By Tony Attwood
Ah: Liam Brady.
I sometimes wonder if some of the younger or more recently converted Arsenal fans at the Emirates know who that skinny kid in the grainy black and white film that is shown before each home game, actually is.
He is Liam Brady, one of the most amazing players ever seen at Arsenal.
Sadly, because Liam played for us during the Second Era of Great Darkness (or put another way, the second long post-war period when we could hardly win anything) he decided to leave part way through his career, and spent many a year in Italy.
But eventually he came back, as you can read in the article on the Arsenal History site highlighted above.
Liam joined us as a 15-year-old youth team player in 1971 before making his senior début two years later. He scored his first goal in Bob Wilson’s last game (at QPR) and was part of the 1979 FA Cup-winning team before deciding to move on.
After retiring as a player he managed Celtic and Brighton, before returning to Arsenal in 1996 where he has helped develop Ashley Cole, Cesc Fabregas and Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere among many others.
Under Brady we have won three FA Youth Cups as well as Academy Premier League titles in 2009 and 2010.
But he has now announced that he will stand down by May 2014 when he will be 58. By that time he will have spent 25 years at Arsenal as both player and coach.
The word from within the club is that Arsenal want Liam to stay, but recognise his desire to change his role. He might become a consultant and he is certainly involved in the search for his successor.
Which is where Dennis Bergkamp’s name pops up. Dennis is 44, and if it is possible, has a bigger reputation at Arsenal than Liam. Liam played 235 games for Arsenal and then left for Italy. Dennis played 315 times for Arsenal, and stayed until his retirement. His presence at the club would give Arsenal and unparalleled access to the cream of Dutch and Belgium young players, and would do no harm at all to our reputation in France.
Dennis has managed the Ajax under-19 team, and the only thing that might hinder his move to Arsenal is that he is now assistant to manager Frank de Boer.
But last month Dennis spoke of his desire eventually to work at Arsenal although he also said that he certainly wasn’t planning to leave Ajax in a mess by suddenly quitting. Which is why the announcement of Liam’s over a year before it will happen, is so fascinating. It gives everyone plenty of time.
Indeed when directly asked in an interview if he would consider a coaching job at Arsenal, Dennis said: “I would, yes.
“We have started something good now at Ajax and I know a little bit in my role now, what I like and what I don’t like so if I could fulfil a similar role abroad, especially at Arsenal that would be one of the things that I would like to achieve in the future. But not in the near future because we have just started here.”
What will encourage Dennis is the way in which Arsenal treat the role of their head of the youth academy. It is not, as is the case in many clubs, tucked away in a training backwater. It is a central position within the club, as the club looks to bring youngsters through.
And of course this is where it becomes a win-win situation. Arsenal’s academy has an unparalleled reputation for finding and developing talent, which is why parents queue up to get their sons into Arsenal at the age of 9. Add to that the iconic name of Dennis Bergkamp and the situation will give Arsenal the ultimate pick of the best young players in the world.
Of course the number of players who come up through that system and go on to play for Arsenal is small – but it is still bigger than most other clubs achieve. The situation may have changed recently but I recall looking at the output of the Chelsea youth system, and finding that the last player who had come up through that system and then gone on to play for Chelsea was John Terry.
Perhaps one reason why Liam is leaving next year is that there is wholesale change happening in youth football with the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan: the Premier League’s response to changes in the world of youth football, a response that has been accepted by the Football League clubs as well. The aim is to allow greater movement movement of younger players and the establishment of a hierarchy of academies in England.
Category 1 academies (which includes Arsenal) will have high contact time with young players, require a minimum of 18 full-time staff and an operational budget of £2.5m.Although as I have noted the Football League did agree with the scheme they did so under duress. Had they said no they would have lost the funding they currently get from the Premier League.
Speaking of Liam’s departure plans Ivan Gazidis said, “Liam has a deep understanding of what it takes to discover and develop a talented youngster into someone who can perform at the highest level. He has made a massive contribution to Arsenal Football Club. It will be difficult to find a worthy successor but we will be looking for someone who can build on what Liam and his team have created.”
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- The Arsenal History Blog from the AISA Arsenal History Society