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Born to be a footballer. Liam Brady and I have some parallels. We are both from Dublin, we come from large families, and being almost 2 years older than me, we grew up in that same milieu of Irish nationalistic Catholic forces controlling a poor country on the edge of Europe. He differs in that his brothers are all older and several were professional footballers before him. His uncles and outside family also played sport at the highest level in Gaelic games so it inspired the title of his book Born to be a footballer. Johnny Murphy, David O'Leary, Frank Stapleton and Liam Brady as young Irish kids at Arsenal He bumped up against the same Catholic forces early in his career as, when picked to captain Ireland against Wales at under 15, his school, run by the Christian Brothers, refused to let him go to represent a foreign game. He was expelled and forced to find another school exactly when studying for an important state exam. This was par for the course in the 60’s and 70’s, and in every area of society, the Catholic church held sway. Not so chippy about his nickname Around the same time he was chosen by Arsenal, despite, typically of an Irish kid at the time, being a Man Utd fan. He recalls an early occurrence during this time when the chief scout at Arsenal, his parents and himself were taken out to a fancy restaurant in London. His mother looked at the menu and said “he only eats chips”. And his immortal nickname was born, from fried potatoes and not an ability to chip the goalkeeper. The name never went away, although, reading the book, I am not sure he particularly likes it. This is how to win an FA Cup He broke into the first team at 18, under the mentorship of the legendary Alan Ball, and it wasn’t too long before everyone realized we had something special. If you do nothing else, look at a Youtube highlights clip to get an appreciation of what he could do on the pitch. The art of dribbling around multiple players has gone from modern football as has the degree of ball artistry that we could see on a regular basis. There was an excitement when Brady got the ball, a cheer from the fans, and an expectation of something different. Watch him ghost through several players near the end of the famous Brady cup final of 1979 against Manchester United, as Arsenal were on their knees when Man U rattled in two goals late on to almost destroy us. He took the ball well in our own half, with nothing on and players with heads bowed, and cut through Man U, bringing the ball close to the edge of the box, whipping it out to Graham Rix on the wing, who fired it in to Alan Sunderland, and one of our most famous late goals was created out of Brady’s magic. Juventus wanted him and the Arsenal board were greedy We all loved him but knew Arsenal were stingy with money, particularly with home grown players. When he bravely moved to Juventus in the early 80’s, there was little personal anger towards him. We hadn’t done anywhere near enough to keep what was probably the best player in the league. And so he went to Italy for huge money and a team brimming with many world superstars, Tardelli, Rossi, Zoff, Gentile, Scirea and Cabrini were integral parts of Italy’s 1982’s World Cup winners and Juventus had the legendary Giovanni Trapattoni as manager. It must have seemed an extreme ask of a kid from Dublin but Liam became one of the fans favourites and is still loved there today despite being ousted after 2 years by the arrival of Michel Platini, then probably the best midfielder in the world. Brady and Juventus - a love story Brady was incandescent with rage when told the news and said he would never play for them again. But on the last match of the season, there was a penalty given, and Brady, being the penalty taker, was urged by his teammates to take it. He stepped up and scored to win them the title in his last significant kick for them. But you can still trace the bitterness in this book as he recounts the story. He loved Juventus, the fans, his teammates, playing on the biggest stage in world football at the time. He and his wife learned Italian, loved the country, the food, and their fabulous villa by the lake. And it was all snatched away. But he spent many more years in Italy and is an iconic figure there. Italy took football very seriously One aspect that struck me on reading the book was how different the footballing culture was in Italy. England were dominating European football at the time but Italy had already embraced changes which Arsene Wenger brought with him a long time later, a good diet, little alcohol, top training facilities, etc. English football dominated despite the fast food, hard drinking and basic training culture prevalent at the time. Brady reunited with Trappatoni at Ireland All aspects of Liam’s life are covered here, from the early days with Arsenal and Ireland, to Italy and back to West Ham, where he seems to have had a very positive experience, on to his managerial days. First at