The Death of the ‘Arsenal Man’

Should the club’s manager have a prior association with it?

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George Graham – Last manager to have some personal history with the club

Once upon a time, Arsenal managers emerged out of the backrooms, the corridors, the dressing-rooms, or the treatment rooms at Highbury: and essentially they would be men with Arsenal in their DNA; an Arsenal pedigree which counted for more than just coaching badges. They were schooled in the ways of the club; bore all the hallmarks of the class and distinction implicit in the name of Arsenal Football Club. The board wanted a chief-of-staff who could oversee the smooth continuation of a great institution: one which in its heyday became a byword for success and propriety. Then upon the very cusp of the modern game, Arsenal went against this dictum that insisted we promote from within: temporarily dropping the idea that the Arsenal, was for the Arsenal, and by the Arsenal. Billy Wright, the Beckham of his day, a man whom Denis Hill-Wood referred to as ‘that jolly good chap’ was appointed manager, a man, while being a keen Arsenal follower as a kid, had no prior association with the club. When times became difficult he had nothing in the bank: no Arsenal heritage with which he could be marked down as one of us.

The response to the experiment of Billy Wright was to look for stability and to appoint a man built in the image of Arsenal past: Bertie Mee, who, like Tom Whittaker before him, moved from treatment room to manager’s office. Under Mee, and another Highbury old boy Don Howe, Arsenal for a while once more sat astride the football world. Then Terry Neill, the youngest ever club captain at Highbury, became, in 1976, the youngest ever manager at Highbury: leading the club to the 1979 FA Cup; three successive Wembley cup finals; and a season in 1979/80, which, following a magical run of games, including the victory against Juventus when Paul Vaessen’s star blazed for a night in the Turin sky, and the defeat of Liverpool in the cup semi-final 3rd replay, culminated, with car crash fascination, in the heart-breaking failure of two cup final defeats in five days. After the brief interlude of Howe’s tenure, it was the turn of another old boy, George Graham, to once again fill Highbury with fire and brimstone, and the raucous echo of days gone by.

Of course, since then, the Graham years have been followed by a year of Bruce Rioch, and hard upon his heels came Arsène Wenger, and now Unai Emery: whatever can be said of them none had, or has, an Arsenal connection which predated their arrival, let alone an Arsenal pedigree. Despite all the shimmering glories of his reign, was the slow, at times painful, unravelling of Wenger’s tenure in part because he didn’t quite understand Arsenal’s history: did he re-build the club so comprehensively in his own image that in doing so failed to pay sufficient heed to the qualities which pre-dated him: the Bertie Meeness that is there in almost every great Arsenal team?

What once was understood to be the essential ingredient of every successful Gunners manager: to be an Arsenal man, now seems to be perhaps nothing more than a mere added extra, something to generate good PR. Does it matter though? Is it important that, whereas once Arsenal closed ranks and promoted men from within, men steeped in the way Arsenal did things: living and breathing the club, that now the perception of technical excellence is deemed a far superior and more desirable quality? Is it just the way of the modern world, modern football? But didn’t Arsenal once break the mould and build empires from their own raw materials?

Perhaps the concept of promoting from within, for the sake of some internal cultural continuity is an anachronism too great for the modern game? When management teams are rated on their ability to attract the best players from around the world rather than moulding a group of largely local youngsters into a side over a period of years, perhaps, quite reasonably, a certain profile is demanded? Is it just the case that in the past twenty-plus years it is simply that no suitable candidate, one anointed son of Arsenal folklore has emerged?

And, of course, a non-Arsenal man, Herbert Chapman, once dressed the club in a livery of greatness; Wenger too? But the King is dead, long live the King!

I hope Unai Emery is here for years and builds a dynasty of great memories and deeds, but if not then give me an Arsenal man every time: this magical club is best served by someone who knows the club, is part of the club, lives the club. There are a host of ex-Arsenal players out there now coaching, or in senior management positions: Vieira, Arteta, Freddie Ljungberg, Sol Campbell, Bergkamp, Lehmann, Henry, Edu, and Overmars to name a few; or are the days of ‘the Arsenal man’ model, like Highbury, lost now forever in the mists of time?

