. Unless an individual is prodigiously talented, he is not going to take the place of a more experienced pro that currently plays in an International team. More pertinently, Sidwell should have questioned nationalities but this is lost when considering the global perspectives that clubs in the top flight now have. Indeed, it is a vicious circle that will not be solved until the coaching at young ages revolves more around technique, as continental Europeans do. Even though clubs have established Academies throughout the Professional Game in England, it is still going to take some time for a new crop of youngsters to come through and beat the odds to make it to the top of football. Sadly, more will fail than succeed.
A final observation on this is that economics makes it difficult for English players to get to the very top. Until recent seasons when Transfer fees became more sensible, lower division clubs were demanding too much money for players when “the big boys” came in. That necessitated looking overseas for new signings and it quickly became obvious that an established international could be purchased for less than a promising youngster. In addition to this, the appointments of Wenger, Mourinho and Benitez increased the likelihood of purchasing foreign players as they went with what they were familiar with. Of the initial signings that Wenger made, I believe that only Grimandi had never come into contact with Le Professeur before as a player. Henry, Vieira and Petit had all been under his wing at some point in the past. Mourinho and Benitez both had a similar policy in their first year at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, bringing in Portuguese and Spanish players through preference. Clear cases of being comfortable with what you know. It is only Martin Jol who has reversed this policy by buying a number of English players at Tottenham, probably those who will form a large part of future England sides if they realise their potential.
Recent days have seen some comments from Wenger that the club are considering suing Dan Smith over the injury caused by his tackle on Abou Diaby during the Sunderland match on Monday. It is believed that the Frenchman will be out for up to nine months. I do not doubt that Smith was careless in his tackle and would fall foul of Employment Law or some such statute covering the Duty Of Care that we all have to our fellow man. However, there was a lot of insinuation that this was a tackle made by a thug of limited ability; several Arsenal players were quoted afterwards bemoaning the physical nature of Sunderland’s play. Personally, I find this reaction distasteful and am severely disappointed by the nature of the comments. Smith is the only person who knows what his intent was. From what I could see, he went into the challenge to win the ball, only for an opponent of swifter mind to move it beyond his reach. That the player is young – Smith is in only his third Premiership start – is a contributing factor. He has made an error but not one that should have been castigated in such a manner. The remainder of the Arsenal team know better than to criticise a physical approach. After all, they should be expecting teams to try to outmuscle them, as it is a well-documented way of beating them. The lack of grace shown demeans the club. For sure, be angry about the tackle. But legal action? An over the top comment.
Spare a thought for Diaby though. It was unlikely that he would have started the Champions League final, probably a substitute. This chance has now been denied him. Perhaps Stewart Houston could share a word of consolation with him having missed the 1977 FA Cup Final through a broken ankle. Houston never appeared in a winning Cup Final side, indeed only appearing in the 1976 side that lost to Southampton.
Today’s Tunes are courtesy of the Guys and Gals at Hammondbeat, the official Funk and Groove Merchants. Aside from hosting the grooviest tunes on Hammond365 Radio, the shop has a fine selection of tunes and there is a downloads section that contains a fair few unreleased MP3’s from the likes of Mike Painter, The Nick Rossi Set, The Diplomats of Solid Soul (two are featured below) and The Link Quartet.