What was it like to train with the Invincibles?

By Danny Karbassiyoon

I’ve had a bit of a crazy past couple of weeks. With the book finally launching, I’ve been on an endless run of podcasts and have spoken to a good number of journalists about the story, my time as a player, and of course my time as a scout.

The AISA event this past Monday was also fun, giving me the chance to meet a bunch of great Arsenal fans completely dedicated to the club, its history, and of course its future. Despite having spoken to loads of people about essentially the same topic, it always seems as if unique questions are asked about the nuances and intricacies of life as a pro.

Today I was asked a very interesting question on Howler’s “DUMMY” podcast, a weekly show I used to be a regular on for over a year. My replacement on the show asked me, “after getting to train with guys like the Invincbiles and seeing what it took to get to the top level, what did each of those players have that was required to be there?”  He went on to give me a couple examples: a good, low centre of gravity? Incredible technical ability?

I thought for a second, quickly thinking back to my time my first year at Arsenal. I mention this in my book, but as many of you know, my first year at the club, I didn’t see the first team lose in the league. Let me say that again. They didn’t lose in the league.

At the time, I don’t think I fully grasped what was happening. I was new to England and the Premier League and already had enough on my plate trying to navigate my life as an 18 year old professional. Of course I realized something special was happening, but it did take several years for the gravity of it all to really settle in, especially with all the new money that has been dumped into football in recent years.

Yes, all the players were technically gifted – some clearly more than others. The players were all physically top, too. The whole team was strong, powerful, and agile. They all had an innate understanding of one another, and it showed on a weekly basis at Highbury. It wasn’t any of that, though, that really stuck out. Plenty of teams have the above, especially at the top level where the margin of winning the league or any trophy can oftentimes be tiny.

For me, the thing that stuck out the most was the winning attitude that every single first team player had. I was lucky enough to get the chance to train with them every so often my first season, and never have I seen a group of guys so focused on winning and being the best. It was inspirational, motivating, frightening, and even disheartening all at the same time. I say disheartening because these guys were relentless – they had their spots in the team and they weren’t letting go of them.

The trickle down effect was educational and eye-opening. When I was returning from one of my injuries, I spent a week training with a few of the first teamers that were also coming back. Edu, Patrick Vieira, and Dennis Bergkamp all accompanied Tony Colbert and I in some very technical and physically challenging passing sequences.

Edu just about bit my head off when the first pass I sent his way wasn’t delivered hard enough. His subsequent pass into me was fired in at a pace I’d never seen during a four man training session. He wanted to be tested, he wanted to improve, and he wasn’t going to let an 18 year old kid get in his way. Patrick was the same that day. The speed and intensity at which he trained throughout the session was wonderful. He was the captain of Arsenal, and even though there were only four of us working out together that day, he lead by example, and ensured everyone put their work in.

That same attitude was seen on a weekly basis whenever any of the first teamers that had been left out of the matchday squad joined the reserves for training on a Saturday. Let me paint a picture quickly. If you are a first teamer and have been left out of the squad and are asked to train with the reserves on a Saturday, you aren’t going to be happy.

Everyone is competitive and everyone wants to make that starting eleven or at least be in the squad. Nearly of all of those guys that joined us on Saturday mornings brought with them remarkable, winning attitudes, though. None of them ever wanted to lose, and if you were on their team during a game and you just so happened to lose, you’d definitely hear it from them.

One Saturday morning, Martin Keown joined us and his mere presence lifted the intensity of the session two-fold. He was barking out orders, helping us defenders out with our positioning, and generally just raising the standard of the session.

That session still sticks out to me. That day in training it was a bunch of 17, 18 and 19 year olds and a 35 year old Martin Keown. It would have been really easy for him to mope around and just do what was necessary to finish the session and get on with his day. Instead, he brought that same winning attitude that he put on display for so long in an Arsenal shirt into our session and made us all better for it.

There are teams all over the world with great players, but not all of them have winners in them. I often reiterate how lucky I was to get the chance to play with Invincibles. We all know they had all the ability in the world  – that’s a given. I knew I could learn from them in that regard and I did. What stuck out to me the most was their attitudes and how they handled going an entire season unbeaten. Getting to see what it meant to be a winner and how I could apply it to my day to day life – both in football and outside of it – was something I’ll never forget.

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Untold Arsenal has published Danny’s book “The Arsenal Yankee” both as a paperback and on Kindle.

You can find details of that book and the other books we have published on our Arsenal Books page

7 Replies to “What was it like to train with the Invincibles?”

  1. Thanks for another fine and enlightening piece , Danny . Always an eye opener .
    Martin Keown always had that menacing and intimidating quality about him , with the hidden but implied promise of retribution endured me to him . Very few would even entertain the thought of trying to mess with him.
    And his retaliatory ‘celebration ‘ with(?)/ against RVN at the end of that Man Utd game will always be a lingering and fond memory .
    I do sometimes yearn that we still have players of his ilk. He could still teach them how to put the fear into the hearts and minds of the opposition .

  2. Ah! Danny, were you not missing out, at that time?

    Parlour v Parlour, introduced us to how little tax and national insurance the top players, including Wenger, actually had to pay.

    From Parlour’s gross pay of £1.5 millions, instead of losing c. £600,000, with an EBT, Parlour paid only c. £300,000 in tax and national insurance.

    As stated in the case study, the Judge said “The scale of the husband’s net income is explained by the fact that such bonuses as he receives in addition to his salary are made available to him through sophisticated and tax-efficient channels.”

    Indulge us, in the financial well-being of the apprentices. Surely, the old pro’s would reveal the financial benefits of achieving elite status at the club?

    The insight into the training is most revealing and impinges on how injuries can occur.

  3. Thanks Danny.
    Good to see a few of these winners, like TH and Bould still around the club today

  4. You always aim for perfection and since perfection is unattainable you are left a little shy of it…you are left with excellence.

    Thanks for the comments, Danny!

  5. Very enjoyable article. That description of Martin Keown rings so true. Even when he sits in the chair on Match of the Day he looks intense!

  6. A great insight Danny. How does that compare with today I wonder?
    Brought back some wonderful memories. Thanks

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