It’s standard procedure for the Arsenal community on Twitter and Facebook to blow up following a flurry of disappointing results and even one that goes on to further accentuate the club’s current position. Those who go on to voice their displeasure, as they are wholly entitled to do so, are broken up by others who remain firm that the club is on the right path and knee-jerk reactions are a fool’s game.
What can hardly be disputed, though, is that Arsenal have lost their sense of tradition and pride through the appointments of outsiders into key positions. Ivan Gazidis, Stan Kroenke and Richard Law are not Arsenal supporters, nor were they particularly clued up on the history of the club prior to entering their current positions. In Gazidis and Law’s cases, they were brought in for their ability to push the club forward on the financial side and helping to create a global brand, as well as dealing with transfers and contracts. For Kroenke, and based largely on his franchises in America, he’s a guy in it for the safety that Arsenal provide as a club. Last season the St. Louis Rams finished with a 2-14 record, and he seems totally content for the Colorado Avalanche to go up and down the NHL Northwest division but without much excitement for or in the postseason. It’s just not his game.
Arsenal have lost so much of their tradition and winning mentality over the past six years that it wasn’t out of place for supporters to call for Peter Hill-Wood’s resignation as Chairman. His family are as much a part of the club’s history as Highbury and the trophies won, but he appears to be doing nothing positive for the club and has long outstayed his welcome.
What the club needed was Patrick Vieira when he became available last year. The club should have jumped at the chance of appointing a player who was such a large part of the recent successes under Arsene Wenger instead of lazily wheeling out the excuse that there wasn’t a position available for him. Vieira’s presence at the club should have started a trend whereby former players begin taking up positions either in coaching roles or elsewhere.
Arsenal would not have lost a North London Derby with Thierry Henry in the team, nor would they have lost with Tony Adams or Lee Dixon. That isn’t a slight on the easy targets in the team today, but it’s about the importance and history of the rivalry and what it means to supporters. The older heads from the George Graham era would have rightly educated the newer foreign players on the rivalry with Tottenham, rather than having a now out of touch board room casually plugging the derby on a website.
There’s a reason that Ajax have so much success and why they’re continually praised for their commitment to youth. Their status may have diminished in European football, but appointing people like Frank de Boer and Dennis Bergkamp was the right move for that club: it was a smart and calculated move. Barcelona are the same, as are Bayern Munich, who have Catalans, Germans and former stars running the show. It’s not just about keeping the club in check behind the scenes and ensuring that successes are achievable in the future, it’s also about the public image and saying the right things. Supporters don’t want to hear that fourth place is a trophy; the fantastic history of Arsenal wasn’t built on being fourth best and largely forgettable to anyone outside of north London.
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The club missed a massive trick in turning Vieira away when he expressed a desire to join in some capacity. How arrogant, he disrespectful, how stubborn. The sense that the club don’t need outside help or even a different view is exactly what has brought them into this state of struggling to push forward.
The important figures at the club don’t care that the away supporters are so prominent when watching games on television, or that they take up a large section of the cheaper seats in the stadium. The important figures dished out that ridiculous Elvis song as a poor attempt to replicate the atmosphere created by “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It wasn’t what supporters wanted and yet it remained a regular feature for so long.
There’s no acknowledgement for the club’s colours and their traditional away kits. Barcelona would never be caught wearing a white kit, while Ajax’s shirts remain classy and easily identifiable. But that doesn’t matter as long as variety boosts the revenue from those who’ll buy the kits each year regardless.
Even if the club were experiencing success on the pitch, there’s still a concern that Arsenal is not the Arsenal it once was. It’s a moneymaking machine wrapping up a product and selling it for extortionate prices. There’s no connection and little familiarity. The clock end only came into being a good handful of years following the Emirates’ opening, and the north bank has passed from memory into myth. It’s the story that has to be fed to the younger generation rather than the experience.
The big clubs on the continent are about continuity and tradition. Manchester United have been able to teach the newer stars about the history of the club through veterans like Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Players like that do serve an important purpose beyond just their contributions on the pitch.
A smart club would go about finding ways to lift supporters in any positive way they can. Every Arsenal fan is counting down the days until Thierry Henry returns in a permanent role, and the suggestions for Dennis Bergkamp to join are not too quiet, either.
But for the way Arsenal portray themselves as an intelligently run club, it doesn’t make up for the lack of connection there is between them and the supporters. A presence like Patrick Vieira would have gone some way to bridging that divide.