Stone Cold Friday: Are Arsenal Changing Football Mindsets?
It’s Friday, so it’s time for another coup. Here’s Darius…
International breaks are a permanent fixture in the footballing calendar. For Arsenal players such breaks are Russian roulette, a dangerous game which may see their season wrecked through injuries suffered on foreign fields. As sure as taxation and death, we might as well get used to such breaks so I thought I’d touch on an issue affecting the future of the game; the evolution and changing culture of football, fields where Arsenal is ahead of its rivals.
England’s capitulation in the 2010 World cup illustrates what can happen when vanity, ignorance, intransigence and lack of vision impede a footballing establishment from moving into the 21st century.
There is always a clamour for drastic action following humiliation experienced on the world stage. Naturally, the first call is to summarily execute half-cocked and ill-thought out strategies like squad restriction with a nationalistic or jingoistic flavour. If all else fails, the old-fashioned “bring in the youth” mantra is there as back-up.
However, there is a serious danger of focussing on red herrings at the cost of addressing the core issue. Even if the Archangel Gabriel were appointed manager, or the team peppered with new fresh faces, England will not challenge for anything until they come out of the football Stone Age.
A cultural shift in how football is perceived is critical if the fortunes of the country are to change. Yogi intimated as much yesterday when he picked up on the need to go back to the drawing board and address how children are coached and psychologically conditioned to approach football.
The distance between insanity and genius can be measured by success. For those courageous enough to make that audacious journey, managing expectations while balancing hopes and aspirations is one of the biggest challenges, alongside the trepidation and anxiety that grip many.
Arsenal and Arsène Wenger do not get enough recognition for embarking on such a journey of change. Time will tell whether the challenges and expectations have been effectively managed over the last few years.
Until Arsenal wins a trophy of significance, detractors will point out the negatives, forgetting obstacles faced. I don’t intend to start a debate here about what success looks like or whether winning is the only valid measure. Let’s talk about the challenges of making such a cultural shift.
What isn’t in question is that Arsenal had the vision and courage to embark on a path that would seek to establish the club as a dominant force in football for decades to come. It wasn’t enough that key people at the club including Wenger were willing to do whatever was required to stand us in good stead for the future; the journey would never have worked without the club carrying it’s supporters with it. If the summer and the last week of the transfer season is anything to go by, the latter has not necessarily worked.
Yet the evidence elsewhere would suggest otherwise, not least the fact that many in the EPL are seeking to model their clubs on Arsenal. In the last decade, anarchy took over and football thought that it existed outside the laws of economics.
Manchester City is the exception to the rule if you consider that the Abu Dhabi Investment Corporation has spent or committed to spend £1.08 billion in the last two years in their desire for world domination. Contrary to the belief of the footballing establishment, spending the GDP of a developing country in pursuit of that defies any definition of normality.
Despite the disappointments of the last few seasons, the most important thing is to build on what we have achieved so far.
Long before the footballing establishment woke up to the need for a cultural change in how to build, develop and manage a 21st century football club, Arsenal were already doing it. The patience of many fans has been tested along the way but current evidence of the fortunes of ‘super clubs’ justifies the path Arsenal has taken.
Chelsea, despite a strong first team, has a thin under layer to cope with a long campaign. Man United has resorted to bargain basement shopping and a declaration that they must build on youth in order to keep above the water.
Arsenal may have been the butt of jokes from hacks and pundits, who preach the virtues of ‘chequebook’ management to fuel their sensationalism. What isn’t in question is that we will be laughing last, longest and hardest.
For most clubs, the reality that the faster they change their mindset to developing and building your own destiny, the quicker they will join the journey to sustainability, has arrived.
Don’t get me wrong, buying is healthy, and helps augment whatever you have. Arsenal has done so year after year, albeit without spending vast sums. What is not sustainable is the notion that you can continue to buy a squad year after year.
I am bemused when hacks and pundits suggest that Arsenal has a weaker squad through letting go of more players than we ‘bought’. Such ignorant sweeping statements discount that we have graduated at least 5 players and these players are already more valuable than signings that we could have bought.
There are many more to come within the ranks at London Colney and Arsenal’s strategy of augmenting the graduates with one or two key purchases every year is a solid and sustainable one. It baffles many who still haven’t caught onto the cultural shift that Arsenal has made in how we develop and run the club, and that isn’t surprising.
It’s easier to jump and shout when we fall short, as opposed to recognising that this is a long and difficult journey. It doesn’t help that we’re operating in an environment where the establishment is still in the stone-age.
We should ask questions, we should be disappointed when we stumble. By the same token, we must be proud of a visionary and courageous club which has taken the lead in shifting the mindset of an entire footballing establishment.