The future of Arsenal by TJ
It appears that Shad Forsythe has begun to work his magic with the reduction in “player days lost to injuries” and getting players back ahead of schedule. But that’s not the only significant change happening in the background.
When Liam Brady retired, Wenger brought in Andries Jonker to head the academy, but more than that just replace Liam – the challenge was to bring the academy to a world class standard. Wenger had previously tried to get Jonker after Euro 2012 but he instead took a role as Felix Magath’s assistant at Wolfsburg.
It is now Jonker’s job to realign Arsenal’s youth teams with the best teams on the continent. The target is to develop players who will one day take the place of the likes of Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez.
Just prior to Jonker’s appointment, Wenger’s developmental philosophy was reaffirmed at the Oct, 2013 AGM “The future of Arsenal will rely on the quality of the work we do inside, to scout and develop players. We are respected all over the world for values; we are not artificial”
So much so, David Beckham’s kids attend the Hale End academy (not the Manchester academy), Frank Lampard Snr’s grandson attends the Hale End academy (and not the Chelsea academy).
Suddenly there is a determination about the place to produce some special players, technically and physically proficient enough to bring them through the system with some modern coaching methods. Jonker has already called for an overhaul of the scouting network, advising his scouts (and Steve Morrow – chief scout for the academy) on what kind of players to look for.
That is the ambition around the place, with a new voice dedicating to bringing through the next generation of players who can fit in to the Arsenal way. When the young players arrive for the start of their three-hour long training session, they are taken aside and told what will be expected of them that evening. Game intelligence is key.
In the past, the academies looked for the biggest boys – but now, at least for Arsenal, it’s about the biggest brains, cultivating them with first class coaching and encouraging to pick up the habits that can lead to a career in the game. The sport has changed, with tactics, systems and emotional intelligence playing an increasing part in the modern game.
Arsenal, under the guidance of Jonker and his Dutch assistants Frans de Kat and Jan van Loon, are adapting to these demands. The kids try to mimmick the dribbles, turns, twists, flicks of the great players but the challenge is not teaching them these skills but when to use them – when to make the pass or when take on a player. Game-intelligence is precisely this and this is what academy wants to have firmly ingrained in the youth.
Ivan Gazidis wants Arsenal to be the best academy in the world and he is realistic that it will cost money and take time, but that is the ambition. The time will pass Wenger’s tenure and the club has made it clear that it intends to promote home-grown talent well past Wenger’s retirement. Any manager coming in after Wenger will have a similar approach to home-grown talent.
This is a club with a vision and ambition which all supporters can be very proud of and there is a very exciting future ahead.