It is always hard as a fan, particularly in the modern game, to be constantly reminded by their actions and their words, that for players, your club is just a current employer. We resent players that leave our clubs – whether for more money or a better chance at winning things -expecting them to feel the same passion and loyalty that we do. Of course, in most cases our hope is unrealistic and clinging to that hope will end in disappointment.
The Premier League era has ushered in a new age of football, awash with cash and enriched by some of the world’s finest talent as a result. The compromise is that the number of homegrown stars to emerge at the top clubs has lessened, with owners (and to be fair, supporters) demanding instant results and the days of one-club player loyalty a rarity. Indeed the modern player often jumps from club to club as one might move from table to table in a casino, these non-stop game ones , which are proving popular in this lockdown.
All that said, there are still certain clubs that have a reputation for – and tradition of – doing things a certain way, and that can mean some of those old ways are still intertwined with the necessities and demands of modern football. The Arsenal, as we traditionalists are inclined to call our club, is one such institution. There has always been an ‘Arsenal Way’ and even the foreign players arriving over the last 30 years, have bought into that way. The history of the club is imbued with certain traits, synonymous with The Arsenal. The way we educate our youth, the respect we teach our youngsters, the way we conduct ourselves in the transfer market, the way our players and staff behave and the way we treat ex-players are all part of this.
Arsene Wenger understood this, maintained it and evolved it – but for while after he left, the Arsenal Way may have been lost, or certainly it felt in danger of being so. Against this backdrop it was heart-warming to listen to Mikel Arteta talking to Ian Wright last week. (full interview here.) Our club is once again being guided by a disciple of The Arsenal Way. This is a man who as a player, took a pay cut at the peak of his talent to leave Everton and join The Arsenal. A man who, as a student of the game, knew what it meant to play for the The Arsenal and had the honour of leading his team to their first trophy in nine years.
However, much as we want to believe that our club and The Arsenal Way is still a huge draw, is Arteta correct to join us in that belief? Particularly when it comes to the practicality of attracting new players, with top European football as a bartering tool? He speaks with such passion and conviction when he says “Everybody wants to come here, and we have a really clear idea of what we are. It doesn’t need much convincing and if they do, for me it’s not a good starting point. If I have to convince a player to stay or to join us. To Arsenal? It holds me back a little bit. I would obviously dearly love to believe what he believes, and to a degree, I think I do – but it is not solely because we are The Arsenal.
I listen to Arteta talk and I hang on his every word. He speaks with such intensity, passion and conviction that he sucks me in and makes me want to follow him on his journey with my team. Why would a player be different? Arsenal are a huge club with a rich heritage of success and, in the modern era, achieving that success with flair and panache. Arteta, a disciple of Cruyff and a pupil of Wenger and Guardiola is the present custodian of that tradition. As such, I am sure that there are enough future Arsenal heroes, for whom the combination of what Arsenal represents around the world and the vision of one articulate Spanish visionary to take us back to where we all want to be, will be more than enough persuasion to join The Arsenal.
This is a version of my article originally written yesterday for the Fan’s View on Sun Sport here