One of the most interesting things to observe from the recent Champions League final at Wembley was the number of Arsenal fans who wanted Jurgen Klopp to succeed Arsene Wenger when that time eventually arrives. Fuelling all that was the interviews, music videos and cult status of the Dortmund manager – possibly one of the most likeable names in football even before you get to his achievements in Germany.
So you have to wonder, are Arsenal supporters drawn to the football that’s regularly on display at Signal Iduna Park? Of course, because who wouldn’t? But it likely goes a little deeper than that. It’s the overall sense of envy for what the Germans have in comparison to what’s on offer in England. It’s the connection between club and its players and the supporters. Look at the way Dortmund’s travelling fans streamed into Manchester for their away game against City. The Yellow Wall is one of the more impressive spectacles in European football today. Is it just that Arsenal want a continuity (or rediscovery) of great football under Klopp, or does it strike a little closer to the supporters’ search for identity and connection with the club?
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The decision to appoint Freddie Ljungberg as club ambassador was a great move by Arsenal. Who really knows what his duties will entail, but I don’t believe that to be the point. Many were quick to suggest that Arsenal had missed the boat on Patrick Vieira when he called it a day on his playing career, with the club rolling out an excuse that they simply didn’t have a position for him. Well that doesn’t really matter, does it? Just make one.
With the arrival of Stan Kroenke combined with the rise in ticket prices, it’s fair to say that the supporters do not hold that same connection with the club that was there 15 or 20 years ago. It’s a common thing to look on in envy of other clubs, but how often is it that you look past the trophies and successes on the pitch and long for something similar in terms of tradition and pride. That’s not to take anything away from Arsenal’s impressive history, but this is about recapturing it and feeding it into the new generations at the club.
You look to the two German clubs who competed at Wembley, Bayern Munich especially, and acknowledge all the figures from previous generations who take up prominent roles within the club. It retains that sense of pride and tradition and ensures it remains effervescent even in the most difficult of times. But who is there to offer similar roles at Arsenal, specifically those who hold a significant position in the club’s history? Again bringing in Ljungberg, even in a minor capacity, is a good move for the club and an excellent note to hit on the PR front. The question now is whether the club will see the positives of it and look to continue along the same path.
It should all count towards the project of ‘Arsenalisation’, making the new stadium feel like home. Trophies, of course, will play a big part in helping to turn the page completely, but a club like Arsenal should look to its rich history and install a new sense of pride and identity. There are small traits that have been borrowed from German football, but the idea to try and establish a club song prior to kick-off hasn’t worked as well as some would have hoped.
Another step may come soon with Bob Wilson likely to succeed Peter Hill-Wood as Chairman, but there has also been talk of Jens Lehmann and possibly Dennis Bergkamp at various points in the future. Holding onto the past can be as much of a good thing as it can be detrimental.
For now, Arsene Wenger is the only strong link to the former glory days with so many new arrivals helping to build the club as a global brand off the pitch, but rediscovering the club’s roots on the pitch is just as important.
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