AFCB writer Daniel Brookes on the satisfaction of watching young players develop…
This week, I have been mostly pondering a comment left on one of our Editor-in-Chief’s posts last week. The comment regarded Theo Walcott and was dropped by ‘James Robin’. It went as follows:
“If we have players that need development, why aren’t they sent on loan? Why do we have to suffer for their development needs? Our title rivals aren’t developing players on a large scale, they throw one or two maximum, we have many development projects.”
Being the pensive son-of-a-gun I am, I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering whether James has a point. It’s true that Arsenal is a club of young players and we’re perennially regarded as a young team with potential. It’s also true that this ‘potential’ often manifests itself as an excuse for not winning trophies in the eyes of many supporters and commentators. The ‘next year will be our time’ mentality that has since instilled itself in our minds has become a familiar excuse shield for some, a reason to lambast Wenger at every opportunity for others.
At first, I thought James did have a strong case. When browsing the Chelsea team sheet, there is very little room for newcomers or home grown potential. As the league leaders, Chelsea never really showcased a player that wasn’t already a household name or a renowned reputation. There were sparse appearances for Ross Turnbull (forced in through injury), Daniel Sturridge and Nemanja Matić, throughout the season, but they only managed 28 appearances in all competitions between them.
This is vastly at odds with Arsenal, who were routinely giving starting roles to players like Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey, Denilson, Vela, Fabianski and Gibbs. We could argue until we’re blue in the face about whether these players are deserved first-team players or not, but the fact is they are all definitely developing, they definitely get game time, and they’re hopefully nowhere near their peaks.
It is probably logical to assume that Chelsea boast such an array of talent thanks to their multimillion pounds worth of investment. They don’t need to rely on young, up and coming players and can plug any gap with a new signing. It’s the same story at Manchester City – we’re not going to see Michael Johnson get an extensive run of games this season, and not long ago he was one of the most promising young English players going around. Excess money signals the end of wafer-thin squads, and any obligation to youth players whatsoever. Even writing that sentence depresses me.
That’s really as far as the point goes. It is otherwise wrong to assume that Arsenal fans have an unfair burden placed on them in terms of suffering nurtured talent. Take a look at Manchester United who chased Chelsea down to the last and (like us!) were title challengers. They’ve given playing time to Darren Gibson, Macheda and Obertan, as well as Fabio and Rafael, and do Nani and Anderson count? Perhaps the only difference is that Fergie has paid eye-watering sums for some of these players.
Furthermore, look at the experience of the Manchester United team. It comes from a glut of players they nurtured through their youth ranks. Scholes and Giggs are still pulling the strings in midfield, whilst nobody was complaining then Beckham was being developed into a global superstar. The formula quite clearly works as their trophy haul over the last ten year suggests.
Looking at the issue another way, watching footballers develop – far from being an insufferable aspect of being a fan – is actually one of the reasons I enjoy football so much. I can say hands down that one of my favourite moments as a supporter came from watching Cesc Fabregas come-of-age during his 2006 Champions League run, particularly in the latter stages. It was somehow like watching the taste of freshly baked bread. I’ve had similar eyebrow raising moments upon seeing Abou Diaby shine like a rough diamond in the miasmatic French national team during the World Cup, or in watching our ‘reserve squad’ crack skulls in the league cup.
What I always find particularly frustrating is that our own fans equate our failure to win a trophy over the last five years with achieving nothing. That’s simply not the case. What the club has achieved with the players they have is something that should be lauded, and I don’t think in five or ten years time that I’d ever remember the sporadic FA Cup garnish on a particular season more than I’d revel in the fact that I’ve watched a player learn and then express his trade at our club to the point of worldwide acclaim. Who can honestly say that clubs like Aston Villa or Everton would be improved by signing players such as Nasri or Diaby? In my opinion, there’s is something special about the way we operate and we get the best out of these types of players.
Of course, an obvious criticism is that Arsenal fails to hang on to many of its nurtured talents, but it’s rare that any player who leaves us is successful elsewhere, and players are lured away from more successful clubs than ours. You can develop footballing talent so far, but you can’t instill the common sense which might have brought happier times to the careers of players such as Hleb, Flamini and Adebayor had they stayed.
In a game that now encompasses so many detestable aspects – cheating, diving, grinding out results, excessive wealth, ill-educated and mercenary players, I think that following a successful player’s development is one of the last true reasons to follow a football team.
Have your say on this week’s ‘From The Left Wing’ by leaving a comment.