The Daily Mail has a great feature on the Arsenal youth academy. The story provides a good look into this football factory that keeps turning out prodigious talent for the North London club. The academy is what Arsenal and Arsene Wenger do so well, keeping the club swimming in young talented footballers. Oddly, enough the feature also reveals what is wrong with Arsenal.
The facility itself is spectacular. It is maintained to the particular fastidious standards of the club’s manager. Guests must wear shoe covers, like those that they have at open houses, to keep the facility clean. Boots are not allowed in the lockerroom lest mud be tracked into the area.
The academy, ironically, seems to be run to an exacting Teutonic standard although it is a Frenchman heading the club. The new recruits have there standard tasks given to those on the lowest rung of the ladder. Although, they aren’t degrading just menial.
But, a secondary feature reveals what soccer fans have always suspected. The aesthetic is a far greater goal than the result at Arsenal. The Daily Mail talked with Cedric Evina, who has been with Arsenal since he was nine years old–half his life, about the youth academy. Evina exposed the flaw and the truth of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, and the academy. When talking about their training Evina says:
That’s the big thing they always hammer us with here, pass the ball quickly. When you do that, teams run after the ball. It looks nicer and it’s better to have the ball and keep passing it sharp, playing between the lines.
Emphasis mine. You see, it’s about the pretty play. It looks nice and that is the goal, if you can win that way great, but if you win and don’t look pretty, there is something wrong with that according to the Wenger Way.
Arsene, for all his good traits, cannot escape his desire for things to be in order and to look nice. The latter essentially makes him an honorary German. The Academy just reflects Wenger’s nature.
Football is art and Arsene wants to create art. But, at some point, Arsene will have to allow the kids to color outside the lines because that is when the game really becomes art. Color by numbers is not art, it is just following directions. If he does not change, “pass, pass, pass, don’t shoot, pass, pass, pass” will not be just a punchline but his epitaph.
(Of course, I could be just winding up Gooners and making huge leaps in logic.)