Celtic, where a combination of many factors conspired against success, and then Brighton for 3 years. The Brighton years are a fascinating read of mismanagement at boardroom level as the club was laid low by greed. Brady did well considering all, but often had to dig into his own pocket to keep things going. He, however, kept in touch with all developments and played a role in getting the club back on its feet. He still lives there and is immensely pleased at how good management turned the club around to being probably the biggest success story, given their resources, in the Premier league. Anecdotal Bulgaria and other great stories Oh and by the way, there are several mentions of Bulgaria throughout the book as Ireland had them on the international stage, well worth reading. And also a good tribute to Paul Dickov, who Brady had at Brighton. He was full of praise for him. Brady always supported Arsene Wenger All the way through, there are references to funny and illuminating passages in his life. Pavarotti, silk pyjamas, Trappatoni’s 2 fingered whistle and his insistence that players must know their jobs and work very hard, his love of music, his “friendship” with Bono, the mentorship of Johnny Giles, his bizarre relationship with Jack Charlton, his media work and his struggles with Ireland’s most controversial football pundit, Eamon Dunphy, the early days with Arsenal, the amazing Irish connection, the amount of good friends he has in football, some surprising to me, and the list goes on and on. But don’t miss out on the funny story with Bruce Rioch. He spanned all our modern history The critical element to Liam Brady and this book, for football fans, is that he straddled all the important history, from Bertie Mee’s double to Terry Neill’s FA cup finals, both with the legendary Don Howe to guide them. Then the 90’s and the emergence of Arsene Wenger, with whom he built up a very strong partnership with Wenger famously saying that Liam was the most important person at the club. David Dein made an inspired decision to match Liam Brady with Arsene Wenger David Dein, the man who made the modern Arsenal, appointed Brady as Academy director in the mid 90’s, and insisted that Brady’s job was not to be connected to the manager’s, he could not be fired. He wanted someone who understood the continental values and culture that Wenger famously brought with him to change English football. The Academy kids could have continuity and safety because Brady was always a decent man and insisted on giving bad news to players and their families in person. All the Hale End stars bouncing bright for Arsenal now were first nurtured by Brady. Here he has produced a top class football book. It will stay as a classic of the genre forever, I feel. As a writer, a storyteller, an insight into 3 different worlds of football, the international, the pre-Premier League days of English football, and the all encompassing milieu and harsh cauldron of Italian football as it pushed along the modern game. Liam has shown a great talent as a chronicler of football and I hope he produces another tome for us to enjoy. But for us fans, it was the beautiful football he could produce, we were enthralled by the way he played, the grace, the movement, the balance, the goals, we couldn’t get enough of our wonderman. Johnny Giles said he was the most beautiful footballer Ireland ever produced, and I am going to say also for Arsenal. He was bello, stupendo, and in modo magnifico and definitely Nato per fare il calciatore.
The greatest of all time And so in 1953, we had more championships than any other English team with 7 titles and 3 FA Cups achieved in 16 competitive years between 1931 and 1953 with 6 war years lost. We were the best, the famous Arsenal and the only southern team, to that time, to win the league more than once. We were about to embark on an unprecedented spell of winning everything. And then it all went wrong, in a scenario so familiar to Gooners, just when it all goes right, it goes haywire. Because we settled into mid-table obscurity from that point, not frightening anyone except our own supporters. The Mee Howe dynasty brought us back to greatness Then we, rather strangely, appointed the physio, Bertie Mee, as acting manager in 1966 presumably waiting for a proper candidate to appear. But Don Howe was appointed coach and that surely was the key decision. Howe was a real football man, good with players and tactics and a vast football knowledge, a bit like Arteta in our time. The Chinese dynasty sounding combination took time to get going but in 1968 we got to the League Cup final against Leeds and again the next year against Swindon, when I first set my eyes on bonny Arsenal as my love. We lost both but something was stirring in that old sleeping beast. We won the predecessor to the Europa League the following season, meaning the long wait to be Arsenal again was surely over? Howe did Mee do it? The Double 1971 - the Mee Howe dynasty's greatest achievement And wow it was! The next year