There is a nice story about Colin Bell – one of the very best Box-to-Box players in the late 1960s/early 1970s. He was physical stamina personified. Endless energy – a player who played extra time in every First Division match. He was trained by Malcolm Allison at Manchester City who watched every step of his prize player. He knew his body measurements and his capacity to run and run. He would work himself hard in training – would do the beach runs, the cliff runs, the sprints. No one trained harder than Colin Bell but he knew his limits. He knew when he was pushing himself to the limit – he knew when it was time to stop.
Or so he thought. Time and again as Bell was flagging Allison would appear and demand even more from his protégé. Shout, scream, curse, demand, insist and of course he got it. Bell always found something more and made the extra sprint, but not from within. His mind was exhausted; he could not summon the little bit extra from his own determination. It needed Allison the Bully
What is the point? Why Bell? Why Allison? It is the Captain thing. On the pitch with three minutes to go the players need to dig deep – in defence and in midfield and in attack. Each player has to double the effort to overcome mental and physical tiredness. And it is so easy to let it slip – not to make the run – not to track back – not to cover a colleague in defence – not to make the diversionary run wide of the area to pull a defender away like Perry Groves at Anfield in ’89.
It is on occasions like this that you need the dominating personality of the captain. The man who the players love and fear in equal measure. The person they look up to for leadership and example is a captain who they dare not let down – one glance from the boss on the pitch and you find the extra yard just as Colin Bell found that extra yard 45 years ago.
Coaches matter and Captains matter. Now this is my view. But I have never coached one player – never worked in football – never taken a coaching badge so professionals can shoot me down. They have been in the trenches and have experienced the tension and pressures and demands. But this is not just a football thing. It is a life thing.
Whether it is school or parents or bosses we all recognise the person whose presence makes you think twice – makes you roll up your sleeves and draw on reserves you never knew existed.
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When we talk of leaders at Arsenal we think of players from the past – Tom Parker who captained Chapman’s title winning team, Joe Mercer who was inspirational, Dave Bowen who revived the team after defeat at Northampton Town in the FA Cup in 1957/58. More recently we think of Adams and Vieira. There is an incident – can’t remember the opponents but Vivas was left back as I recall – we were leading 3-0 away and with a just a few minutes to go Vivas went missing. Maybe he switched off but Adams went for him – big time. We could all see it and it taught me something – never, never switch off – not just in football but in anything competitive.
Our players seem not to have that dominant personality. Is that because Wenger does not like players who are a little on the edge? Or is it because he thinks the captaincy thing is overdone? Is it because modern society tends to produce followers and not leaders? Whatever hi reason we do not have a fist waving, spirit pumping leader who squeezes the extra from his players.
Mata’s goal at Old Trafford seems to suggest that two players switched off – Monreal after Valencia went past him and Walcott who did not match Mata when he made the Scholes-like break for their goal. A rousing, demanding Captain will look for this. He will be watching the body language and wonder if his players are wilting. It may be a physical thing – it may be a mental thing. The player needs to be aware – the coach too and the captain as well and when a player drifts and lapses and there is a consequence he has to know he is going to get a bollocking. We don’t want apologies – we want the errors not to occur. The players have to be so switched on – so determined. Concentration is everything.
We saw it in Copenhagen against Parma where we had to protect a slender one goal lead from Smudger. Adams was there directing operations – demanding more and then more and then more again. And the players responded and we won. But when on Saturday two players switched off at the same time something is wrong.
I would love to know how Wenger sees it – how he addresses it. The problem is going to arise many times this season. The responsibility lies with the player. He has to have a high level of professional commitment. Never switch off. I always recall the moment in Patton when the British General chides Patton for promising more long marches and ever ready commitment to fight the enemy. “Your men must love you” says the General. Patton replies “No they fear me”. He then goes on to say that as soon as they cease to fear him that is when he loses his effectiveness. Every player should fear his Captain and his Coach for lack of effort – not lack of skill. Skill is not the issue but effort is everything. Are we 110%?
Thanks for reading. Until next time.
My name is Graham Perry and I have been a lifelong Arsenal supporter since 1952 when I saw the ten men in red shirts hold out heroically until the 84th minute at Wembley.
The Arsenal thing was confirmed by a meeting with Alex James during Easter 1953. As with most of us it is a family thing with my father always waxing eloquent about the Chapman years.
I am married with four children and five grandchildren. I have been a solicitor in a legal aid practice and have just stepped down after 13 years as an Immigration Judge.
Arsenal is in the blood. The goals and the excitement matter but so does the Community thing and sharing Arsenal with friends and family over so many years.
Want nothing more than to see Wenger hold aloft the Premier League Trophy again.