Hello again, loyal readers.
After some all night bartering, with negotiations reaching a delicious climax as the summer sun slowly submerged ‘neath the horizon with a shimmering ‘adieu’, I was re-signed for Gunners Town for the princely sum of a packet of ‘Nice ‘n’ Spicy’ Nik-Naks and a barely touched can of Tizer.
My next few weekly columns are going to feature some of the unsung heroes of recent Arsenal Football Club memory. Some are likely candidates; some are a little more left-field. All have contributed to the Arsenal cause when push has come to shove.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this week, I present to you, David Platt.
On June 20th, 1995, a certain Dennis Bergkamp was signed from Internazionale for a record smashing £7.5m. The move didn’t cause ripples on the surface of the Arsenal Mill pond, it damn near emptied it with a tsunami of joy, anticipation and disbelief. However, less than a month later, and with the Mill pond still sloshing around like a 2 AM drunk down Western Road in Brighton, it was on July 10th, 1995 that Arsenal (with Bruce Rioch at the helm and David Dein pulling the strings) raided Italy and Serie A again for the then England captain, David Platt, for a not insignificant amount of £4.75m. Rioch torpedoed his own Portuguese holiday and raced across the Med’ to meet Platt in Sardinia, just as the midfielder was contemplating a further two year extension with Sampdoria. Rioch’s wooing clearly worked as Platt was quickly hooked like a tuna and hauled aboard the Good Ship Arsenal. Platt was one of the stars of ‘Gazzeta Football Italia’ on Channel Four (this programme needs no introduction), playing for Bari, Juventus and then Sampdoria in successive seasons.
Platt immediately fitted into the starting line up, replacing the (gorgeous) Stefan Schwarz, who had left Arsenal after a solitary campaign (more on him later on in the series) to jet the other way across Europe to Italy’s beautiful city of Florence and La Viola of Fiorentina. In Platt’s second league game, he netted in a 2-0 win against Everton and finished his debut season with Arsenal with a decent six goals to his name. Platt netted in the last game of the season, helping to secure UEFA Cup qualification for The Gunners.
Platt played an integral role in the knock-out stages of ‘Euro 96’ for England that summer and retired from international duty soon after the tournament, finishing on an impressive 27 goals from 62 caps. And who could forget that stunning goal against Belgium during ‘Italia 90’?!
After the sacking of Rioch (and caretaker management from Stewart Houston), Arsene Wenger (what became of him, eh?!) was appointed manager shortly into the 1996/97 season from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan. Platt became the centre-midfield partner of one of Wenger’s first signings; a young Frenchman called Patrick Vieira. Had Rioch stayed on, he apparently wanted a young up-and-coming Portuguesee playmaker – Rui Costa – to partner Platt in a dynamic, inventive midfield. Imagine that behind Dennis Bergkamp! Platt completed his second Arsenal season with a further four Arsenal strikes to his name.
Early on in the 1997/98 campaign, Wenger added to the squad; the glorious, hypnotic Marc Overmars signed to join his fellow Dutch compatriots Glenn Helder (who quickly left for NAC Breda back in The Netherlands) and Dennis Bergkamp. He also signed Emmanuel Petit from AS Monaco. Petit and Vieira quickly became Wenger’s first choice centre-midfield pairing, and Platt found himself on the periphery. A £1.5m bid from Middlesbrough was accepted in August, but Platt stayed on at Arsenal for the remainder of the season, scoring a further three times for the club. It was one of these strikes that cements his place here as an unsung hero.
On November 9th, following a disastrous defeat away to Derby County, Arsenal played Manchester United at The Home of Football and needed a win to stay one point behind the early league leaders. Wenger himself admitted in his pre-match comments that a second successive defeat would make it “difficult” for them to catch Manchester United.
Platt started due to Petit and Bergkamp both being suspended. Expectations were realistic and certainly recent past matches against the Northern juggernauts weren’t exactly inspiring. Rumours were that Dein was staying at a hotel to woe a young winger at Metz called Robert Pires (that move of course came off three years later after ‘Euro 2000’)…
It started well. It started very well.
On seven minutes, a fast Overmars break down the left (how many of those did we see during his tenure) resulted in Nicolas Anelka collecting the ball on the left side of the area, then releasing a placed finish past the possibly unsighted Peter Schmeichel at his near post. It was a class strike from the youngster and his celebration said it all as he sprinted to the Arsenal bench.
Twenty minutes later, after a poor corner from the left by Ray Parlour (arguably putting in his best Arsenal performance to date) was pounced upon, 19 yards out by Vieira, on the right hand side of the area. A first time shot fizzed up and over the imposing figure of Schmeichel and into the far top corner. 2-0 and Arsenal were flying.
It then went wrong, very wrong.
Every Gooner’s favourite ex-Spud – Teddy Sheringham – reduced the deficit, then equalised, within fifteen minutes of Vieira’s ‘Golazo’; first with a typically well placed header, and then with a smart snap-shot which beat a sprawling David Seaman with ease.
2-2 at half-time. How will Arsenal react?
The second half could’ve gone either way, however, on eighty-two minutes, a wonder save by the big Dane denied a deflected goal from Chis Wreh. Nigel Winterburn took the resulting corner from the left, and the out-swinger was met by a leaping David Platt on the edge of the six yard box and a magnificent header lofted over the superfluous leap of the United defender on the far post and nestled into the corner. 3-2 and a crucial three points only minutes away.
‘David Platt on the sideleines for so much of the season is centre stage now!” Martin Tyler
Arsenal held out and moved within a point of the leaders. Despite losses afterwards to Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool (what is with Arsenal’s winter form?!), Arsenal completed a double win over Manchester United the following Spring and went on to win a historic Double; Wenger’s first two trophies with the club.
But it was Platt’s crucial winner which gave the side the belief and proof that they could beat their rivals and make a genuine title push. Don’t forget, this was pre-billionaires and staggeringly expensive transfer fees. It was a vital victory in a league season that ended almost perfectly. It was a derby type game, with Arsenal missing Bergkamp, Petit and having Wright misfiring, yet three points were won with some real attacking verve (and not so smart defending…hmm, some things never change…) Was it a turning point? I believe that it really was.
Sadly, 1997/98 was Platt’s last playing season. He retired after the FA Cup victory over Newcastle United and went on to controversially manage one of his former Italian clubs; Sampdoria. He has recently been seen taking the oil dollars on offer at Manchester City…
The signings of Platt with Bergkamp, signaled a change at Arsenal, a change that anyone, from anywhere, could be signed. Serie A was – at the time in 1995 – by far the most glamorous, exciting and richest league in the world, and for Arsenal to raid two big clubs for arguably their best players, was a game-changing turn of events. Players like Gullit, Zola and Vialli followed them into the Premiership. The summer of 1995 changed English football, and Arsenal, with Platt and of course, our Dutch genius, were at the forefront.
Thanks for reading,