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  1. There’s only one magic number - 114 114 is the magic number. How come? Because that is when you have won all your matches in the Premier League. And the best so far? 100 points in 2018 for Manchester City. In recent years City have moved into realms only achieved in a few leagues such as Bayern Munich in Germany, Real Madrid in Spain, or Juventus in Italy. Bayern have 33 titles, well ahead of the best in England. Real Madrid have 36. Juventus also have 36. Bayern have a 91 points record but from 34 matches. Madrid have 100 from 38 matches. Juventus have 102 from 38 matches. Juventus will do anything to stay top and have been relegated to prove it These are astonishing numbers. They point to a supremacy that emphasises the gap between the top and the rest. Is it good? I say no. It means that there is little fairness in the system and the big teams grab any margin they can in their favour. Any advantage is a good advantage Margins are the reality now in major sports. What will give you any advantage no matter how small. The aim? To get to 100%. Then you win all matches. Before, if your star player or players were injured you would lose, but 5 subs and huge squads mean that, for instance, when Ederson at City was injured, Ortega came in and nobody could spot any difference. Guardiola rotated with abandon last season and still got 91 points. De Bruyne and Haaland were also injured but the margins were covered. Grealish was regarded as vital the previous season but this season struggled for a game. No Ederson - no problem Having a top class large squad of almost interchangeable players gives you the most improvement to your margins. The capacity to hire and fire players is also crucial. Guardiola and his team rarely seem to get it wrong. Cole Palmer? There is De Bruyne, Foden, Rodri, Silva, Grealish and many others there. He probably would have had to wait for a chance that might not have come. We must sell better One margin in this area that City have been doing better than Arsenal is in selling. We have let a lot of players go cheaply. Pepe, anyone? We have bought better in the past two seasons. Rice, Havertz, Trossard and Raya spring to mind but I feel we will be trying to sell players this summer and I am not sure if we will get a good price. I suggested here that up to 15 players could go and some may have to go cheaply. We will probably buy 3 or 4 but most likely for big money. Cole Palmer - Chelsea's best player couldn't get a game at City My point is that all margins have to be in our favour as they are at City. It is not enough to get most things right. City are close to achieving that 100% margin and we must beat them. Can we? We have to get everything right What do we need to get right? The players for sure. They must be good enough to win all matches. The manager must be able to get the maximum from his players. Does Arteta get more from his players than Guardiola? We will see. The recruitment and selling team must be able to buy and sell sustainably. Letting players go for free or cheap is a margin against us. The backroom team for the health and fitness of the players must ensure that injuries, stamina, and speed, etc. are kept to the best possible margin. Pepe - great business for Arsenal The business people in the club must gain every margin they can in maximising revenue from ticket sales, TV rights, merchandising, and memberships, to grow year on year. City have consistently moved upwards in fan numbers every year. Can Arsenal do the same? The Kroenkes are crucial to gaining the upper hand I feel that it is these margins for success that the Kroenkes are aware of. They know they must gain an advantage over City if they are to win. City, are, I suspect, saying the same thing. They must ensure that the margins they have at the moment are kept. Guardiola has come out on top of Arteta every year so far. We must get better. Can we? Who are the rivals? Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa, the Spuds, and Newcastle are the chasers. I believe there are grounds for optimism with these clubs. I will go through them as they are written above but it is difficult, at this juncture to say who are the strongest. Upheaval at all rivals bar one Manchester United seem to need a squad overhaul with plenty of players coming in. Bedding them in will be a challenge. They also need to get their backroom teams at their peak to minimise injuries, etc and the new business management team will probably take some time to get their margins right. I will be surprised if Man Utd can get things right quickly enough. If they do start to get all margins up the following season could see them back challenging. They have huge revenue and a large fanbase to help them along. If Ten Hag is the right man this season will show this. Top four will be their best hope I feel. Will the new manager slot in at Liverpool? It is a huge ask and rarely happens when an iconic manager departs. Lots of good players and a system in place that tries to maximise the margins as Liverpool have got huge points totals in recent years but again I feel that they need to be really lucky with Arne Slot. Again I feel that top four is the best they can hope for. Arne Slot needs everything to go right at Liverpool - could be another Ten Hag Chelsea again have a new manager and while that worked for Abramovich it doesn’t work for Boehly. They need everything working right everywhere to challenge City and us. All margins wound to the top. Another bad year, I expect. Villa could make a jump upwards Villa? Unai Emery knows all about chasing down the margins. He will be working hard to get to 100%. Champions League football will make it harder. I feel he can be the dark horse, particularly if he buys right. The biggest danger. The Spuds? It seems like they have shot themselves in the foot again. When the Euros is over there are still top clubs and countries out there looking for a manager that wants to win. Ange could be their man. He lost the battle to get them to think like winners and that’s a big margin to change. He won’t be able. He will need the chasing pack to be poor, I feel, if he is to get top four. Newcastle? Their Arab owners are looking at every margin and trying to get them in their favour but the financial ones are a hamstring. Rumours are they have to sell. They could challenge for top four but I suspect they won’t quite get there. We will need more points, maybe quite a few more No player must be irreplaceable - not even Saliba If Arteta and the gang manage to put a couple more small margins in our favour we can do it. They will look at every area and see where we can improve. But so will City. Last year was our lucky year with minimal injuries. We will need to buy well and for the whole squad to be ready. Arteta will need two top players in every position so that even if William, Bukayo, Declan, or Martin get injured, we can carry on winning. We will need a huge amount of points and if I am right that the chasing pack are weaker this year, several more than last season. We will need to be close to that 100%. We need the magic number 114 in our sights.
