Once an Arsenal man always an Arsenal man is not enough

I along with many others have suggested that if Arsenal are to stick with the current manager there has to be a shakeup and a new approach to the coaching at the club. Only a few weeks back I proposed Stevie Bould (not claiming credit here,) for a promotion from his role with the youth team and the press are reporting this is likely to happen when Pat Rice retires at the end of the season. After all I am just a fan and the thought of Bouldie being involved with the first team gives me a warm feeling in the same way that it did knowing Geordie Armstrong ran our reserves. I get a buzz thinking that our academy set up is being overseen by one of the greatest players to pull on the red and white, in Brady and I used to love the fact that Bob Wilson was our goal keeping coach. I still get goose bumps when I recall David Seaman beckoning Wilson to join him and the team on the rostrum when the Premiership trophy was presented at the end of the 2002 campaign at Highbury, as Bob was retiring. After all it was Wilson who had famously said “Once an Arsenal man always an Arsenal man.

However perhaps I/we have got it wrong. Perhaps in the modern game at the top level having a coaching set up that bleed Arsenal is not the be all and end all. Indeed why should ex-players, however legendary they may be, necessarily be the top coaches of today? I personally do not claim to know what coaching badges Steve Bould has attained, although I am sure he has been through several FA levels. I certainly do still want Steve involved, not least for this passion for the club. I am in no doubt that the power to motivate players and to instil what it means to pull on the shirt is absolutely essential right now (not at the end of the season.) Steve is the correct man for this role on so many levels. He has been there seen it and done it is the recent past and has worked with and inspired many of the current squad. But, and it is a big but I believe we also need to freshen up the team with a new first team coach with a new modern approach to training pitch methodology. If Steve Bould is to replace Pat Rice as Assistant Manager, we must also look to replace Boro Primorac as 1st team coach.

The behind the scenes Bosnian has been with Wenger since before he was at Arsenal, but let’s just look at the 15 years in question and assess how a successful alternative role model has adapted. Yes no apologies but we need to look at Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. Now we know how strong a personality both Wenger and Ferguson have and we know how stubborn they can both be. So why then in the 15 years that Primorac has presumably coached our teams with largely the same methods has Ferguson overseen multiple changes in his coaching set ups?

When Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury in October 97 he brought Boro Primorac with him and installed the softly spoken ex Yugoslavian international as 1st team coach, but sensibly he retained Pat Rice and made him Assistant Manager. In the first season the new team took Arsenal to the League and Cup double. At Old Trafford the great working relationship between Ferguson and Kidd was showing signs of strain. Kidd wanted more and Blackburn offered it to him. Please bear in mind that promoting from within was the norm and Kidd himself had been promoted to assistant to Ferguson in 1991 having been Youth team coach previously. Logic therefore might have suggested that Ferguson promote Jimmy Ryan from his position as Reserve team Manager but the Scot decided otherwise. Ryan was promoted to Assistant Manager but in a departure for United Fergie employed a separate 1st team coach. He had sought advice from people whose opinions he respected and appointed a relative unknown in Steve McClaren, Jim Smith’s right hand man at Derby County. McClaren was known for using modern coaching methods at the time, particularly video analysis and sports psychology. United won the title back from us in 1999 in his first full season, as part of the historic treble and two further titles in 2000 and 2001, and after the first season Ryan stepped back down to the reserves leaving Maclaren as both Assistant and coach.

McClaren, by now also assisting England part-time wanted more and seeing himself unlikely to succeed Fergie moved on to become Manager of Middlesbrough for the start of 2001/2. Looking back it was the season that Fergie announced he was to retire and he took his eye of the ball. He re-promoted Jimmy Ryan to Assistant and this time promoted from within to bring Mike Phelan in as coach, from the Youth set up. I have always look backed considering this Arsenal’s finest ever year, clinching the double, and of course securing the league at Old Trafford. I now on reflection wonder whether the combination of Fergie announcing his retirement and his skilled coach leaving might not have contributed.

Once Ferguson had reversed his retirement decision he set about re-energising his first team set up and again having done his research surprised the footballing establishment by bringing in a new Assistant with fresh ideas to work alongside himself and Phelan. Carlos Queiroz, brought huge experience having managed Portugal, Sporting Lisbon and the UAE amongst others. However he has earned his reputation as a coach of talented young players and in winning the World Youth Championship in 1989 and 1991 he was largely responsible for bring through Portugal’s ‘Golden Generation.’ When Fergie enticed him to Old Trafford he had just achieved the impossible and qualified South Africa for the 2002 World Cup Finals before falling out with the SA football authorities. With the new fresh set up Fergie once again took the initiative back from Wenger and Arsenal winning the Premiership in 2003.

The following season Queiroz received an offer he could not refuse to coach Real Madrid. He only lasted a year and then returned but in the one year Ferguson and Phelan muddled through Wenger/Primorac and Arsenal went on to make history. Worryingly I not sure about you guys but I have spotted a trend here. Every year Arsene Wenger won the league it was in the first year of a new coaching set up or a transitional year at old Trafford. This is not to lessen in anyway Arsenal’s achievements but more to reinforce the message of how important getting the coaching set up and chemistry right can be.

