By Josh Dawe
What makes a great football manager? Is it the size of their trophy haul? Their ability to assemble a team? Their ability to bring through youth players? Or is it combination of all three.
We can all find managers that fit into these various buckets, but the combination of all three is a very rare thing.
Chelsea, with their special one at the helm, have bulldozed their way to the title this season, picking up the league cup along the way. Jose Mourinho now has around 20 trophies, collected in just 15 years across four leagues. However as an article from Philippe Auclair pointed out last week – he is not a builder.
John Terry is the only Chelsea youth product in his first team, and he was already established when he arrived at Stamford Bridge, in both instances. The same can be said at his time at Inter Milan, trusting experience over youth to romp his way to a second Champions League and a domestic double.
This first appeared on ABW on May 21
Real Madrid was where Mourinho at least put his head above the trench and gave Alvaro Morata his debut, yet in a squad featuring an almost ever presence in Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria. Even Luka Modric was at hand to get you goals, so it was hardly a risk.
Giving a player his debut doesn’t give you a claim to being a great manager for bringing through youth. Mourinho didn’t make Morata. Carlo Ancelotti finessed his talent in his first season, whilst also bringing Jese through the Castilla.
On the flip side we have managers who can build teams and maintain them through their youth academy. These managers either don’t have the blank cheque book some have to build a team, and others will do it regardless of the money in the bank.
One manager who has come into the Arsenal eye line recently is the current Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino. The youth products he brought through, admittedly from one of the greatest youth systems in England, are now dotted around various different Premier League clubs after the exodus last summer. However he doesn’t have the trophies to really bring him into the elite group of great managers.
This is where the man mentioned in the title of this piece comes to the fore. A man who is heralded across the planet for his ability to bring through and manage young players, whilst also winning trophies. Looking through the history books at Wenger’s great teams, you can always find a number of key players who have not only come through the club’s youth system, but had that talent nurtured by Wenger. The Invincibles contained Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Petit and The King, Thierry Henry, who he’d nurtured at Monaco. The 2006 Champions League final added Cesc Fabregas to the mix.
"He has always kept the hopper full so to speak, ensuring there is always a youth option that could come in and replace a player once they move on"
The team now has Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hector Bellerin, and Aaron Ramsey - all who were brought in young and nurtured into Premier League regulars. Regardless of the financial circumstance, Wenger has always brought through young players whilst keeping his teams at a minimum competitive level in the top flight. He’s Arsenal’s most successful manager, with 13 trophies so far and an FA Cup final to look forward to.
Winning the FA Cup will eclipse a record held by the only man I believe that could rival Arsène in his accolade of Britain’s greatest architect; Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex brought through the media beloved ‘Class of 92′ which was arguably the foundation of his success, so much so that he brought Paul Scholes out of retirement to help bolster a lacklustre midfield; a problem that I don’t think Arsène has ever faced. He has always kept the hopper full so to speak, ensuring there is always a youth option that could come in and replace a player once they move on.
Arsenal’s youth teams may not be filling the back pagers like the two oil rich teams currently are. However how many of those players from those teams will ever wear the first team shirt for their respective teams for any real amount of time.
We’ve already seen a glimpse of Gedion Zelalem, Stefan O’Conner, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and more so Chuba Akpom this season. Daniel Crowley is pulling up trees at youth level, and I’m sure all Arsenal fans expect to see him pull on the Arsenal first team shirt next season, even if it’s only in the League Cup.
This continual topping up of the hopper and keeping the squad competitive during the move to The Emirates has kept Arsenal’s local identity that has but all been lost by other teams in the league.
Arsène is Britain’s greatest architect and long may it continue.