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  1. mbg

    Feb 16, 2019, 01:00 #113240

    There's only one king, what a manager, wenger wouldn't have had half the success without him, we'll still be talking about George Graham (just like we are now) in years to come while others have faded away. Just imagine a fortyfive or fifty years old GG coming into this team now.

  2. Wengerballs

    Feb 13, 2019, 18:16 #113212

    What Big Andy and Ernie 71 said. Sentimental daftness, although more 'Arsenal men' in the Boardroom might be good. Although wasnt it greedy, old 'Arsenal men'who sold out to Kroenke? Men who were more concerned and ambitious for growth of their personal fortunes and commercial success with lip service given to real footballing ambition. Hill-Wood, 2008: "The club is ambitious for success and I believe that the strong financial position provides the best possible platform from which to deliver that success for the long-term," Hill-Wood added. "Over the last two seasons Emirates Stadium has taken our football revenues to a new level, but we cannot be complacent. We moved in order to compete with top European sides, not only on a financial footing but from a footballing perspective."

  3. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Feb 13, 2019, 09:14 #113198

    Spot on Tony - an Arsenal man is required at the very top, if David Dein was on the board, I doubt the Ramsey, Ozil problems would exist. I know he took the money in the end but I do think he (DD) was ahead of events, the board now are way behind the curve and our ability to compete against the top clubs has gone. Until the Premier League bubble bursts we are going to be fighting for 5 or 6th place at best and if we cannot throw off the Ozil millstone, which is a disgrace to our standing in football, we are going to struggle to sign anyone decent. Any agent involved with a class player who Arsenal want to sign, will start at 350K a week, it's Ivan and Arsene's goodbye present to the fans.

  4. TonyEvans

    Feb 13, 2019, 08:27 #113197

    I don't think I would be wrong if I said all us folks of a certain age lament what has happened to Arsenal in recent times. We all have our, sometimes, rose tinted specs on remembering standing on the north bank back in the day, revelling in the atmosphere, with that great feeling of 'belonging' to what felt like a very special club. Now of course it's all gone and Arsenal are just like any other club with the wrong foreign owner trying to compete in a deeply flawed new football world where a certain Mr Ramsey can earn £400k a week! I get what the article is saying but, as others have said, the real issue now is the lack of Arsenal men at the very top, and that isn't going to change anytime soon I fear.

  5. Big Andy

    Feb 12, 2019, 21:23 #113195

    The real problem isn’t “Arsenal” managers, it’s the lack of people who understand or care about the club enough in the boardroom. Stan Kroenke is about as far as you can get from Dennis Hill-Wood and the classy Arsenal traditions. There was a time when the people who owned the club actually cared about football. Not now.

  6. Big Andy

    Feb 12, 2019, 21:22 #113194

    The real problem isn’t “Arsenal” managers, it’s the lack of people who understand or care about the club enough in the boardroom. Stan Kroenke is about as far as you can get from Dennis Hill-Wood and the classy Arsenal traditions. There was a time when the people who owned the club actually cared about football. Not now.

  7. GoonerRon

    Feb 12, 2019, 20:53 #113193

    I totally get where Kevin is coming from on this. Part of me feels it’s arguably as important to have the continuity in the board room too, as the Executive should be standard-bearers for tradition which should permeate to all employees at the club, including the first team and academy managers. Clearly with the Hill-Wood’s no longer involved and Ken Friar no longer playing a prominent role this is already lost. I also feel like from a manager / coach point of view, for it to have any meaning they needed to have played at Highbury to truly have that ‘Arsenal feeling’ if you know what I mean? There probably are exceptions to this - someone like Mertesacker seems to really ‘get it’ in fairness. Overall though, I’d rather have the right man rather than having someone there just because of their Arsenal roots.