Between 2004 and 2010 Ferguson, Queiroz and Phelan reunited as a team shared 4 Premierships equally with Mourinho and Clarke, whilst Arsenal struggled along with the same management and coaching team and one assumes methods utilised in early successful years. However coaching and methods to improve players, even at the top level have moved on and I fear that perhaps at Arsenal we have not moved with the times. Perhaps the test of greatness in management terms, as with great players is not to be as proud and conceited as to think you cannot improve further, learn from others and crucially embrace new ideas. There are many managers of today who freely admit that they learned from Wenger and Primorac when they first arrived. The diet regimes and training methods were copied by others at the turn of the century and no one has truly managed to emulate the fast movement and passing football of a great Arsenal sides in their pomp. However in other areas the world of football and football coaching has moved on and I fear our set up has not. What was radical in 1997 is old hat in 2012.

The point is pressed home the most emphatically during the final phase of the Manchester united and Fergie story. Whilst you all know who Mike Phelan is how many of you have asked yourself or others who is the other guy always sat with Fergie in the dugout? Well he is United’s 1st team coach and he is a Dutchman called Rene Meulensteen.

This final chapter emphasises again the forward thinking and ever adapting approach under Ferguson at old Trafford. Meulensteen achieved little as a player becoming a youth team coach at Nijmegen before retiring at 29. He now holds the UEFA Pro Coaching license which he completed in 2006, but this is not what I suspect appealed to Fergie.  Meulensteen knew what his coaching beliefs were from a young age. He was an admirer of the Wiel Coerver who had been a successful trophy winning coach at Feyernood in the 1970s and had gone on to pioneer a new method of football coaching. Whilst in the Netherlands Rinus Michels is called the Father of ‘Total football’ Wiel Coerver is known as the ‘Albert Einstein of football.’

The Coerver Method is a coaching technique which Coerver created. By analysing videotapes of various great players including Pele he devised a new concept in football which advocated that skill could not only be inherent with the young players but could also be passed on in a comprehensive academic way. Under this technique, players progress in a structured manner, pyramidal, from basics of ball mastery to a tactically driven group attack. They would be exposed to the other essentials like receiving and passing, moves (1v1), speed and lethal finishing.

Coerver has inspired a multi-national franchised coaching regime set up in 1983 by ex Chelsea legend Charlie Cooke and ex Wimbledon player Alfred Galustian using his methods. Coerver coaches and often Galustian himself provide technical assistance and programmes to federations and clubs all over the world. You have to google Coerver Coaching to find multiple advocates from the top echelons of football and the length of this blog prevents the numerous tributes and quotes but suffice to say Houlier;s revival of French football in the 1990s he puts down to Coerver methods and this quote from closer to home is worthy of inclusion:

“We at Arsenal are strong believers in the Coerver Program..we want all our young players to be exposed to it so we invited Alfred Galustian to instruct our Academy Coaches in his Method”

LIAM BRADY: Academy Director – Arsenal FC

Meulensteen however followed Coerver to Quatar, where he was still coaching well into his 70s to learn from the original master and not his disciples. He worked with his hero learning from him whilst coaching the Quatari Youth. He then went on to coach a Championship winning club side but Ferguson had been watching and in 2001 thinking well ahead he convinced Rene to come to Manchester as ‘Skills Development Coach’ responsible for installing a Coerver inspired coaching regime for all players from 9 to 21 at Old Trafford. In 2005 whilst retaining this role Fergie promoted him to run the reserves as well. Such was Meulensteen’s success and growing reputation that Brondby tempted him away to in June 2006, but under Rene felt many promised were broken and he soon returned in January 2007 but this time as Technical Skills Consultant to the first team. When Queiroz left again to manage Portugal for the second time it was the influential behind the scenes Dutch technicial who Fergie turned to. He promoted Phelan to his assistant and installed Meulensteen as his full time first team coach. Wiel Coerver passed away in 2011, aged 86 but not before seeing his young protégée coach United  to 3 Premierships.

Hugely long blog I know but it is a wide and serious subject which creates a compelling argument. The argument being that whilst Manchester United have continually changed their coaching set up, sought out top new practioners and embraced new technology and coaching, Arsenal have retained the same 3 individuals. Old Trafford has seen Fergie and Kidd, Fergie, McClaren and Ryan, Fergie and McClaren, Fergie and Ryan, Fergie, Queiroz and Phelan, Fergie and Phelan, Fergie, Queiroz and Phelan and Fergie, Phelan and Meulensteen over the 15 years of Wenger’s regime. In that time we have seen Wenger, Rice and Primorac, and for the whole 15 year Primorac has been responsible for our 1st team players coaching and the most we know about him is that Ray Parlour once said he was a nice chap!!

Sorry Boro but we need radical change and it needs to be more than just the introduction of a good old Gunner legend, with no hair.  Steve Bould will motivate I am sure but Ferguson has demonstrated that bringing in new thinking and ideas at the right time proves a invaluable and that time is long overdue at the Arsenal. One positive is that Bould has been working for Brady and the quotes do suggest coaching based on high technique has been embraced within the Arsenal Academy. Nevertheless now is the time for the board and Wenger to think outside the box as Alex Ferguson has done time and time again to keep his team ahead of the pack.

Sorry to drone on today and thanks if you have made to the end but this one has been bothering me for a while…. Oh really Dave!

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