The international break is upon us, with meaningless friendlies alongside the final qualifiers for next summer’s World Cup finals.
Already photos surfaced of Olivier Giroud clutching his shin with an anguished look on his face. No sign of the French dropping him from their squad; Arsenal don’t have the same sway with France that Spurs do with England, it seems.
International football – loosely – was something Arsène spoke about in a BT Sport film which airs during FA Cup Third Round weekend. The England youth teams are World and European champions at various levels but Wenger agreed that their development at club level is hampered by conservatism. Arsène held his hands up at being as culpable as anyone in that respect,
“There is huge English natural talent out there and the best way to prove that and to check that is if you look at the results of the young boys in England youth teams at international level.
“They start to win competitions, they start to exist in every big competition with the youth level. That means the talent is there. Now we go into process No 3, the integration.
“I would say today, many, many, many clubs do well part one and part two – quality of education – there’s a lot work that has been done in England. We all fail in part three, integration into the first team.
“Nobody has found a miraculous solution because the Premier League has become so demanding that the gap between youth and reserve level and the Premier League is so big that all the managers sit there and sweat on the Friday night and finally think – lets be conservative, we’ll see next week.”
The final paragraph is the damnation of English football; the pressure on all but one of the top flight managers.
Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
Reserve football never found its feet after the introduction of more substitutes in the first team on match days. Gone was the competitiveness from the Football Combination where all the teams were filled with a mix of youth and experience.
Until we find a balance between that and the current system, the prospects of all the world and European champions excelling in the Premier League are slim to say the least.
The ‘stiffs’ as it was lovingly referred to, was a proving ground for young players and while there was still a gap between that and the first XI, it was smaller than it is today. George Graham benefited from it as much as anyone, particularly as the title-winning side of 1989 came together.
Interviewed in the Guardian ahead of the release of ’89’, Graham’s views on managing are interesting and seemingly at odds with the perception the media puts across. Not in who the good managers are – “These new managers are great. Conte is strong. Guardiola too. Klopp is another” – but in how to treat players,
“There’s this myth that because players are earning fortunes they can do what they want. I disagree. Most players, most people in fact, want to be led. Now, because they are strong financially you have to be even stronger.”
The headlines picked up on his views on Mourinho – “Someone said to me: ‘José’s just like you. He sets up his team to win rather than entertain.’ I always thought sport was about winning” – and these will no doubt be used by some as the cross to crucify the Scot on. The nails are his crimes for which he was punished.
A Real Mean Team
There is an obvious contrast to Arsène here. The Frenchman is a benevolent leader, revealing paternal instincts as opposed to Graham’s disciplinarian approach. Which would be more effective? Now, looking at our squad, it’s hard not think they could do with a dose of tough love. Too many are comfortable, seemingly unchallenged and unchallengeable.
Under Graham, recalcitrant players were sold. Sanchez and Özil get short shrift; their path to the door follows the route followed by the likes of Steve Williams and Charlie Nicholas. Indulged but not that much.
He is rightly scathing of football in the Premier League,
“I was great at organising the defence and my ideal team was Milan. They were the best defensive team I’ve seen – and the only side that played offside better than us.
“The trouble is we have very poor defences now. There are few clubs in England that are good going forward in possession and good at defending.”
Tottenham are the example he picked out, no doubt to the chagrin of many. But he’s right and Arsenal certainly fall into the category of being “poor” at defending.
If we’re honest, Graham would have signed few of our defenders. Monreal, Kolasinac, Bellerin and maybe Holding. Maybe Koscielny in this global age if he’d known about French football. Using a press cuttings agency would save his secretary’s back under the weight of local papers needed these days.
Some will cast his views as bitterness but it is those who run the club for whom he saves his scorn. He is not a regular at Arsenal for good reason,
“I don’t bother because nothing changes. What’s the point? There’s no board at Arsenal. There are questions they’re obviously not going to answer. I heard [chief executive Ivan] Gazidis say they were over-performing. Over-performing?”
Carry the News
The death knell on Ivan’s career? So soon after the farcical ‘catalyst for change’, the ‘metrics’ will never be lived down. Graham’s dismissal of the directors captures the zeitgeist of the club from the outside.
It’s laughable that we have Sir Chips as the club’s figurehead when Sir Bob Wilson would be hugely popular with supporters. He may not be able to effect improvement from the playing side but there would be an unshakeable feeling that our footballing past was not going to waste.
The same goes for Arsène. Graham reiterates the view that Wenger’s life is Arsenal but an injection of realism is needed. His successor would do well to heed the Scot’s words,
“We all have our time. You’ve had your period of success. Now move on.”
Sadly, I don’t think that will happen any time soon with Arsène. When the talks happen at the end of the season, another two-year deal is the likeliest outcome.
Finally, a reminder that the songs Jimi Hendrix covered are on Dad’s Jukebox at the moment but a new post will be surfacing today.