Best of the 1988/89 season

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How George Graham drilled the famous back four

As half of one of the most famous defensive units in English football history, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn are uniquely placed to give an insight into George Graham’s training methods.

The Scot drilled the Arsenal team constantly throughout his highly-successful reign, and this is what the pair had to say about it:

NW: What people really don’t understand when you talk about it is the amount of time we spent out on the pitch as a back four with just George initially. and then he would introduce the youth team against you. We would just walk through being in positions, with George holding the ball and moving into positions forwards and backwards. We just had to move collectively together to get an understanding of the positioning he wanted us to be in for certain situations. Then we would start working together and put it into games. As the year goes by, you just knew where each person in the team was going to be. If something was going to happen let’s say down Lee’s side, I knew where Tony would go, I knew where Steve was going to go and obviously I would move into position as well. You just got an understanding of what each individual person was going to do.

LD: It was so boring. Training was just tedious. I mean sometimes we just wouldn’t see a ball and George would have the only ball in his hands and he would say ‘I’m the ball’ and then he would do his little jog, his little swagger jog and he’d run down the pitch. So we’d have to react and close the ball down or drop in off and he’d go ‘no pressure on now’, so we’d have to drop off and he’d move over to the left and then Nigel would have to shift like that. We would do it on Monday, Tuesday, maybe not Wednesday as we’d have a day off, then Thursday, Friday and then our little reward for that was winning on the Saturday. The rest of the week was just hard work, but we saw the results. We would get a decent result and keep a clean sheet, and think actually I don’t mind that, I’d have five days of pain to get one day of glory.

NW: That was the norm for us in the training, so we bought into it very, very early. There was no different training, so you thought that was what George does and we have to do it if you want to be part of the team.

LD: If you didn’t buy into it, you’d be out, simple as that, so you kind of had no choice.


‘George’s attention to detail was sensational’

When George Graham took over as our manager in 1986, he inherited a side that hadn’t won a trophy in seven years.

Yet when he left north London nine years later, he had transformed us into one of Europe’s most effective teams.
So how did Graham get his message across?
“I always felt that Tony Adams was the link, particularly in the week, where if you had a problem, you’d speak to Tony and he’d go to speak to George,” Nigel Winterburn said. “If the team had a problem, speak to Tony.
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“If George wanted to feed something out to the team, he’d probably go through Tony again. In a way, I suppose he could be a little bit scary and a bit stand-offish, but his attention to detail as a manager, particularly in the way he wanted you to play and the way that he analysed the opposition, was absolutely sensational.”
Graham’s trophy haul started with that unforgettable night at Anfield in 1989, and continued right the way through to our European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph over Parma five years later.
“I think sometimes George’s legacy is lost a little bit since the modern era of football and winning trophies,” Lee Dixon said.

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“In eight years, he won the league championship twice, the league cup twice, the FA Cup and don’t forget the Cup Winners’ Cup. He was hugely successful coming in after a massively barren run as well.”
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