By Tony Attwood
In football, as in the arts, where there is success, it often seems to me that there exists beneath that success a combination of instinctive talent and a clear theory, which merge to form the approach adopted.
Take for example Guardioa’s comment, “In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope. You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak.” (Which is actually a summary of the early Wengerian Arsenal line up with Henry and Pires both playing on the left. As Henry once said in an interview, “It tends to get a bit crowded over there”).
On the other hand, take Tiki Taka as a style of play. Look up tiki taka on Google and it says, “Pep Guardiola managed Barcelona from 2008 to 2012, winning 14 titles. Under his guidance, tiki-taka was established.”
But Guardiola himself said, “I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal.”
If tiki-taka is something that Guardiola successfully established but also denounced, is the DNA of a club any more coherent a concept? Or is it, like tiki-taka, something invented by journalists who then claim it to be real, and ultimately blamed on someone else who in face denounces it?
Journalists lapped up the notion of club DNA because it allowed them to summarise a club in a few words and suggest that it will be difficult if not impossible for the club ever to change. From this we get the notion of “Same Old Arsenal”, as if there is an “Arsenal way” of doing things, which of course is drivel. Arsenal under Wenger bore no resemblance to Arsenal under Graham or Rioch. Any more than Arsenal under Chapman bore any relationship to Arsenal under his predecessor Knighton.
And these thoughts are relevant just now not just because there is an article in the Guardian which says, “The greatest trick Pep Guardiola ever pulled was to convince the world that club DNA exists,” but also because we now have as manager a man who learned about management by sitting alongside Guardiola.
Of course, Arsene Wenger recognised Arteta’s ability, as for example when he said in an interview article I hope Arteta becomes a coach. ““Mikel has a huge influence even when he is not playing… He is super conscientious, and every morning two hours before training he prepares and that is absolutely right. Just through his behaviour, his focus on getting everything right in the team, he has a huge influence.”
And we can see the links between Guardiola and Arteta. Guardiola came in as a coach with no first-team experience as a manager and quickly got rid of Ronaldinho and Deco at Barcelona. Arteta came in and got rid of Ozil and Aubameyang. Guardiola liked to promote players who had come through the Barcelona youth system. Arteta has championed Saka, Smith Rowe, Nketiah, Patino, Balogun. Barcelona built up its academy, just as Wenger did at Arsenal, and Arteta appears to be in the early stages of doing that with Arsenal.
Now, of course, Barcelona have lost their way, and indeedd as the Guardian article concludes, however, “most clubs don’t have a DNA… DNA is the excuse used to give a former player of limited experience the manager’s job in the hope that because he “knows the club” he will somehow be able to conjure Guardiola-style success…. DNA is also the excuse used by fans to turn on managers they don’t like, often Sam Allardyce.”
In its history, Arsenal have had two great managers who have changed the club beyond recognition (or in the words of journalists who like simplistic phrases they don’t have to think about, “changed the club’s DNA”): Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger.
The former changed Arsenal by spending so much on transfers the lazy journalists of the day, labelled the club “The Bank of England club”. Arsene Wenger did the opposite, finding gems missed by other managers, and introducing the notion of using the league cup as a way of seeing which youngsters really could stand up and be counted against the third division players told by their managers to “go out and give the children a kicking.”
And we have had managers who have failed horribly. George Swindin who felt that because he had played for Arsenal he knew football, Billy Wright who felt that because he had been a great footballer, he knew football, and Bertie Mee, who felt that Arsenal should be like an army training camp.
Mee did of course have a little burst of great success, but then five years of the most awful decline.
Now with his buying last summer and in this window it looks like Arteta is following Wenger’s approach – some big buys mingled with the best of the kids.
Indeed it is worth looking back at Wenger’s early days, as from the start he bought in players who could play his way…
- Season 1: Vieira, Anelka
- Season 2: Overmars, Petit
- Season 3: Kanu, Ljungberg
- Season 4: Henry
In these seasons you will be hard pushed to find an Arsenal junior who was successfully transformed into a first team player, until in fact in Season 4, Cole emerged.
Arteta is doing much the same as Wenger, but at a greater pace, rebuilding the entire defence last summer, the attack and midfield this summer but also while also promoting youngsters far faster than Wenger did. It is more of a Guardiola method, however it has nothing to do with club DNA, for there is no club DNA, neither at Arsenal nor elsewhere.
Indeed club DNA is the type of concept deadwood journalists love, but it has nothing to do with reality.
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