First of all I need to say thank you.
Thank you to everyone who gave me, a childhood Arsenal fan, the opportunity to be in the inner sanctum of one of the greatest clubs in the world. Not many people get the opportunity to do that.
But to also be able to lead this team, to have an impact on them and leave something behind – to me, at least – is even more special.
I cannot thank everyone enough. The players, every staff member that I’ve had the pleasure of working with and, of course, the fans.
The fans have been absolutely fantastic with me ever since day one and, while I know that I will have sometimes frustrated them by trying different things with my tactics and selections, I hope that they know I’ve always acted in the best nature for the team and the best interests of everyone involved. There’s never been any self-interest from my point of view. My only focus has been on Arsenal.
I don't think anyone could ever, ever understand the level of pride that I have had just wearing the club badge and even just seeing my email signature, with the club crest there and 'Joe Montemurro, Head Coach of Arsenal Women' underneath. I’ll look at that with pride right the way through to my final day.
It’s been like that since the start, too. I remember receiving the call from the UK, asking if I would be interested, and then just staring at the club crest on the follow-up email.
“Hang on, is this actually happening?”
From then on, even the possibility of getting the job – just being linked with it at all – was exciting. But they were genuinely interested and my club, the club I have loved for my whole life, wanted to make me an employee. I would have taken an assistant role, anything just to come on board for the ride here!
Look, it was still pretty daunting because I had a good job in Australia and my work, my family life… everything was all settled. Then I had to explain to my wife – who doesn’t really follow football – about just how big an opportunity this was.
“Arsenal in Queensland?” my friends would ask. “Is that like a hybrid club?”
Then I’d tell them with a huge smile on my face that it was the real deal. The Arsenal, in north London.
When I got over here, my job was always to instil the right way of playing, something that is what I’m all about. I’ve never had to read up about it or look into it, it’s just the way I am.
The football, the personalities, the team, it’s all just an extension of me, who I am and what I stand for. For me, football is just the vehicle. If I take away one thing from my time as a head coach, it’s that if I can make someone better or give them just one quality that makes them a better person, then I’ve done my job.
Sure, you’re not going to be able to give everything to everyone. Some people take things in, some people disagree and some go along with it. But I’m lucky because I’ve been given a gift of teaching and in this environment I’ve been able to learn from the people around me as well.
The beauty of all this is that I have also become a better person too. I've learned such a lot about myself, I've learned a lot about life and what better way to do it through the club that you love and through football, the sport that you love.
There have been regrets, too – and you always have that in football. Did I make tactical mistakes? Of course I did. Should I have communicated some things at different times, in certain circumstances? Sure. But the gift of being involved in this sport is that you can learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to become a better person.
It’s not just me who has grown, though. From the day I walked in the door, the game has improved, the clubs have got better and the quality of coaching as well as the standards of systems have grown too. And the beauty of it is that we kept up with that.
We haven’t been able to do certain things because of certain details and situations but, again, that’s all part of us learning and being better. Arsenal is not far away from the top. We're doing it our way and we're doing it with our brand of football, but more importantly, we've now set a stage where we can have learned and understood, to have seen the growth in the game and to make sure we get backed in the summer.
Qualifying for the Champions League, as I've always said, should be the baseline for a club like ours. That's the reality. I was bitterly disappointed last year because I felt that we could've really gone close to winning the league and doing a bit better than the year before, but unfortunately we couldn't finish off the season. That's just the way it was. It's probably the one little regret I've got from that perspective.
But I want people to look at the football, I really do. The football is what talks for me and results will come, results will go, but ultimately results will go in your favour playing the brand of football that we do. I just wanted to leave behind a team that every fan can feel proud of and say, 'You know what, they really represent our badge in all the manners that it should be', because that is what our club is so synonymous with around the world.
And that brings me on to you, the fans. The great thing about our fanbase is that we’ve had a select group that have followed us around everywhere. I’ve got to know them personally and have conversations with them before games, after games, I’ve always been more than happy to talk to them about the football and they’ve been fantastic with me in response.
You see the passion and you see the anger and the frustration when things don't go our way. That's true fandom. That's what true fans are like. I wouldn’t change that for the world.
I was also fortunate enough to have them chant my name. It was absolutely mind-boggling that they would give me my own tune, but that just encapsulates how amazing the fans are of this team, this great club.
They think so passionately about the team, they think so passionately about their club and they're willing to support them no matter what. Their passion, their opinions and sometimes their craziness... that's what football is all about. It's about the underlying attachment to the game and the club that you just can't explain to some people. That's what I think is so special about this club – and I feel those emotions too.
I can’t lie, I've missed the fans. Whether they’ve liked me or not, that’s not important. They always want what’s best for the club and hopefully, looking back, they will see that I’ve always put The Arsenal first.
I've always thought about how this team wants to be represented worldwide and now that I’m stepping away, it’s going to be hard without those fans. I’ll miss Maria chanting, I’ll miss the guys singing the Katie McCabe and the Leah Williamson songs.
These are all special songs and ones which will stay right with me in my heart. I've sat up many nights wondering whether I've made the right decision but I know that I've made the right decision because I know that the club is now ready to take that next step and move forward once more.
It's been tough to step away from a club that I have loved so much throughout my whole life. But as a fan, I know it’s the right one, and I’ll always be cheering for The Arsenal.
Copyright 2021 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.