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The new Matt Busby? Matt Busby - The Kids and the glamour Ah, there was a great buzz around London in the swinging Sixties, but it didn’t buzz around Arsenal. It did around Matt Busby and Manchester United. It was our first dry decade since we burst on the scene in the 1930’s under Herbert Chapman. Manchester United and Liverpool had both won titles before us so we gave them a head start. We never managed to catch them up. Can we? Certainly not easily, but with both teams up for sale, maybe they can stay still for a while, while we jumpstart a great period under Mikel Arteta. Our great years came under extraordinarily innovative managers who transformed football, Chapman and Wenger. Few clubs worldwide, even the huge ones, have had managers that brought about the changes they did. George Graham, who achieved wonders on the football pitch, didn’t really have an overall vision about football or the club, other than achieving success. Nothing wrong with that, it is the same as the majority of managers, even the true greats. Arteta achieves success? So is Arteta in the innovative mould, like his two extraordinary predecessors, or potentially more of a great football man? Does he have the vision to transform football and Arsenal in a new, unique way? Of course the first question is, can he achieve success? That is a prerequisite. He needs fantastic years of winning for people to say, the Arteta way is the best way. That is yet to be seen. He has one big difference to Chapman and Wenger, they had top achievements before Arsenal. He has none as it is his first go. And so far, it is not obvious whether he has a vision for a new way of doing things. That may come. Herbert Chapman - the founder of modern football Chapman was a groundbreaker in football, physiotherapists, floodlights, European competition, numbered shirts, and, critically, the WM formation, which is still the basis of all subsequent patterns. Wenger cared about diet, training and a holistic approach to modern footballers whereby they always had to focus on their career, their health and their fitness. He introduced an enhanced levels of training grounds and cared deeply about the surfaces on which top footballers play. He also believed they should enjoy their time on the pitch and their talent. This was in sharp contrast to the hard drinking, make do attitude prevalent, particularly in English football, at the time. He was smart enough to do things slowly, yet was boosted by the instant success which allowed him to change things to his liking easily. A better playing career Neither Wenger or Chapman had distinguished playing careers, Chapman even appearing for a team in white and black from north London that no-one has ever heard of. Wenger had even less so, with the highlight at RC Strasbourg for a short few seasons at the end of his career where he was never first choice. Arteta, though, had a pretty successful time, and was on the fringes of what was the greatest Spanish national team of all time. He won trophies at PSG, Rangers and Arsenal. Wenger changed football Perhaps a better comparison is to Matt Busby, the legend who brought Manchester United to prominence in the 50’s and 60’s. It was also his first managerial job. Busby was a good player who played for Manchester City and Liverpool. Busby wasn’t a great innovator but he did believe in European competition at a time when English football was still insular. Where Arteta and he are similar is their belief in young players, and their seeming compatibility with youngsters. Busby created the Busby Babes, speckled with great talents such as Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Liam Whelan, Dennis Violet and many others, who won the league in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and looked set to dominate football for many years. The team had an average age of 21-22. 8 died in the Munich air disaster and 2 more never played again. It took a few years for Busby to fashion a new top side in the 60’s with George Best, Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law at the forefront. Can disaster fall? If Arteta does manage to win this year, then this group of players can only get better. They have many years of development left in them and it is clear that Arteta, like Busby, wants to get the best out of them, improving one improves all is his philosophy and so he works with all players to make them better players, more tactically aware, and buying into the team system that is essential for success. The Munich air disaster stopped Busby’s team from dominating but, while it is unlikely a similar disaster could befall Arsenal, the modern day curse could derail all our hopes. Arteta could be poached, say to Barcelona, and so could our players to various major entities with large wallets. Now Arsenal are no Ajax, another recent team to have many young stars, who found their top players pinched. We have money and lots of it. If Arteta goes, though, maybe our players will follow suit. Success will be the key. The Munich disaster - a real tragedy for football There is another parallel with Busby. Busby, when he took on the job with Man Utd, insisted on a long term commitment and a five year contract plus total control of team affairs. He argued that 5 years was the time it would take him to bring Utd to the level required. There is evidence that Arteta argued the same and successfully managed to get the Kroenkes to back him longterm as he imposed his vision of how he wanted Arsenal to play, the type of players he needed and the ethos that will make Arsenal a true top team again. 13 league defeats last season and some bumpy patches never saw the Kroenke’s come out of the traps to criticize him. They believed in him, as did all of the Arsenal staff, it seems, even if that didn’t extend to all fans. A manager needs to be given a chance, even at a big club. The glamour and the glory Manchester United was the glamour club in England under Busby. They were the team players wanted to play for. There are signs that Arsenal are becoming the same with players from other teams such as Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand saying they love this new look Arsenal side. Does Arteta have the vision? We are young, we are strong, we play together and we could be immortal like all the greats of football that have flowed through our lives, making our time on this planet a brighter place. Arteta may not prove to be a big innovator like Chapman or Wenger but he could turn out to be an extraordinary manager like Busby. I would take that all day long. Bring us back to the future and the Swinging Sixties but this time Arteta and Arsenal.
