So Arsene Wenger is satisfied with his decision to re-sign Sol Campbell. In a press conference ahead of his side’s second leg tie with Porto he said:
Sol wants to win and he can spread that through the team and give advice. We want to win this game but we also need to be patient maybe and it is important to keep your head. He gives us a good mixture, it is not only him, but there is a good blend of youth and experience.
Astute comments right? After all, blending youth and experience is a proven recipe for success in professional football, one blueprinted and utilized extensively by Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, a man who recently won his 35th trophy.
And Arsene Wenger, a man we are all thankful to for bringing technical, heavily stylized football and with it, precocious youngsters who have often matured into fantastic players on the world stage, has won a few trophies as well. So we’re good then? No, actually we’re not – Wenger, unusually, has got something very wrong here.
How can a man who has continually refused to offer plus 30 year old players, anything more than a one year deal, come out with comments like that and not listen to his own point?
He has continually jettisoned players deemed too old, or those unwilling to accept the discriminatory, stingy contracts offered to them, instead of recognizing their potential value to the club as educators and paragons of conduct – to say nothing of rewarding years of stellar service.
During the first epoch of his reign, signings such as Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljunberg, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Sol Campbell were fortunate enough to have an established old guard there to teach them the values and principles of the club, not just in voice, but in example too.
Yet at the point the cycle was set to be renewed, instead of keeping any of these incredibly successful, talented, and experienced players – many of whom had been involved in a record breaking season in which Arsenal were undefeated in the league – they were sold to make way for budding footballers whose education was consequently spent almost exclusively in each others company.
This led to some enterprising, youthful football and some fantastic moments – but when the heat was on, when it really counted at the business end of the season, they folded. Experience of failure can be an important thing, but continued exposure to it is not necessarily good for a players psyche. The act of winning is simply the best way to foster a winning mentality.
Arsenal have been trophy less for 5 years now, and again, instead of recognizing the value of senior players, it’s rumoured William Gallas is being offered only a one year deal which may force him to leave the club. Considering his athleticism, ability, and experience, is offering him 2 or 3 years really that much of a gamble? And yet here’s Wenger at his press conference self-congratulating and lauding the impact Campbell’s return has made.
In defense of his policy, Wenger would likely say that he had to get rid of the older players to give his up and coming batch playing time; the chance to develop, but look at Manchester United: how would they have fared in the past few years without Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, or Ryan Giggs?
These players act as conduits; spirits of the football club who perpetuate the zeitgeist. They help them to understand when to play and when to knuckle down, and play a crucial role in their development from boys to men. Neville, Giggs and Scholes have done just that at Manchester United, and the benefits are manifested, not just in their success, but in the comments made by the young players at the club who are continually describing how infectious their professionalism and winning mentality is; which amounts to a spectacular advantage to have at your football club.
Arsenals youngsters are that good they could well win something soon, potentially this season, but they may well have got there a lot quicker with some older heads around.