Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm
By Jonny Neale
As we head into the silly season, replete with transfer rumours both in and out, acrimonious boardroom tales and disgruntled players all whipped up to a venomous froth by Fleet Street’s poisonous pens, I think it is worth pausing and taking stock. Reminding ourselves of what has already been built by this prestigious club and luxuriating a little in what is to come.
Having watched the youngsters imperiously dismantle Liverpool in the first leg of the FA Youth Final, it is clear the conveyor belt of talent from below is starting to deliver. ‘Arsene Wenger’s Magical Embryo Farm’ has a bountiful crop and one feels that we will be harvesting it’s goodness for years to come.
Hopefully most fans are in a more reflective mood and will have tempered some of the gnawing disappointment of this season. Personally, I take solace in the belief that this is a manager working to a longer plan. A club with a different blueprint to the rest; treasuring stability and ‘long-term success’ above all. A club which identified the perfect manager for this task. A manager unlike any other in the world.
There is not a football club in the world which would not want him at the helm. Even Man Utd, who clearly would never dump Ferguson, would love The Professor as a replacement for when Fergie retires – anything to address their spiralling debt.
What is happening at The Arsenal is an exciting, intriguing and unique experiment in ‘sustainable football’. Whilst clubs across Europe are going to the wall The Arsenal have become the vanguard that other clubs are looking at with awe, green eyed envy and begrudging respect. On the back of Wenger’s visionary acumen something unique has been built. As a result we lucky fans are better placed to reap the long term rewards than any other club in global football.
The perils of big but poorly run clubs will be all too evident at the moment for fans of Newcastle. The cost of demotion from the Premiership is usually estimated at £50m – £60m and Newcastle are estimated to have the fifth largest wage bill in the division. A fire sale of players seems inevitable and one would not be surprised to see a protracted stay in the lower divisions.
As we listen all too frequently to whingeing eejits complaining about the lack of on-field success one should hold fast to the belief that Wenger and his experienced support staff, know more about where the club is in terms of talent and progress than any of the ignorant, sensationalist Fleet Street hacks and the multitudinous buffoons of bloggery (with three braincells, two fingers and one, very negative, opinion).
I concede that the disappointment of the last few seasons hangs in the air like a nappy on a stick. And it is understandable to be a little blue but the move to a new stadium, whilst competing against clubs who sold their souls and bankrolled their way to the top through financial doping, was never going to be walk in the park.
So be it. We grit our teeth and we come back stronger. Fans, players and management alike.
The doom-mongers will think they know better, but if you actually listen to the messages emanating from our beloved club, there are myriad reasons to be optimistic. In recent weeks, Wenger has accepted that the squad needs a little more steel/experience but we know this is really no more than 2 players, 3 at the very most. As Rafa moans away about not having the finances to compete against the likes of Man Utd & Chelsea I have read it claimed that Liverpool are looking for another 5! It strikes me that Liverpool’s biggest problem is a paucity of great players coming through the ranks.
As the season geared towards a tense finale Wenger had been extremely bullish about his team – it is clear that he believes that The Arsenal will enter into an era of dominance in the near future. Some think this the words of an old fool but we must know by now he is anything but? The foundation of his belief is the talent he sees every week. An unprecedented hotbed of youth – pregnant with promise and bristling with balls.
It may come to pass that Arsene’s greatest challenge was that which he faces now – finding the right blend, retaining some, letting others go and all the while balancing the first team squad. But this is because of the sheer weight of talent coming through which is now coming through, year upon year.
That he is having to make these vital decisions amidst a cacophony of dissent from ‘so-called supporters’, simply makes the task more stressful and arduous. I do not envy him this task. Come to that, having seen how much he truly cares, I do not envy him his position full-stop. Those who have lambasted him from the comfort of the sidelines (and yet know less about football than he has ever forgotten) would do well to remember that no manager has ever done more for this club and no man has ever cared more about it’s success.
It’s easy to criticise until you have sat in the hot-seat and made the decisions yourself. It’s easy to say, for example, that we would have won the FA Cup if Arshavin had started (though it is still utterly speculative, as his anonymous performance against Man Utd last week showed). It’s easy to think other managers could do better until you look at Scolari & Ramos and the welcoming arms with which they were welcomed.
Whilst this has been a difficult period for the fans – especially having come so close last season – there is for me a tangible sense of eagerness for the young crop to really blossom. Talk of tomorrow’s stars, if anything, only serves to make us even more feverish. We salivate like starving dinner guests: stuck on 4 years of canapes and starters, all the while yearning for the main course…we have had glimpses of it being prepared in the kitchen but somehow it has never quite reached our table.
But this was always going to be a process which demands patience – we are going through growing pains, trying to balance the pecuniary needs of the club against a backdrop of unprecedented financial chaos, and the needs of the team with it’s army of hungry fans.
As Wenger himself has announced –
“At the moment, what this team has done, with the average age we have now, no team has done that. The most important moment in the life of this club is to be strong now and support this team. At the moment, what this team needs is the support of people who are the fans of the club. That we have no trophies to present today, I’m very sorry”. How sad he felt it necessary to apologise.
Perhaps a better way for Arsenal fans to appreciate his achievement is to view this as a journey – after all success tastes far sweeter when you have drunk from the well of despair (which amazingly is where some would have you believe we are now).
Watching the crop of youngsters come through is, to my mind, a far more interesting experience than if we had splurged millions on spoilt-brat mega-stars who have no real affinity with the club. Not all of the enjoyment of football is measured in silverware.
Those fans fans who are longer in the tooth (the one’s who tend to have a bit more perspective) will remember well the wilderness years between 1938 and 1948 and again 1953 and 1971. That’s ten trophyless years followed by eighteen! A sobering thought, as you watch the mountain of toys being thrown from prams all over the web.
My dad, who celebrates his 80th birthday this August, is startled at the current furore whipped up by the media. As a wee lad he used to sneak into Highbury. He saw the glory of the Chapman years come and go and lived through those 28 trophy-parched ‘years of wilderness’. He would say that The Arsenal’s last two seasons have been excellent – playing exceptionally at times but in the end being beaten by good teams. Certainly he thinks that the football world has gone quite insane that there would be any Arsenal fan calling for Wenger’s head.
But I digress, over the next few weeks, as a distraction to the pervasive negative nonsense, I plan to focus on a few of The Arsenal’s young hopes, those who have particularly piqued my interest over the last season. Hopefully you’ll find it of interest.
Watch this space and for God’s sake! Stick by Wenger and the team – it’ll honestly be much better for your health and happiness if you just enjoy the ride.
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