“I saw a headline saying Arsenal are flying the flag for Britain, I kind of wondered where that British involvement actually was when I looked at their team. It’s important that top clubs don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the English Premier League and English players should be involved.”
This infamous quote from Alan Pardew in the aftermath of our goalless draw against Real Madrid, that saw us progressing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2006, was immediately followed by an even more enlightened statement from Gordon Taylor, PFA’s chief executive:
“It’s tinged with disappointment. Arsène Wenger chooses the team and has got them through and the quality is there for all to see. However, it would be more enjoyable if we saw Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell as part of it.”
These quotes were widely lauded by the media and many were the negative comments about the Arsenal and Arsène Wenger, both guilty of letting English football down in favour of foreign – French, mainly – players.
I’m not even starting the debate about how stupid, wrong, disrespectful, sectarian and even racist those comments sounded back then and still do, that’s not the point.
Back then, the Arsenal were singled out as the enemy of English football and one of the reasons of England national team failures in major tournaments; Arsène Wenger was the usual stubborn manager who was refusing to give our ridiculously talented English youngsters a chance at the Club, while Alan Pardew was regarded as the example to follow, because he was fielding the likes of Nigel Reo-Cocker and Anton Ferdinand.
I bet Alan Pardew would have loved to replace his precious English talents with our players, who came on top after a two-legged challenge against a Real Madrid team that included Zinédine Zidane, Ronaldo, Raúl, Roberto Carlos and David Beckham.
It’s true, we had eleven non-English players on the pitch and only one Englishman on the bench – Theo Walcott – but that had nothing to do with nationality: it was about quality.
Back then, our outstanding English youngsters were Justin Hoyte, Mark Randall and Matthew Connelly but Arsène Wenger somehow preferred fellow youngsters Cesc Fàbregas, Mathieu Flamini and Emmanuel Eboué!
Could it be because they were simply BETTER than our young Englishmen?
Manchester United famous class of ’92 was first of all a group of excellent players, do you thinks Mr. Red Nose would have picked them if they were not as good, only because of their nationality?
Surely if David Beckham was Australian, the Neville brothers were Georgian, Nicky Butt was Singaporean and Paul Scholes was Andorran, none of them would have got his chance, at Manchester United…
Fast-forward nine years and you discover that Arsenal players provided roughly 40% of the goals that saw England qualify for the Euros with ten straight wins; Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck were all instrumental in England flawless campaign.
Can it be a mere coincidence that promising players like Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got chance after chance, on very prestigious stages, from their very early days at the Club?
When you are good to play, you are old enough to play – that’s the only thing that counts.
Oh, by the way: you are welcome, England; Enjoy your Euro 2016 campaign.