Bring on the Brits

If Wenger's so clever, why pass over that pool of local talent?

There is only one thing I don't like about Arsène Wenger, along with the nine things I do like. One of those is that he's so thin. I wish I were that thin. I used to be, before the war - the war between me and my arthritic knees. His English, that's excellent, the best English from any Frenchman, and that includes Coup de Mirf, or whatever he's called, the ex-French prime minister. I heard him on Today last week and all the way through he said "traity" for "treaty".

He's tight, especially with other people's money. I always approve of that. He's probably tight with his own money as well, but we don't know enough about his personal life to judge. There are clues, such as his lack of bling, never knowingly driving a Ferrari, not being spotted at Sandy Lane in Barbados, and his relatively modest north London house.

I particularly like the fact that he hasn't sold out commercially, refusing to lend his name and position for financial gain. He doesn't do advertisements, as Mourinho did, or endless autobiographies like Fergie.

In his public utterances, he sticks to football, avoiding giving us his views on God, as Hoddle did, or politics, like Cloughy. He's always dignified. Clever, oh yes, exceedingly so, and wise, no question. Right, that's enough arse-licking.

What I don't like is the lack of Brits in his team. Now I don't object personally to all these foreign johnnies over here, for they have definitely helped raise standards, but if Wenger is so clever, so wise, tra la, so good at spotting and shaping young talent, which he certainly is, what has he been doing these past ten years? Almost all the talent he has unearthed has been foreign. Has he got a blind spot for Brits?

Often, during these past two years, he has started with an all-foreign team. It hardly gets mentioned now. And his bench is often entirely foreign as well. There are 26 in his current first-team squad - only two of whom are British, Theo Walcott and Justin Hoyte. Only the latter has come through the Arsenal academy. Theo was pinched from Southampton. Since Ashley Cole - an Arsenal trainee - went, there's not a club-bred player among the first-team regulars.

We know he likes to get them young and unformed, and fashion them to his bidding, yet they always seem to come from France or Spain, countries about the same size as Britain. Surely, by the law of averages, quite a few top youngsters should have emerged here in ten years? So does he not like them? Or does he miss them?

Last week, Man United seduced away John Cofie, a 14-year-old from Burnley, for a reported £500,000. Other clubs were after him, though Arsenal was never mentioned. Man United regularly have five or six Brits in the first team, while Boro often have a whole team, which must encourage all British boys.

There are rules about academies. When boys enter, aged nine, they have to live within an hour of the club. (After 14, they can be tempted away or, ah hum, their parents can find a new car in their back pocket.)

A rural club like, say, Carlisle finds this one-hour rule hard, but a club in a big conurbation like Arsenal has millions of likely lads to choose from - and with more arriving now that London's population is exploding.

But the more they don't succeed, the more the best won't want to come to your club. So what's the problem, Arsène? Only he can tell us, as he's so damn clever.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New best friends?