When great players leave your club after years of successful service, you console yourself by thinking not only about all they’ve given you over the years but also what they may still have to offer in a capacity other than on the pitch. Liverpool fans dreamed of a successful return from Kenny Daglish after his playing days and they got one. Newcastle fans dreamed of a successful return from Alan Shearer and they at least got his return. Arsenal fans dream of a return from Thierry Henry, or Dennis Bergkamp or perhaps even Patrick Vieira. Not all good players make good managers, even if they were excellent captains and born winners, Tony Adams is testament to that. However there really is no substitute for the experience that players that have been around and won top competitions have.
Being a success in football is about more than just having the natural physical quality, the mental side to the game is just as important. Players need to know, or need to learn about what it takes to go that extra mile and be champions before they will win big competitions. This has perhaps been one of the criticisms of Arsenal in recent years, that they don’t have enough proven winners in the squad. Their faults seem to be more in the mind than natural, physical deficiencies in their game. This leads us to the question: did Wenger make a mistake in not bringing Patrick Vieira on board when he had the chance. The talismanic captain, who epitomized the early Wenger years at Arsenal with his power, pace and exceptional passing abilities, now resides at rivals Manchester City as the Football Development Executive. In his role he not only helps to identify and attract talent from outside the club but helps to develop the younger players at the club in a behind the scenes role.
Many Arsenal fans presumed, when the Frenchman accepted the role at City, that he had simply been offered more money by the Manchester club. However he recently revealed that he had never been made an offer at all by Arsenal. There are, admittedly, perhaps too many ‘positions’ behind the scenes at a football clubs these days. Arsenal in particular have been wary of appointing a director of football, to suggest that anyone would decide the direction of the footballing side to the club except for Wenger would be a farce. However in bringing back former players, and former successful players at that, Wenger really could have added what is potentially the missing ingredient at Arsenal. He has tried it in the past to some extent. Jens Lehmann and Sol Campbell both made short term returns, Mikael Sylvestre was also brought in for his experience and both David Beckham and Thierry Henry have trained with Arsenal during the off-season of the MLS. However none of these solutions were permanent and you can’t help but feel that individuals should have been brought in to address the situation as Manchester City did with Vieira.
This is arguably one of the benefits to Henry being brought in. He will no doubt, having won every competition under the sun, add priceless experience to a team that is all but bereft of such things. However this shouldn’t necessarily satisfy Arsenal fans, and it doesn’t satisfy me. What if Arsenal had had ex players in advisory positions for the last five years? Would they have crumbled as they did in 2007/08 towards the end of the season? Would they have lost to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final last year and endured the abysmal end to the season that they did last year? Perhaps they would have, however you are inclined to believe that if they had either brought in ex players in these roles or even provided hugely experienced and influential players such as Gilberto Silva with contracts in to their thirties then it would have been greatly, perhaps incomprehensibly, beneficial for the club.
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