we captured the almost mystical double of league and cup, only won by the Spuds in the 20th century to that point, and something our great teams of the past could not do. The combination of Mee and Howe, accidental though it was, enabled us to get back to the top, one complementing the other as it is hard to see Mee achieving it by himself and Howe never had great success as a manager. That accidental pairing brought great rewards to the Arsenal and we were surely crazy to let Howe go to West Brom straightaway as Mee found himself out of his depth and we started another downward spiral, although we remained competitive for a year or so, almost getting relegated over the next few years. The Neill Howe dynasty - not so great Terry Neill was appointed in 1977, still Arsenal’s youngest manager. He brought Don Howe back and got us to 3 FA Cups in a row and a Cup Winners Cup Final, of which we only won the famous Brady final of 1979 against Manchester United. He had 6 Irishmen to choose from and that gladdened my heart. More crucially, the pairing got us back near the top again. But then, being Arsenal, we fell back to being mediocre. Our wonderful Georgey boy And so the next crucial time was the double winner George Graham taking over in 1986. He hadn’t managed at a top club and it was a definite gamble. But it worked! He won two titles in 1989 and 1991, the FA Cup in 1993, our second European title in 1994 with the Cup Winners Cup and our only 2 league cups in 1987 and 1993, The thing is that 2 events happened fairly close together, one was the creation of the Premier league in 1992 and Graham taking a bung in 1994 which led to him getting banned and losing his job. George Graham deserves a statue The Premier league also introduced the no backpass rule and this severely discommoded George as he liked to play it very tight at the back and his team were struggling a bit in the league. The thing is that he was a very knowledgeable football man and he may well have been able to put that right and Graham seemed to be the only one to get punished for taking a backhander as it was rife in football at the time. Possibly David Dein had a hand in this as he was generally regarded as the real creator of the Premier League and had a very prominent position within it. He may not have wanted to be tarnished by dirty dealings. But if Graham had not lost his job he could have been at Arsenal for another ten years or more if he was reasonably or very successful. The Arsene Wenger era would not have happened and the magical changes he wrought turned into dust. David Dein – the magician who made everything happen Now, I am going to take a jump backward at this point to talk about David Dein as I believe his time at the Arsenal to be crucial to Arsenal once again becoming a major force in world football. He became vice-chairman of Arsenal in 1983 until 2007 and proved himself a very knowledgeable football man who cared about everyone associated with the Arsenal. Most people accept that he ran Arsenal in his time. So, the appointment of George Graham was done on his watch to bring us the great times back, and he pretty much forced the appointment of Arsene Wenger through believing that English football had fallen behind the great teams from the continent of Europe in many areas, from training facilities, to medical practices, grounds, tactics, diet, etc. He pushed for Wenger to allow him to revolutionise English football as befitted its status as the pioneers of the Premier League. David Dein - at the heart of everything Arsenal Dein was very close to the players and staff at Arsenal, he was involved in every major decision, he pushed for top players to be signed such as Ian Wright, David Bergkamp and David Platt. He allowed George Graham the freedom to bring his tactical know-how, his discipline, and his ability to shape a team where he had the best possible player available for every position to make Arsenal once again winners. The new giants He did the same with Wenger, giving him the freedom to find the players he wanted, control over training, facilities, diet, pitches, and the holistic approach to football that garnered so much success. They worked as a double act, a sounding board for each other as Dein discussed team issues and Wenger discussed financial and control issues. And as I have said, most people credit David Dein as being the creator of the Premier League which gave Arsenal and Wenger the opportunity to take their place among the giants of the era in the new televised and analysed from every angle global phenomenon that is professional soccer. The European Cup winners cup - Graham's last trophy Next week, I will finish up with the Wenger era, the expansion of mega money in football, the creation of the Emirates, the overthrow of Dein and then Arsene, the doldrums following their departures, and the hopeful awakening of a new epoch for that grand old club, the Arsenal, under Mikel Arteta. And finally, I will choose my candidate for the most important era.