Having read @goonerdave66 superb thought provoking piece on Arsenal repeating what George Graham did when he came back as manager culling the squad and blending the young players coming through with some experienced old heads. This has inspired me to write myself on the same subject.
What George did when he returned to Highbury was repeating what had been done before twenty years earlier and George had been a part of it. Bertie Mee laid down the original blueprint when he took over the reigns from Billy Wright in 1966.
Bertie’s greatest assets were organisation and delegation. The first thing he did was to wisely appoint a great coach as Bertie knew he didn’t have enough football knowledge to implement what he wanted to do without appointing an up and coming coach. He made Dave Sexton his coach later to be replaced by Don Howe.
Next he got rid of the biggest name at the club George Eastham. The other big star at Arsenal had been Joe Baker and he’d already been sold not too long before Mee’s appointment. Those two big names were the equivalent of Sanchez and Ozil today. He brought in Bob McNab and George Graham, who he swapped for Tommy Baldwin. The cull continued as out went David Court, Terry Neill, Jim Furnell and Ian Ure. Colin Addison, Bobby Gould and Jimmy Robertson also came and went.
He kept the experienced Frank McLintock. Along with adding with Bob McNab and George Graham. Bertie already had Peter Simpson, George Armstrong, Peter Storey, John Radford, Jon Sammels, as well as promoting Bob Wilson to the first team. Finally he brought in the youngsters Charlie George, Pat Rice, Eddie Kelly and Ray Kennedy.
You can see the same similarities and pattern that George Graham repeated twenty years later. Bertie did it, George copied it and it worked stunningly for both managers. It helped enormously that both managers knew the club intimately. Is there a young manager out there who fits the bill? There probably is but I don’t really know the answer and it worries me that there is nobody at Arsenal at Board level capable of making the right appointment.
But the one thing I am certain of is that Arsene Wenger much as I admire and respect him isn’t the man to take on this huge task of transforming the squad. He is just too old to do it. The two year contract was very much from at least from Arsene’s point of view a case of him having one last crack at winning the Premier League. It was a decision that is very short term and all about the here and now. He and the club have allowed the players to run their contracts down. With the nine players out of contract this summer and the eight to follow next summer Arsene may not be leaving much of a legacy once he goes at the end of that two year contract.
To repeat the trick a third time will be very difficult indeed. Both Bertie Mee and George Graham had a conveyor belt of young talent coming through the youth system. That isn’t the case today. The youth system is an absolute mess at the moment. Even when Arsene took over in 1996 he inherited a much stronger pool of players than he’ll be handing over to his eventual successor. He had that tremendous defence of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon. He also had Ray Parlour, Paul Merson, David Platt, Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp. Of course Arsene added some fantastic players of his own. But when Arsene leaves in two years time what will he leave the new man who takes over the hot seat. Not a lot in my opinion, certainly not eleven players of the caliber I’ve just mentioned.
It’s very concerning and I feel it was a really backward step to renew Arsene’s contract. A new young vibrant young manager could have breathed new life into the squad and galvanised the club. But by the time the new manager is installed it may be too late to address the slide into mediocrity. Too late to convince the good young players to stay and be part of the future. Players who may have already made up their minds and decided to make their own arrangements in finding a new club. As I said earlier it’s all looking very short term at the moment. How can Arsene and the club convince players to commit their long term futures to the club when they know the Wenger era is drawing to a close.