Arsenal released their new away kit this week to a small amount of fanfare. I personally stopped buying the shirts a few years ago and I’m not much of an aesthete either truth to be told. I like the yellow and blue because I associate it with the Arsenal of my childhood. But in the strictest historical sense, white and blue are more traditional away colours. It’s unlikely the away kit will stay yellow for next year, as from a marketing perspective, the change kits have to differ from one another significantly enough for people to repeatedly purchase them.
Half the reason I no longer buy them is because I tend to collect retro shirts and, frankly, I’ve got more red and white and yellow and blue Arsenal shirts than I know what to do with. The yellow will reappear as a “nostalgia” item every few years before being consigned to the back of the cupboard for a while. What was interesting for me about this kit launch was the unequivocal celebration of the “British core” that exists at the club. Past away strip promotional campaigns have hinted at marketing the young British element of the club.
Announcing the contract extensions of Jenkinson, Walcott, Ramsey, Gibbs, Chamberlain and Wilshere simultaneously was the first step on the path of openly marketing “The British Core™”. Yet the publicity for the away kit launch was more flagrant. Sure it’s largely for advertising purposes and perfectly harmless. But it did make me wonder what Arsene Wenger, the man who famously said, “When you represent a club it’s about values and qualities, not about passports,” makes of it all.
It got me thinking, does having a core of young Brits at the club actually matter beyond PR purposes? Has Arsene accepted the compromise between the sporting side and the marketing side of managing a football team? Or has his thinking evolved? This interview from January suggests it has. The angle seems to be that, having watched young acquisitions such as Nasri, Fabregas, van Persie and Alex Song leave the club earlier than he had wanted, a nucleus of young Brits is likely to be less flighty.
One might point to Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell as notable exceptions to that maxim. He may just have been ad-libbing, but in the pre unveiling spiel, Tom Watt addressed the crowd and wondered aloud if Arsenal’s ‘British core’ had been behind the renewed spirit that seemed to galvanise the Arsenal side in the final ten games of last season. I’d like to think that most people agree that the concept of “bulldog spirit” being an exclusively British quality has been disproved. The Spanish national side certainly doesn’t seem to lack resolve.
Besides which, Jenkinson, Wilshere and Chamberlain spent much of that ten game unbeaten run peering on from the bench whilst foreign generals such as Arteta, Mertesacker and Sagna came to the fore. I do think the central point though, that Arsenal are less likely to lose their fledgling Brits to wanderlust is to a degree, true. Not out of any lofty sense of steadfast loyalty. British players show much less inclination to travel abroad. Since Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in England, there’s just a smaller pool of clubs we can lose them to assuming they don’t want to emigrate.
Even as Theo Walcott’s contract seemed to be running to its conclusion, the clubs he was heavily linked with were Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. There was no talk of Spain, Italy or Germany. Maybe Theodinho or Titi Walcoté, having already shown a desire to abscond to England as a teenager, would have thought less of joining Borussia Dortmund or Juventus. Walcott ultimately signed a new deal because Arsenal acquiesced to his wage demands. Somewhat fittingly, I imagine Walcott’s advisors would have proffered his “marketability” as a crucial factor in their estimation of his worth.
Loyalty rarely really existed in football in the much celebrated age of yore. Players’ opportunities were just more restricted. Charlie George freely admits that he had an agreement to join Spurs before he was sold to Derby in 1975. In the 50s Arsenal were rebuffed by Stanley Matthews on the basis that he was settled in Blackpool. One imagines that would have been a more taxing choice for Sir Stanley in the post maximum wage era.
All of our young Brits left lower ranked football league clubs to further their development with us at some stage. (Wilshere – Luton, Walcott and Chamberlain – Southampton, Ramsey – Cardiff, Jenkinson – Charlton and Gibbs – Wimbledon). However, as myself and a few others sat and chatted with Carl Jenkinson on Tuesday (I know, I’m a horrible name dropper) it’s difficult to relay just how genuine he sounded when he described pulling on an Arsenal shirt as “a privilege.”
It’s clear that Chamberlain, Ramsey, Wilshere, Jenkinson, Gibbs and Walcott have bonded as friends, which you would hope could manifest itself into long term chemistry on the pitch. However, Arsene will know from experience that where there’s a core, a clique isn’t far away. I don’t profess any inside knowledge whatsoever, but I often wondered if the Invincibles side was dismantled so swiftly as a result of internal strife as much as stadium debt.
It’s guesswork on my part, I’d like to appendage my guesswork as “educated” but I’ll leave that for you to decide. But it looked like a Franco Spanish split might have expedited some departures in that squad. Stories leaked that Lauren (raised in Seville from a very young age) and Patrick Vieira came to blows shortly after a 1-1 away draw with Rosenborg in September 2004. A month later, controversy ensued as Spanish coach Luis Aragones was filmed racially abusing Thierry Henry in a less than charming rant to club colleague Jose Antonio Reyes. Reyes was later duped into telling a Spanish radio station that he was playing with “some bad people”, suggesting that he was ostracised.
I don’t believe that tension was based consciously on nationality you understand, even if Robert Pires did jokingly refer to Arsenal as “A French club.” But sometimes when coteries form, divides can appear. Of course I’m not suggesting that the British lads are going to go around bullying the foreign players, leaving cloves of garlic in the French players’ lockers because Arsenal’s marketing department put them on a podium together. I think Arsene is right to think he has a greater chance of keeping a band of young Brits together, even if it’s not necessarily out of high minded notions of allegiance.
Don’t get me wrong, the marketing aspect of “The British Core™” is unlikely to have any ramifications on the team. Whilst I think Wenger will encourage the bond between his Britons, I think he’ll know that the mix of experienced continentals, such as Mertesacker, Sagna, Podolski and Arteta, are just as important. Camaraderie and winning mentality communicate themselves in any accent. Vive la difference, as we say in England. LD.
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