  2. 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.
  3. A Midsummers Nights Dream Last time we had just come out of the 70’s. We had beaten Liverpool and Juventus in semi’s. We gave Valencia a tough game in the Cup Winners Cup final. We played 70 matches and somehow came close to winning the league, losing a few at the end because of all the hard replays against Liverpool. We were ready to come out of the blocks. I was dreaming of a red and white year for 1980-81. We signed Kenny Sansom from Palace, who was a superb full back and all round footballer. He was one of the best England full backs ever and would go on to be an Arsenal legend. Sadly, his is also at the end a tragic story and one day I will write about that. But his transfer was surreal. We had just bought Clive Allen and he went to Palace in a swap without ever playing. Rumours were flying that the Allen transfer was a setup. And we had kept Liam Brady. He was training with the team. Except there came a nightmare. A Shakespearean twist. Kenny Sansom, a great buy from Palace The Merchant of Turin Gianni Agnelli II had other ideas. The immensely powerful Fiat owner who also owned Juventus decided Brady was his man. It was an easy sell. Arsenal were being stingy and Brady was on a low wage even compared to some others in the squad. He was PFA player of the year and Arsenal player of the year for the past 3 seasons. It was crazy but Terry Neill (managers decided wages in those days) figured that Brady would never leave because he was pure Arsenal. He was on £300 per week and that suddenly jumped to £3,000. They gave him £250,000 just to sign on! Nobody on this planet would turn down that class of money. Agnelli made Brady an offer he couldn't refuse The annoying thing was that almost certainly if Neill had made him Arsenal’s top earner which he deserved as the best player, he may well have stayed. Arsenal, to this day, have kept this reputation of not wishing to spend money, a constant moan of the fans (letting go staff on low wages during Coronavirus being an egregious example), and this was just stupid. Brady was 24, recognized as one of the star players throughout Europe and should have had one of the top salaries in England. Instead he was a long way short of even being the highest paid at Highbury. I was very disappointed with Arsenal and a bit fed up. We can’t be a big club without the ambition to keep our top players. It Was Not As We Liked It I was looking enviously at Forest, who were willing to splash the cash for the best. The Spuds had brought in World Cup winners in Villa and Ardiles, Ipswich had brought in Thijssen and Muhren and others and were playing great football. Liverpool or Man U never worried about buying the top players. We sold our best. As I have said, in those days the manager had great power and our duo of Neill and Don Howe were letting us down. Bringing in Sansom was great as Rice and Nelson were coming to their end and John Devine had finally nailed down a place as full back. Our miserly attitude was the problem. Sansom, while a superb player, was a fullback and was no substitute for Brady, who ran our midfield. That was the low point for me, not Brady going. I don’t really remember much anger at him. He would have had to be crazy not to go. What we didn't want to see- Brady for Juventus I feel that this decision ultimately led to Neill losing the support of the Arsenal fans and the dark days that I could feel coming. We were just short of being great and we should have kept Clive Allen and Brady alongside Sansom. We were Arsenal. Where was our ambition? Our courage? Gone missing when we needed it. The Tempest The first match of the season showed this, beaten by West Brom and then a draw against Southampton reflected our lack of bottle. Ipswich, Forest and even Aston Villa, showed you could challenge Liverpool, but not us, it seemed. Beating them over 4 hard matches the previous season seemed not to matter to the Highbury elite. We could, and should have been challenging. I was fed up. For the first time, I started looking at other teams and saying, why is that not us? This, for me, was the low point since I started following Arsenal. Okay, we beat Coventry and had our next match against the Spuds, who had flown out of the traps and looking like they could even win the league. We beat them 2-0 and Pat Jennings played superb as did our whole team. But the Tottenham hooligans had caused dreadful scenes before the match and it left a sour taste in the mouth. Fan violence is disgraceful and has no place in football for me. I don’t go to matches to be afraid but that was standard in those days and still today, there is a huge security presence at football matches. Have a laugh with the opposing fans but why hate them? They are you, they love football, only that they support a different team. Arsenal have one of the better reputations in London for this but it is more being the best of a bad bunch and we also have our nasty boys, willing to hospitalize opposing fans. Sickening. Was a Winter’s Tale coming? So, what happened in our matches? We came 3rd to Aston Villa and Ipswich so we did well, I suppose, but we won nothing. Spurs sent us home crying 1-0 in the League Cup 4th round and Everton gave us tears in our eyes in the 3rd round of the FA Cup 2-0. Spurs got their revenge also at White Hart Lane in the league 2-0. Spurs won the FA Cup, beating Manchester City in a replay 3-2 in a great final, with Villa and Ardiles playing superb. It is hard to claim supremacy in London that season because they won that and knocked us out of the League Cup. They finished 10th but with a trophy. And we had lost 3 and drawn one of our last six. For the first time, I wasn’t hopeful for the next season. We had our chance to make a statement and we didn’t. That moment, at the start, when we lost both Brady and Clive Allen, signalled to me that we just weren’t serious about being a great team. The people at the top didn’t want us to be Arsenal.
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