Arsène taught us not just to hoof it and hope, but now’s the time for a Brit at Arsenal

A stranger in a foreign land, Arsène came across our lumpen, insulated, out of date ways and shone a new light upon us.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

For the last 20 years, I always wished Arsène Wenger was at Spurs, which of course you are not allowed to say, not as a Spurs supporter. He was so good, so clever, so fluent, so wise and so successful. I watched Arsenal’s Invincible season in 2003-04 and at times they were breathtaking.

I had half a season ticket at Arsenal for many years, as a friend always had a spare one. No sweat, no stress, no headaches. If they lost, I smiled to myself. If they won, I was happy for my Arsenal friends. Watching Spurs, my love hearts, these last 50 years, oh gawd, the agonies.

For the last few years, Arsenal fans have been shouting “Wenger out”. They were so ungrateful, disloyal to a manager who had done so much for them. OK, in recent times, there have been few pots, but they were always up there.

I am sure the real reason he is being booted out now is financial. Most of this season the Arsenal ground has had masses of empty seats. We all laughed when the club said no, it was full, because they had sold all tickets.

But now, with tickets being sold for next season, the club got scared. If fans were not willing to take up seats they had already paid for, why would they pay ahead for future seats, if they did not like Arsène still being there? It was the fear of a decrease in ticket sales wot done it.

Why was Arsène so good? A stranger in a foreign land, he came across our lumpen, insulated, out of date ways and shone a new light upon us.

Our biggest clubs, the current top six in the Prem – Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal – have all got foreign managers. Why is this? Our two best young English managers are doing well, Sean Dyche, 46, at Burnley and Eddie Howe, 40, at Bournemouth, but will their next step be a top six club? Don’t laugh. What have foreign managers got that our lads have not?

It is not as if we have always been useless, never winning nowt. Clough and Fergie triumphed in Europe, showed them how to do it, but that was decades ago. What happened?

We got left behind. New diets, new training regimes, new attitudes came in from abroad while we were still on steak and chips and ten pints.

Many foreign managers are cleverer, more educated. They speak English for a start, and often two or three other languages. They are cultured, classy, with style. And experienced, having been around Europe. English managers, on the whole, have been nowhere.

Foreign managers are rounded people, interested in the world at large. Guardiola has been wearing his ribbon backing Catalan independence. Clough and Fergie were both Labour supporters. I have no idea what Dyche and Howe think about anything.

Foreign managers are football philosophers. The British have traditionally suspected intellectuals and philosophers – especially in football.

The British way of football thinking was to lump it up field – then everyone runs after the ball. Goalkeepers were encouraged to belt it as far as possible. It was a macho thing. For most of my football-watching life I have despaired at British teams. It was always clear that by belting it there was only a 50-50 chance of the ball going to your own side. Mostly, you gave it away. What was the sense in that? The answer, so coaches told us, was that we fans loved it. It was fast and exciting, blood and guts, getting stuck in. In truth, it was mostly a scramble.

The foreign way of football is keeping possession, precise passing, using space, pressing hard when you haven’t got the ball. So far, it has worked.

English football is now full of foreign players. The current PFA Premier League Team of the Year has nine foreign players and only two English – Kane and Walker. Foreign managers are better suited to dealing with foreign players.

Snobbism. It is now assumed all foreign managers are better than Brits. Which is potty. The pendulum will eventually swing. Come on Arsenal, give Sean or Eddie a chance… 

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 27 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Corbyn ultimatum