  8. Vaessenatthefarpost

    Feb 12, 2019, 20:28 #113192

    In fairness the article isnt saying they should always be connected to the club, but is asking if it is more important that they are than being a top coach who has established themselves elsewhere. I felt massively reassured when we had Pat Rice as assistant manager to Wenger, and I'm not saying that Arsenal's success was down to him, but that sense of connection to Arsenal's past that his presence gave was certainly important to me, even more so when we moved from Highbury. I suppose I'm an old bloke I dont like change - give me a Hill-Wood in the chair, and a Bertie Mee in the dugout and I'll go away and be quite.

  9. itsRonagain2

    Feb 12, 2019, 16:52 #113191

    man from - well said. Its the Corinthian Old Etonian thing isnt it. Winning trophies has always been a bonus of ' nice' to do, though in fairness AFC havent done so badly by it have they since they formed. The stadium made the new breed of fan think though that all of a sudden Arsenal was going to become a trophy hungry machine like Man U etc etc. Was never going to happen. Arsenals ways are deeply ingrained. As you say, its always been on the cheap and when we ve gone for the expensive options its harly ever worked for the club.

  10. The Man From UNCLE

    Feb 12, 2019, 15:21 #113190

    Before we get too misty eyed let's not forget that the board wanted Terry Venables in 1986, not much Arsenal DNA there, we settled for the cheap option with GG - a great, if very fortunate, piece of business. Tony Adams was a disaster at Wycombe (can't count the time with Portsmouth as they were a mess behind the scenes). Anyone got any idea what Steve Bould does? Ever since 1945 the club have seemed to want to do everything on the cheap (playing staff and managers) and any silverware collected along the way treated like a bonus.

  11. TonyEvans

    Feb 12, 2019, 14:29 #113189

    If Steve Bould's contribution is anything to go by we are well shot of 'Arsenal men'!

  12. Ernie71

    Feb 12, 2019, 13:03 #113188

    This is bollox Busby Shankly Clough Ferguson Wenger Mourinho had no association with the clubs they were successful at. Shouldnt we be looking for the best manager rather than a player who wore the shirt. Guardiola Klopp and Poch what association did they have with the clubs they manage? We could have got Klopp 4 years ago.About a decade ago some Gooners wanted Adams as manager.Just think about that

  13. Cyril

    Feb 12, 2019, 12:35 #113186

    Oh, just on point of the article headline, I can reliably inform you that GG is alive and kicking. He is a member of a gym in Finchley (won’t name it) and goes often with a close friend of mine ( who’s a spurs fan). I am also reliably informed he enjoys a little bit of weights with the dumbbells but is creaking at the joints these days. (A bit like the Arsenal or so my mate puts it.)

  14. Cyril

    Feb 12, 2019, 12:18 #113184

    Agreed. For me, it became that way when Dein and Bracewell Smith sold up. I suppose you can’t blame Dein. After all he was a trader and 250 thousand investment into 75 million is going to tempt anyone. As the global market came to the Premiership, the Arsenal name for the reasons above and many more became a worldwide brand. Sadly, that”s what is left now. The red and white shirts and saying you support Arsenal is the value. I will always have heartfelt memories of the old Arsenal, like being taken down what I can only describle to be a secret vault like tunnel in the stadium out to be shown my ST seat in the old ‘clock’ To sum up my feelings from years ago (they haven’t change and will not change) - “ I went from paying £400 quid watching Bergkamp to paying £1500 quid to watch Eboue.”

  15. itsRonagain2

    Feb 12, 2019, 10:59 #113182

    Yes, lost forever. Heritage and tradition was burned gleefully on the alter of TV cash. Arsenal arent the club they were in the yesteryear when continuity and stability ruled the roost. As for them you mention, i wouldn't class any of them as 'Arsenal men' anyway. Quite surprising that you do. i think the last Arsenal man to arguably tread the corridors there was Adams and nobody in the right mind would ask him to manage the club in any event.