Thursday, October 05, 2006
Une Dizaine d’Arsène
Yet he has, at times, been a controversial figure. Lately, the criticism has centred, not on his legendary bouts of convenient blindness, but on his supposed preference for non-English players. Alan Pardew, West Ham’s manager, has had something to say on the subject in recent times, as have a number of fans.
To my mind, their criticism misses the point, and bespeaks an inability to distinguish between club motives and national team motives – something I have commented on previously.
Wenger’s response, that “football is about quality…not anything else”, sounds pretty apt to me.
The make-up of the Arsenal team circa 2006 is simply a product of the post-Bosman era, and if Wenger feels that his Francophone brigade are the players most likely to bring success to the club, no qualms about the effect on English football of such an apparent exclusion of the locals should deter him. That is simply not his concern – not that Wenger has ever shown much concern for international football anyway, but that’s a different issue.
Wenger is certainly not anti-English players in general. Arsenal’s double success of 1997/98 owed a great deal to the strikeforce of Nicolas Anelka and Dennis Bergkamp, not to mention the outstanding wing play of Marc Overmars, but the famous Dixon-Adams-Keown-Winterburn defensive line, Englishmen all, also played a crucial role. As a matter of fact, Wenger kept faith with a couple of these local old-stagers longer than was perhaps justified.
And who was it, in the late eighties, who introduced the talented Glenn Hoddle and Mark Hateley to French football, at Monaco? None other than one Arsène Wenger.
England, in any event, has much to thank Wenger for. His Arsenal sides have been exciting to watch, and have not only made the Premiership a more entertaining competition, but raised the bar in the quality stakes.
One final point: had Arsenal not stung Manchester United by snatching the 1997/98 title, and then matched them step for step in 1998/99 before conceding the Premiership by a single point, would Alex Ferguson’s men have had the competitive edge to bring England its first European Cup in 15 years, in 1999?
Worth a thought.
I followed the 1998-1999 EPL season quite closely and I have to agree about Arsenal's effect on Man United. Following Newcastle's efforts in 1995-1996, and with Liverpool still not being the real deal, Man United didn't have that great a challenge for the EPL title until early 1998, when Arsenal really started to creep up on them, and their exit in Europe that season (to Monaco in the QFs) was somewhat weak. This also followed a stroll through the group stages. Throughout 1998-1999, they had a lot of hard battles in all three competitions they won.
FWIW, I rate those Arsenal and Man United teams as the best I've seen from those clubs since I've been following the Premiership. Everyone seems to hold up the "invincibles" as Arsenal's best team under Wenger but IMO, the ~1998 defence was better and its attack matches any other since. And the league got a fitting finish in 1999 with two great teams battling it out on the last day for the Premiership title.
Another thing: Those bemoaning Arsenal's (complete) lack of English players should be blaming the rules that make it possible for such a situation to exist in the first place. Wenger has simply done what a manager is allowed to do nowadays.
Totally agree. Towards the end of the 97/98 season (and for parts of 98/99 as well), Arsenal were just phenomenal. In 01/02 and 03/04, I think the difference was that they'd learned to win ugly (I remember one particular Everton-Arsenal game in 01/02 which was the worst I've ever seen them play under Wenger - but they still won).
...Another thing: Those bemoaning Arsenal's (complete) lack of English players should be blaming the rules that make it possible for such a situation to exist in the first place. Wenger has simply done what a manager is allowed to do nowadays....
True. It's funny, to the best of my understanding, Bosman could have happened a decade before it did, had anyone tested the rules regarding cross-country transfers within the EU (which was, strangely enough, only a by-product of the Bosman case anyway).
Fair enough, although I reckon you could say that about quite a few English clubs these days, even ones with pretty reputable youth academies.
In fact, IIRC, Nick Hornby commented in Fever Pitch that exactly the same thing was happening at Arsenal in his day (very few players in the first team who'd come through the youth system). I suppose the difference is that now they're coming more from the continent, since, as you say, you have to pay over the odds for an English player.