The year was 2006. Arsenal had just beaten Real Madrid against all the odds in the Champions League round of sixteen. West Ham manager at the time, Alan Pardew hit out at the Arsenal team which accomplished the feat, noting the lack of Englishmen in the squad:
“I saw a headline saying Arsenal are flying the flag for Britain. I kind of wondered where that British involvement actually was when I looked at their team. It’s important that top clubs don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s the English Premier League and English players should be involved.”
Arsene Wenger responded by saying he judged players based on their talent, not on their passport. In a sense, you may feel Wenger would have liked to have more English talent at his disposal at the time, however, having moved to the Emirates Stadium, with a limited budget, it was hard to get English talent for value.
Fast forward eight years, and the tables have turned in dramatic fashion. Pardew, now managing Newcastle, has less first team English players than Wenger. In fact, Pardew has all but copied Wenger’s initial transfer strategy by buying cheap French players and selling them for a profit. Newcastle are virtually a French team now and would have had more French players had they not sold Romain Amalfitano, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy earlier in the year.
Wenger meanwhile, has not only signed a host of British talent simply because of the homegrown rule but because one of more reason – they are simply more loyal.
“We look first at quality. If the quality is local, it is of course even better because it gives you more guarantee of stability because the players who are English who play for Arsenal are more likely to stay for a longer term than foreign players.”
Having lost valuable key players in Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie to name a few over the years, Wenger has had to constantly rebuild his sides in search of trophies.
The notion that British players would be more loyal is true – they will grow with the club, gain an affinity and love for the club and are less likely to leave to say, a foreign league for big bucks unless you’re Gareth Bale. Even if there was a situation where a British player wanted to leave to another top English club, given the homegrown rule and inflation of local talent, Arsenal would receive bigger profits than they would with a foreign player as well.
Wenger now has the likes of Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Calum Chambers, Danny Welbeck, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at his disposal, with Carl Jenkinson out on loan. These players are forming the so called British core that Wenger had been craving and with most of them having played together for a while, the future is definitely bright for Arsenal.
Having won the FA Cup and Community Shield this year, those trophies have lifted a huge monkey off the players’ back and they can now challenge for more cups – and the British core will certainly play a huge role when it comes to future honours.