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August 2021

Liam’s departure could mean that Dennis returns

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.

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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.

The aim of the new approach is to increase the number and quality of home-grown players while creating more time for players to play and be coached.
It is also recognised that coaching provision in England is poor compared with much of Europe and South America, and is in desperate need of a system of effective measurement and quality assurance.
The plan allows clubs to have more coaching time with their young players (I have made the point before that it is odd that great young musicians and dancers are allowed far more time being coached in their specialist art than footballers).
From Arsenal’s point of view the new system is a real bonus since it allows the recruitment of young players from much further away than was permissible before.  Previously Arsenal could only recruit English players under 18 who lived within 90 minutes travel of the training facility.  This rule encouraged the recruitment of young players from overseas who could then come with a member of the family and be based in London.
The new rules mean that Arsenal staff can go to any other training ground to watch a player and buy the player for a fixed fee starting from £3,000.
Interestingly the new plan proposes the modernisation of talent identification and recruitment in areas such as psychological profiling – something that has not been considered before.

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.”

100 years ago to the day the press reveal Woolwich Arsenal are going to Islington

The books…

The sites…


15 comments to Liam’s departure could mean that Dennis returns

  • WalterBroeckx

    Looking back at my last article it possibly was that ‘skinny kid’ that made me pick Arsenal that day. We lost that day but I still remember standing in the North bank with eyes wide open on how that for me unknown player saw things on the pitch that even I could not see from high up in the stand.

    If I can believe a few people that I follow on twitter Brady is willing to stay and Arsenal also wants him to stay but as said in a different role.

    Would love to see DB leaving his allotment and come over to take over. DB has two loves (apart from his wife) : Arsenal and Ajax. He really would work his socks of to help Arsenal.

  • Adam

    It is some what of a weird occurrence if you look at the players that have come through the youth system and played first team football regularly, not many since a mini golden age in the early eighties starting with Paul Davis(78/79) and ending with Romford Pele. Between them we had the likes of Adams, Keown, Thomas, Rocastle (RIP), Quinn, Merson, Campbell.
    Then we had to wait until 1999/2000 for a certain Ashley Cole to come through. Again we wait until 07/08 season for the promotion of Kieran Gibbs (but we took Gibbs from Wimbledon). 08/09 we see the promotion of Wilshere.

    So if we are stating that our academy is there for the production of first team players, we are along way away from it being classed a success, However if we look at the players that are now earning within the professional pyramid then we can claim our academy to be a successful learning centre.

    12 Arsenal first team players over the last 33 years. If we take away the eighties we are looking at 3 Arsenal first team regulars in 23 years.

    It is not easy to produce totally home grown talent and I think the above proves that. Lets hope that some more Arsenal academy products go on to great things with our club, as it is long overdue.

  • Adam

    Bergkamp back at Arsenal, one can only hope.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Dennis will come back one day, and he will end up assistant manager….at least…Should Wenger not renew in 2014, we will need help from the likes of Dennis , as well as Bould

  • Adam

    Mandy, the only problem I see with Dennis being assistant is his reluctance to travel via air. Would he be an assistant only within easy reach games?

  • Mandy Dodd

    You are right on that Adam, also with these new sponsorship deals, can imagine a lot more pressure for the manager…and maybe assistant to attend functions in …well The Emirates and maybe the US for starters. Not sure how to get around that…aversion therapy as practised by Gary Numan or maybe a lesser version of rendition?

  • bob

    Mandy Dodd,
    Maybe with DB’s infrequent flyer preference there would be fewer summer business trips to disrupt the training and gelling of new signees. Any whiff of that will send the bean counters at AFC into staunch opposition. Would the business side accept a flight-averse charismatic coach?

  • nicky

    It’s a bit more than “infrequent flyer preference” I think.
    I can’t ever see DB as our Manager unless he could overcome this refusal to fly.

  • Ben L

    i dont think with DB not flying is such a big issue. When he was a player it was with getting him to the stadium safely.
    Maybe they can put him to sleep and just drag him on the plane?:)

    on a separate note i love how the new arsenal site looks.

  • Shard

    Ben L

    Haha.. Dennis Bergkamp as BA Baracus in the A(rsenal)-Team.. Yeah, I would like to see that 🙂

  • Matt Clarke

    My first game (as a fan at Highbury) was the first post-Wilson (Jimmy Rimmer in goal): so the game after Liam’s first.

    Of all the players I watched then no-one impressed me so much – either for or against Arsenal.

    In fact, no-one impressed me as much since…until DB turned up.

    So, while I am saddened to see Liam go (with the lack of anything clearly stated as to why); the prospect of DB replacing him is a joy.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Isn’t the end of next season last when Arsene’s contract finishes?

  • Stuart

    Just how much role would a youth development coach be expected to make?

  • Stuart

    * should read: ‘how much travel’

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A truly classy player and an Arsenal legend .Maybe an ambasadorial role at the club ? Maybe a statue of him ?
    Would love to see DB come back in some capacity .It would raelly be a boost .