Is Arsenal academy in chaos or is it merely a manner of speaking?

By Tony Attwood

The question is, is there something funny going on in terms of Arsenal’s academy, or is the oddity at the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail

It is surely one or the other because the Mirror has, for the last seven months, been running a series of stories about Arsenal’s academy which if true would suggest that there are virtually no staff left to run the show and no players coming through to the first team.

And this is a little surprising since we have been finding that Arsenal have coming through the most magnificent crop of young talent in many a year.  Indeed only yesterday in a warm up match one of our academy graduates scored a fine hattrick.  Plus there are those three players in the top ten under 21s in Europe.  Plus…

It began on 4 November last year with the headline “Arsenal ‘axe eight staff members’ ” in the Mirror.  The ‘axe eight…’ part was in inverted commas meaning, someone might have said this but there is no proof.  The piece then continued with the phrase “according to reports,” and without any mention of a source.

But we were told that “among those to leave the north London club is head of youth scouting Steve Morrow, who was told he is no longer needed in his role.”   Later the piece added, “The others staff members who are believed to have been axed include Kevin Beadell, Dan Rice and Dave Lee, who each held recruitment positions at the Emirates.”  This showed a certain lack of proof reading (it should be “other” not “others”) and more importantly a lack of sustainable facts indicated by “believed to be”.

And then it gets really murky because it says, “The Daily Mail reports that the departures are yet to be formally confirmed by the club, but the wheels are firmly in motion.”  Yet in fact the Mail was citing the Mirror in this case – in other words each is quoting the other with no one taking responsibility for the story.  And when journalists won’t take responsibility it usually means it is a load of baloney.

There is some agreement in the media that Steve Morrow did leave the club (although not everyone on line concurs that this happened) and of those who say he has left not everyone agrees he was sacked.
That is more plausible, as restructuring to meet changing needs is perfectly logical.  However any credibility that there have been in either the story of the Mirror was lost on 15 January when the Mirror ran the headline, “Liverpool ‘poach Arsenal staff member’ as Gunners begin search for replacement.”  And we notice yet again those little inverted commas suggesting actually this isn’t really true.  It wasn’t.

It was not until 15 February that any sort of clarity occurred with the Mirror taking an interview in the Dutch football magazine Voetbal International, with Marcel Lucassen who had taken over the position as Head of Youth Development.

He said: “In my first month, I asked 20 different people at the club to describe the so-called ‘Arsenal Way.’   Everybody spoke about it, but no-one could actually answer my question. Three people just said ‘it’s the passing game.’

“I had worked with other clubs where the objective was for a player to pass the ball to someone else in the same colour shirt, so what was unique about this Arsenal philosophy?   They had all kind of academy plans, but nothing was based on a proper football philosophy, a playing style, or certain principles. There was a lack of quality in certain age groups and I saw very few players with the potential of Champions League level.

“When I compared what they have in Germany and what I found at Arsenal, it was a big shock. The problem we are dealing with is that the philosophy after the Wenger era has not been developed.”

Now there are several interesting points here.

First I doubt that Arsenal academy has ever had more than a few players capable of playing at Champions League level.  If you look at our Champions League teams the majority were players transferred in not players who came up through the Academy.   If Lucassen is suggesting that he can create a team in which maybe half a dozen players have come  through the youth ranks, that will be a revolution.  Although if we look at the list of youngsters below, that could well be happening now – before he has arrived.

As we know, Arsene Wenger had a very particular approach to developing youth players and bringing them through.  He left in May 2018 and Unai Emery was sacked in November 2019.  Arteta was appointed in December and this interview was published in February 2020.  So we have had three philosophies in two years.  It would be surprising if there was not some uncertainty about what the Arsenal Way actually meant.  In the past two years it means giving in to the cardboard waving crowd.

In fact the club left behind a philosophy, style and approach that had been developed through the entire club from October 1996 to May 2018, had then undergone two changes.  Some staff have left, Emery brought in some of his own, who had then left with him or soon after.  It is not surprising that Marcel Lucassen spoke as he did because he said on the day of his appointment that many “coaches haven’t got a clue and try to mask that with words.”

Indeed it wasn’t that he found the club in crisis – that was a mirror story that they kept on and on re-running.  That’s was Mr Lucassen always says in all interviews, and besides three different sets of staff in two years invariably means things are a muddle.  He is one of those guys who shakes up staff by saying they have no idea.  It’s not my personal approach to man management, but it is one that is quite widely used, and it can be successful.

What has actually happened is that on the recommendation of Per Mertesacker there has been a change made in the academy staff, and he happens to have brought in a guy who talks straight.  The “Arsenal way” example is a bit dumb in my opinion, if that actually was said, because all business operations over a certain size boast that they have their own way of doing things.  Liverpool are a prime example, and they have carried that boast of the Liverpool way through the last 30 years without a league title.

 But the silly language of the Mirror continues and will continue, as with the latest story in which “Arsenal are culling several senior continental scouts in another round of cuts. The Gunners have informed a number of their spies who are working abroad that their employment will be terminated.”

It is of course quite possible that Arsenal are making cuts, although “culling” seems the wrong word for a group of part-timers and people who are paid by results.  The most likely reason being that as part of the youth restructuring they are bringing in other overseas scouts more attuned to Per Mertesacker’s approach to the Academy.  It’s common – sack the manager and then sack the staff he bought in.

But whatever conclusion we come to we really must also recognise that we have a rare collection of 20 young players in the club at the moment, and all of these were picked up by the people Marcel Lucassen has been criticising.

  1. Tolaji Bola
  2. Zech Medley
  3. Bukayo Saka
  4. Ainsley Maitland Niles
  5. Joe Willock
  6. Matteo Guendouzi
  7. Robbie Burton
  8. Eddie Nketiah
  9. Gabriel Martinelli
  10. Reiss Nelson
  11. William Saliba
  12. George Lewis
  13. Emile Smith Rowe
  14. Tyreece John-Jules
  15. Folarin Balogun
  16. Karl Hein
  17. Matt Smith
  18. Miguel Azeez
  19. Catalin Cirjan
  20. Adil Aouchiche
What we have to remember is that the current Arsenal way is three complete changes in staff in two years, and a downturn in results.   But with talent like that coming through we really ought to be able to make something of it.

5 Replies to “Is Arsenal academy in chaos or is it merely a manner of speaking?”

  1. That talent has been years in the making. So what we see is probably the result of the Academy being very good 5 or 7 years ago don’t you think ?

    Which means that a drought may well be coming 2 or 3 years from now, the more so as talent from outside of britain will not be able to join with all the Brexit mess.

    As for past talents gone to greener pastures, I’d say that with a crowd that turns so easily on players making a simple mistake, they are much better off away from Arsenal. Not everyone has the character and resistance of one Aaron Ramsey. I’d say many were broken whereas they could have developped into great players.

  2. Chris, I would certainly agree with your observations.
    We now have AMN, Willock and Nelson getting the same treatment.

    Why would they want to stay and get the abuse?

  3. TBH I hadn’t heard of any academy sackings, but there are recent reports of some of our overseas scouts being laid off in order to save money due to reduced income in this shutdown period. I wouldn’t be surprised if some academy staff were also let go for the same reasons. Shame that it has to happen when we have such a wealthy owner.

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