One of the truly great things about Arsenal Football Club is its history. All the way back to 1886 you can cruise through the story of the Club and pick from an endless selection of moments and people that make you proud to be a supporter.
But it is the players from Arsenal's past that provide the most treasured memories. And in some cases players have stuck around to do great things at Arsenal years after they hung their boots.
Sentimental or tactical? We asked our panel what it all means to them.
Question: How important is to you as a fan to have former players involved in the running of the Club?
As a fan it is important that players are involved with the club, but not necessarily in key roles. I always hope that players share the same love for the club that I do -- I was raised on the thought that Arsenal is a family. When players take on roles such as pundits, stadium guides, ambassadors and assistant coaches (like Mart Poom did for goalkeeping) I feel that they truly care about the club and share my passion. Players who take on key roles such as scouts, first team coaches, academy directors, and managers also care a ton about the club; that said, I feel that those roles need more than just passion to succeed. Those roles are integral to success on the field and appointments to those roles must be merit based.
I think that Arsenal has done a great job incorporating former players into the managerial, coaching and scouting ranks. George Male found Charlie George, which is a great story in itself; Gilles Grimandi, Peter Clarke and Danny Karbassiyoon are all scouting tons of bright talent in France, Germany, Netherlands and North America. Steve Bould's work with the youth setup definitely is merit to be involved with the first team. Right now several names have been mentioned in the media to be involved in the academy with Liam Brady moving on, Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, and Jens Lehmann (who is working on his coaching badges).
As a club that prides itself on player development and has such a large academy setup, the role of Academy Director is one of the most important positions the club has to offer. While many of the candidates that have been listed bring a lot to the table, are they right for the job? Possibly, but not probably. Personally, I would like to see Arsenal attract an academy director from a club like Southampton or another academy director with a proven track record.
In the current football climate Arsenal fans are desperate for success. While I would love to see Dennis Bergkamp, big Tone, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry come back to the club, trophies are what everyone wants. This is a debate that right now where the more popular side favour winning, and the slightly less popular side favours bringing back club legends to take charge. I want desperately to have both, and at least on that I think we all agree.
I think it is important to keep ties with our former players and legends. Their involvements in club matters bring a sense of history and tradition to the club. Having successful ex-players around this and future Arsenal sides would be especially beneficial. None of them have won significant trophies as Arsenal players and rubbing shoulders with former legends on a daily basis can be nothing but inspirational.
Legends can bring a unique perspective to developing players and to the current squad and be a daily reminder of the ‘riches’ hard work and perseverance can bring. It’s clear to see how having club legends like Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Jens Lehmann and Robert Pires have re-invigorated the squad with their returns at the club in recent history. The younger players seemed especially excited by the presence of their childhood heroes at the training grounds.
As much as I admire the great work former players have done at clubs such as Ajax and Barcelona and indeed at Arsenal, I do not think that all players are cut out to become managers or coaches. I would love to see our former greats more involved in club matters, however, and they can do so in various capacities, as ambassadors of the club, scouts, development and even some representation in the board (Bob Wilson perhaps?). The work carried out by Zidane and Vieira at Real Madrid and Manchester City are especially interesting. Although they have not been able to be involved in actually coaching players, their presence at those clubs has been key in attracting (young) talent especially in City’s case.
As a fan, first and foremost I’d like to see the team succeed. If that means bringing back former players to have a role with the club, then great, if not, that’s fine with me as well. Like Morgan said, if the player is right for the job, then look from within, but if not, then I’d prefer the club look outside of the family to fill important positions within the club.
One example is the United States Men’s National Team. For nearly a decade, Bruce Arena was at the helm of the United States National Team and they realized some of their most successful results to date. In 2006, the U.S. looked from within and hired Bob Bradley as his successor and five years later, the United States were on the hunt for another manager. This time, the U.S. took a global search to find German-born star Jürgen Klinsmann. While the book is still out on Klinsmann, he has brought something new to the team, recruited a lot of new players and managed the first squad to go to Mexico and leave with a victory in 75 years. If nothing else, the U.S. will know they left no stone unturned with their search and attempted to find the best person in the world for the job.
I would be lying if I said it wasn't enjoyable seeing Thierry Henry and Bob Pires training with the club, both for the sake of nostalgia for players and days gone by, and because I can't help but think that some of our players might learn a thing or two and hopefully appreciate Arsenal more because of these stars' long associations with the club. Indeed, it's also lovely to know that former players like Charlie George and Perry Groves are still around, doing stadium tours and the like, and heartening to see Jens Lehmann getting his coaching badges at Arsenal and the number of former players in scouting roles for the club.
But what Arsenal need may not be what tugs on fans' heartstrings. The vacuum caused by Liam Brady's impending resignation is massive, both in that he is a club legend and that he has an eye for talent. But when one looks at the number of players who have come through the ranks, the much-vaunted Arsenal academy compares less than favorably with the likes of La Masia or the Southampton academy. Of the six young British players who recently tied their futures to Arsenal with long-term contracts (or not so long-term in Theo's case), only two, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs, came through the Arsenal academy. Two others (Chamberlain and Theo) were bought from Southampton and came straight into the Arsenal first team, with similar tracks for Ramsey and Jenkinson from Cardiff and Charlton, respectively. Yet we've seen many of the bright academy lights who have fizzled on the main stage (JET, Bentley, Pennant, et al) and ended up as footnotes in the club's history.
It's perhaps simplistic to say that Arsenal hiring Southampton's academy director will make them the Saints' equal in youth development, but such a hire would certainly come with experience in the role. Then again, it is not outside the realm of possibility that someone like Dennis Bergkamp would be a splendid appointment... Wherein lies the rub. Arsenal's bottom line – where the fans are concerned anyway – is winning trophies. Does bringing in former players preclude us from doing so? Of course not. Bob Wilson was goalkeeping coach under many trophy-winning sides, and George Graham had a successful tenure as Arsenal manager.
What we must bear in mind as fans is that it is important to retain the familial identity of Arsenal Football Club, but not at the risk of the success of the club itself.
The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 19 Feb 2013