by Tony Attwood
Arsenal, in terms of any player of any age, who is thinking of getting a transfer, has a number of attractions. One is obviously Arsène Wenger, who is so highly regarded worldwide as a coach. Another is the training facilities. Another is the ground. Then there’s the year after year of Champions League activity.
It is quite a heady mixture and out of all of this comes something rather important. You can get some of these things elsewhere (Man IOU has a manager of high repute, for example) although in other areas our rivals struggle (few clubs can match the training facilities and the Emirates).
Players tend to believe that they will become better players while they are at Arsenal.
The basis of this belief is, of course, the vast number of little known or underachieving players, plus players who have never made it to their highest potential, who suddenly turn out to be masters of the art of football. We all know the list, from Vieira and Henry to Cesc and Van Persie.
This heritage gives Arsenal a huge kick start when they start to negotiate with a new potential player. Of course there are those who will argue about Arsenal’s credibility having suffered of late through the trophy winning exploits of the KGB in Fulham and Manchester IOU, and no doubt such players will not have any concerns about the financial stability of those clubs.
And of course players want to win medals. But they also want to have a chance to do their thing and become great players – and many are sensible enough to recognise that this tends to happen more at Arsenal than elsewhere. Even the dope-heads who fall out with the club and leave for massively inflated prices (I think of course of Cole and Adebayor). And as for those tempted away by the promise of more, the grass can often turn out to have a rather yellowish complexion when they arrive at the new ground (as Hleb, Flamini have found.)
Indeed there is nothing like being heralded as the great new boy, and then finding one can’t get a game, to make one realise that life is not quite a bowl of round red fruit.
At the youth level I have heard it said by those in the know that Arsenal now has its pick of the bunch (within the restrictions laid down by EU labour laws and FA recruitment regulations). Some come in at a very early age (Jack Wilshere) some a little later (Cesc, Ramsey) – but all of them come to be developed, and developed they are.
Recently Mr Wenger himself gave a list of some of the talent he has developed, restricting himself to players who joined at an early age. Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos were in the list. We might not always have them at the top of our list of great Arsenal players, but Djourou is coming back from a year out and Senderos is captain of his country. They are not to be dismissed.
To these he added those we can all agree on Gaël Clichy, Kieran Gibbs, Cesc Fábregas, Alexandre Song, Abou Diaby.
But it can be argued that Manchester IOU have developed Giggs, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Neville and Neville. And that really makes the point rather than contradicting it. My Arsenal list above is current. But there is no contemporary Manchester equivalent. As Wenger mentioned in his discussions on the subject, if we are going back that far in time to bring in Beckham et al, you need to include Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram at Monaco. And more.
Which brings me to my point. Which other club has, over the past five years seen the development of such a group of young players? (Remembering I haven’t even got to Vela, Walcott, Bendtner, Denilson, Eboue).
If you have read my ramblings over the past year or two you’ll know I have endlessly raved about the way the youth team is coming through, and the great talent we have. From Afobe to Eneke, Coquelin to Cruise, Eastmond to JET, Freeman to Lansbury (actually Lansbury really ought to be in the top group, alongside Jack Wilshere), and most recently Sunu and Miquel. And below them another lot. True, as I mentioned yesterday, we have had a slow start this season, but that does not make the argument invalid.
Oh and there’s Wellington Silva too. I almost forgot.
Yet sometimes when I write the occasional piece in which I wander through this list of players I hear complaints that all that has happened is that these players have been brought in. “Cesc was not developed by Arsenal, but by Barca” comes the complaint. Suddenly the argument is changed and the only players we can count are those who joined not at 16 or 17, but at 13, or 11, or even 9.
But that is not how it goes. We are only allowed to sign up under 16s from a very restricted geographic area, and yet we are competing as one of the top teams in the world. It is not viable to find that many brilliant youngsters just in the local region.
Which is why the reputation counts for everything. We need this constant development of the greatest youth system that the world has ever seen, taking in both 9 year olds and 17 year olds who have started elsewhere because they are not allowed to start in London. And we need our reputation as the place that will turn these guys into even better players.
And that’s what we’ve got, thanks entirely to one person.
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