The clubman: a slowly dying breed at Arsenal

The years came rolling back to me over the weekend, when Arsene Wenger stepped out with Marouane Chamakh for a photo shoot. Posing with the Moroccan at his official signing, Wenger had chosen to wear a dark mustard half-pullover, half-polo combination thing. Had Chamakh’s gran come to support him? It really was a blast from the early Nineties. It was also the sort of cheesy fashion Wenger brought with him when he first joined the club, and for just a moment amid all the hysteria of the past week, I was able to dwell on some much needed blissful nostalgia.
Was Wenger trying to send out a subliminal message to calm the Gooner nation? Was the stunt purposely set up to bring back memories of the early Wenger years when Arsenal were winning league and cup doubles? Perhaps Mrs Professeur was having a wardrobe sort out. Or, maybe Wenger was just conscious of the weekend heat-wave and chose to wear something comfortable despite its horrific colour. Either way, it gave me a small lift in-between all the other heat being generated about the future of Cesc Fabregas.
More likely, the mustard sweater was a sign of an aging Wenger. Next he will be jumping out of his dug-out seat with his arms extended and clapping like a monkey with a cymbal like that senile old man down at Old Trafford. Whichever way I looked at it though, one thing played on my mind: Wenger has undoubtedly given his life to Arsenal since his arrival in 1996. He came during the Eighties hangover, a time of hideous fashion and is still here bringing it back all these years later. It’s far more than can be said of the modern footballer.
What happened to the clubman generation? Where have the Tony Adams’ of this world got to? As Wenger remains loyal to the club preparing to go loggerheads with the critics once again in September, others around him look likely to leave. Can we say Wenger, backed up by a small trusted troop in the shape of Pat Rice and Steve Bould, are the last of their kind, those whose allegiance is to Arsenal first and to themselves second?
On Cesc, I guess you could say it’s an unfortunate case of our best player happening to be from the most colourful team in world football right now. Robin van Persie fits into the same bracket at Arsenal but you don’t see him thirsting to play for Feyenoord. It’s understandable that Fabregas would want to go and play with his mates under the guidance of a childhood hero.
Things are different now to when Wenger first came to Arsenal. Since the defence of Bould, Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn Martin Keown and David Seaman broke up, who can we say slots into the same legendry category? Keown was the last to leave in 2004, and following him there is only Ray Parlour, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry who make the grade.
Let’s break it down:
Tony Adams 1983 – 2002 (504 appearances)
Lee Dixon 1988-2002 (458)
Nigel Winterburn 1987 – 2000 (440)
Dennis Bergkamp 1996 – 2006 (424)
Patrick Vieira 1996 – 2005 (406)
David Seaman 1990 – 2003 (405)
Ray Parlour 1992 – 2004 (339)
Martin Keown 1984 – 1986 and 1993 – 2004 (333)
Steve Bould 1988 – 1999 (288)
Thierry Henry 1999 – 2007 (254)
Cesc Fabregas 2003 – ?? (187)
Firstly, we first have to distinguish what makes somebody a clubman? Goals and appearance will of course score highly, but the time spent playing for one club might count for more because it is this stat which proves loyalty and duty. Substitute appearances should also score well; being relied upon for whatever role in whatever game. I’ll be so bold as to speak for the rest of us and say these players are more often cherished by the fans.
How does the table change when we put this list in order of years spent at the club?
Tony Adams 1983 – 2002 (19 years)
Lee Dixon 1988 – 2002 (14)
Nigel Winterburn 1987 – 2000 (13)
David Seaman 1990 – 2003 (13)
Martin Keown 1984 – 1986 and 1993 – 2004 (13)
Ray Parlour 1992 – 2004 (12)
Steve Bould 1988 – 1999 (11)
Dennis Bergkamp 1996 – 2006 (10)
Patrick Vieira 1996 – 2005 (9)
Thierry Henry 1999 – 2007 (8)
Cesc Fabregas 2003 – ?? (7)
Of course we have to take into consideration a few other factors. Dennis Bergkamp had to ply his trade in his homeland before making the move to the Premiership – It’s easier for a local boy to join the Arsenal ranks early and remain there. Perhaps that’s why the Dutch Iceman falls comfortably into a net with the likes of Adams, both finishing their footballing days at Arsenal.
Along the way you get special idols whose style and character inspire an era, and so we can add to the list the likes of Robert Pires (189 games) and Freddie Ljungberg (216). Need I say Thierry? Overall though, it’s obvious the days of the clubman are coming towards an end at Arsenal, when we look to the bottom of the list and notice it’s those who are active well into the Twenty-First Century.
It’s ironic that while Wenger is the cornerstone of dependability, his own odours of devotion are not being smelt by those he nurtures today. Do we lay blame on Wenger then if Cesc leaves for a European rival, just like Hleb and Flamini before him? Has he only himself to blame by not giving a chance to the next Tony Adams or the next Ray Parlour, instead dusting the way for France’s new talent? All of a sudden it doesn’t seem so easy for “a local boy to join the Arsenal ranks early and remain there.”
The global pull and the steady growth of foreign players across all the leagues is certainly a major contributor. Take a look at Inter Milan and see that even in Italy, the pinnacle of progressing domestic talent first, attitudes are changing. In this year’s Champions League Final not one Italian player was named in Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up and for other Serie A teams to meet the same success they will have to follow suit.
For some, money talks and there will always be clubs ready to accept the billions of oil-rich barons and the slick upper crust of world aristocracy.  Subsequently, more players will grab the chance to earn big money and shall be known as ‘hoppers’. If Cesc leaves, do we turn a blind eye to his stoic attitude and enormous amount of work put in this season? Should he be forgotten as a legend? It’s difficult to say, but perhaps we should just try and be less surprised next time: as the clubman is dying out, the fashion of the Nineties in all its mustard vogue has been resurrected.

LOGIN to Comment
LOGIN to Comment