There are two reasons why I became, ever so gradually, a Gooner: Dennis Bergkamp and Arsene Wenger. Together, one with his head and the other with his feet, they made Arsenal what it still is today for me: a great football club that is always striving towards beautiful, winning football.
I reckon Arsenal were lucky that both geniuses arrived at Highbury around the same time, but equally, Dennis and Arsene were lucky to have found Arsenal: their spiritual home of football.
They did not just share a similar vision on how proper football should be played and an appreciation of beauty in football as a worthy quest, but also deep loyalty towards the club and a desire to leave something behind for eternity. It is a real shame they still have not been reunited to manage our club together, but hopefully this will happen soon; and the announcement that a statue will be erected for our former Dutch master during the summer might indicate that a reunion is still on the cards.
Over the last few months, I have started to feel sceptical about Arsene’s ability to move us up one more level: to the platform were the shiniest silverware is handed out, and where our club belongs. I am no saying he cannot do it anymore, and as per many previous posts, there are good reasons – rather than excuses – why he has not been able to get us back again to where we belong, and he desperately wants to be, during the last eight years.
But the whole process of getting us there again must be tiring him and the pressure he finds himself under must be nearly unbearable. Luckily, Arsene has one more year left on his contract, and as some have pointed out, next season is make or break for him. Not that he will be pushed out, and I would also not be surprised if he is offered an extension to his contract this summer, but Arsene himself will no doubt use our next season as the final measurement of whether he can move our club upwards and onwards, or not.
Being a big proponent of Total Football (TF), and a huge admirer of Louis van Gaal (the manager, not necessarily the person), I have been thinking recently how Van Gaal would do at Arsenal. If we put aside the potential difficulties he would have with the British, vitriolic media – Van Gaal is a very stubborn man who says it as he sees it and does not take fools lightly – I reckon he would be a very good alternative if and when Arsene decides his time is up.
Although both managers want their teams to play TF, they do have a different approach. I reckon there are two broad variants of TF:
- Highly prescriptive TF (Barcelona under Van Gaal and Guardiola, Ajax under Van Gaal, Liverpool under Rodgers, and Dortmund under Klopp?);
- TF with an allowance for self-expression: Barcelona under Cruijff, Barcelona under Rijkaard, Arsenal under Wenger.
The big differences between the two variants are on the one hand a strong need to adhere to sharply defined roles and tactical discipline with regards to variant one, and on the other hand, a strong need for very good footballers to really make variant two work.
Variant two can work really well, but it is a prerequisite to have a large number of quality players within the team; through either developing them or buying them, and, of course, keeping hold of them as well. Arsenal and Wenger used to be able to get, and keep hold of, world class players. There is now new hope we will be able to do this again going forward, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the case, and whether we can sustain it.
For me, Van Gaal is the master of variant one; and if it wasn’t for his difficult character and the inevitability of becoming a victim of his own success – paradoxically, he is constantly offered jobs at top clubs who already have top, top players who time and again have to be fitted into his system of football, which often leads to all sorts of power conflicts – he would now be celebrated as one of the best, if not the best, manager(s) around.
The thing is, Van Gaal would be most at home at a club with a long term vision, ambition and patience; like Dortmund, Schalke, Ajax, a sub-top Spanish side – other than RM or Barcelona, or indeed Arsenal. Van Gaal does not need many great players in his team. He calls himself a process manager and will work very closely with his team to drill them on TF tactics, specific role requirements, and role rotation. He drills a team into a footballing machine, and for that he needs flexible, adaptable and multi-skilled footballers, who can, and want to, learn from him.
He does not require a huge budget, and neither does he need many world class stars; just one or two would probably be enough for him to build a top quality team. What he did with Ajax was simply phenomenal, and I have little doubt he could turn our current Arsenal team into a top class team; given time and patience. For me, he seems the ideal man to take over from Arsene at some point in the future.
Van Gaal is perfectly happy managing the Dutch national side at the moment, but maybe he can be tempted to join us after next year’s World Cup: I am sure he would relish the opportunity. Arsene’s contract is up and he could move upwards, whilst Dennis could join Van Gaal as his number two, and do all the PR.
Arsene, Dennis and Van Gaal: now that would be some trio to make Arsenal a top, top European side for the next 10 to 15 years or so!
Written by: TotalArsenal.