George Graham was integral to both teams Red Devils vs Red Angels I could very easily have been a Manchester United supporter if it hadn’t been for the famous Swindon Town defeat of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup. Watching a team dominate, keep trying despite half of them recovering from flu, I felt sorry for them and wanted them to win. I became a Gooner that day. And I was on my own. Most people in Ireland were Man Utd and my older brother Joe certainly was. My dad was more of a GAA fan and brought us to many games but from that moment on Arsenal were my biggest sporting love. I was lucky for them as trophies followed in quick succession. As soon as I followed them, they became a big team again. A toothless Nobby Stiles celebrates The European Cup in 1968 Strangely enough Man Utd went into decline after their fabled win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. It can only be put down to one factor in my opinion, Matt Busby, the extraordinary creator of the Manchester United legend retired shortly after the Benfica win, probably because the stress of doing everything there was very draining. He had to control everything, wages, transfers, finances, the ground, in those days managers had far more to do with far less staff. So Arsenal went up, United went down. We sent them down This was reflected on the pitch in our games with them as we drew and lost in 1969-70 but hammered them 4-0 and 3-1 in our magnificent double year 1970-71. The amazing thing was, virtually all of their superstars were still there, George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and the rest but they were a mediocre team, finishing 8th both seasons. We went from 12th to 1st and I definitely believed I had handed Arsenal the lucky gene. We were back, we were Arsenal, and we were winners. Matt Busby - the genius behind Manchester United For United, relegation was the next step in 1973-74. And who started them off on that journey? You guessed it, we beat them 3-0 on their first game of the season. George Graham had switched to them but made no difference. Their huge stars had gone but they still had big names such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan and Lou Macari who helped them go down. They did manage a point off us in the return but that was the start of them being beaten by us in a significant fashion in my era. It seemed impossible for such a team to go down but they had finished 18th out of 22 the year before and then the Arsenal destroy them in their first match. It clobbered the belief out of them. The richest, most glamorous club in the world go down It was their last relegation and truly they were the biggest side I had ever seen relegated on the pitch, not by a ban like Juventus, for example. They were the richest club in the world, fans everywhere, glamour stars of which the greatest was the unbelievable Georgie Best, the best player I have ever seen, but he was unable to cope with fame. Watch the Youtubes to see things you have never seen before, he could do everything, all while getting kicked unmercifully. I believe that Matt Busby going meant the last chance for Bestie also went. He protected him. George best - the most exciting footballer I have ever seen Busby was their Herbert Chapman. He made them the greatest in England. He believed, as did Chapman, in European competition. Early connections between two greats They had 2 great managers in my era, Busby and Ferguson, and we had 2, Graham and Wenger. Later on we will get to them as they are integral to the story. But let us take a trip down memory lane first to give you an idea of the connections between 2 of the greatest clubs in England and certainly the biggest rivals in my time. Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal played out their rivalry in the 2nd division for many years. In 1898 we played an extraordinary 3 matches all finishing 5-1 with them winning only the middle one. In 1906 we both met in Division one for the first time and they won 1-0 with the wonderfully named Alexander Leek Brown Downie scoring the goal. They had become Manchester United and we were still Woolwich Arsenal. They have the edge They have the edge on us in wins, 100 to our 86 and 50 drawn. They have more trophies as you all know with only the FA cup being our lead. They are close though with 12 to our 13. Let’s hope a great spell is on the way for us with the Arteta young guns and we climb closer to them. Their 3 Champions league could be a target although it certainly doesn’t look possible from this viewpoint. We need to improve to catch up with them. A miraculous ten years would do nicely. Cup winners courtesy of Liam Brady I want to mention another time and a match that will always stick in my memory. Arsenal vs Man Utd in 1979, the FA cup final. It was yet another time when we proved their nemesis. We had all the Irish players with Liam Brady being the finest. He played superb, we were 2 goals up on 86 minutes and they were ready to go home crying. But Gordon McQueen lashed in a header and then Sammy McIlroy scored a peach and we were on the floor like Tyson Fury, eyes rolling back in our heads just like him, unconscious. Somehow Brady, Rix and Sunderland crawled up off the Wembley floor, decided we were Arsenal, we give nightmares to Man Utd, not the other way round, and scored a goal that gave me the highest level of delight I had up to the point as an Arsenal supporter. From strolling around the ring, giving Utd an odd clatter around the head to show our superiority, to being hit by a sucker punch that sent us down burst like a sack of spuds, to gathering all our pieces together and showing we were champions, it was the greatest single match I had experienced to that point. 10 years later I was to experience another fantastic moment against Liverpool but I have covered that before. This time we climbed the Wembley stairs as giants and Man Utd? It must have been sickening because if it had gone to extra time all the belief and momentum was with them. Brady gave us that little bit extra to make us win within that tiny crazy moment that was left of injury time. Alan Sunderland destroyed the ecstatic Man Utd fans Next week I will go up to the modern era, George Graham, Arsene Wenger, and the manager who was scheduled to come to us before George Graham, Alex Ferguson. The most unbelievable rivalry, the ups and downs, the earth shattering defeats, and the joyous wins.