Why English players find it hard to break through at Arsenal

Recently M. Wenger expressed his complete vision of the individual, the team, the club, football – all in one sentence.   And in so doing he symbolised why it was so hard  for English players to do well at Arsenal.

Speaking about Luke Freeman who has just joined the club M. Wenger said…

“He is 15 years old and it is down to him to progress.”

Hidden within that deceptively short statement is the complete Wengerian vision of how footballers can be brought to the height of their powers – or simply fail to get there – and out of this why we need  to fill the club with non-British players.   

The Wenger vision is encompassed in three parts.  It runs

a) You, the player, have the natural talent.  The build, the intelligence, the energy, all the raw basics.

b) We, The Arsenal, have the facilities, the staff, the programme, to turn you into a world great.   We will put all that in, we will give you the best training, nutritional, educational, medical facilities in football.

c) Now you have to work.  You could become great, or you could fade away and end up playing for a non-league team.  It is up to you both in terms of your physical aptitude and  your mental strength.  I can’t do that for you – you have to do that.

This approach to football applies to first team players (for example Flamini), as it does to any youngster entering the club.  It applies to everyone who enters the club – we will give you every facility but you have to do the work.  You have the power to cock it up, and you have the power to make it work.   You can be great – go and do it.

And this is where we come to the bit about English players.   How come English – or even British – players don’t make it through this simple a) b) c) approach?

The answer is in the fact that the players are English – they fail because whereas the a b c approach is the way of life in most of the world – an approach that is part of the national psyche –  it is not central to either the educational system or the way of life in England.

How often did you hear your teacher at school talk about your need to have “mental strength”?  How often do schools focus on the balance of the mental and the physical?   How many teachers said to you, “go out there, take on the world, make it happen – if you want it you can create it.”

Chances are they did not.  Instead they talked about rules, fitting in, not rocking the boat, not being different, not standing out.

Yes these days schools have to have a “Gifted and Talented” tutor who is in charge of those who could go beyond the norm.  But this tends to be interpreted as academic achievement – very few youngsters get recognised for their performances in the arts or sports.

The issue is not one about schools nurturing football talent – it is about the way our society deals with people who are special and different.  We don’t encourage such people to go out and become winners.  We don’t talk about the mental strength needed to stand out from the crowd.   And that’s why England as a national team has been third rate for so long, and why a club like Arsenal that aspires to the highest level has to recruit outside England.    The problem is within our society – our view that it is a good idea to laugh at someone who practices all day long.  It is, not within our club.

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