This was never the plan. Arsene looks down at his miniature version of the N5 with the Emirates stadium placed right on the rail line and just south of Highbury. Here in front of him was his very own Kandor, minus the shrunken citizens, but a reminder of what was and what could have been abstracted from reality.
The plan was simple: get the players in young, have them play together and develop a bond and when they all came good at the same time it would be Arsenal’s very own “golden generation”. By picking 16 year olds from Spain like Cesc, and from Southampton like Walcott, you could eliminate some of the uncertainty of banking on players who are 9 or 10, and hoping that they come good in a decade. Instead, you could accelerate the academy process, if you picked right.
Put those young players in real games, not practice sessions or reserves games, with legends like Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp and it would accelerate their learning curve while teaching them what it means to be Arsenal. Pay them well too, that had always been Arsene’s philosophy, it was the first thing he did when he took over at Arsenal, paid everyone well.
It should have worked but it didn’t.
One by one the players abandoned the project. Some were lured by greed, like Cole, Adebayor and Nasri. Some were lured by the siren call of their homeland like Cesc. And some were lured by the promise of trophies and playing with better players, like van Persie. Each seemed to have their reasons but in the end, the important thing is that they left. There’s only one remaining, Theo Walcott, and he wants assurances that Arsene could never give.
Dein saw it coming, Arsene’s old friend, the rise of the super-billionaires. “Soccer” was being broadcast in America. The Chinese were getting richer. All of Asia was booming. And football is the world’s sport. It was only a matter of time before English Football, the home of football, would be the hottest commodity in the world.
£70m or £100m a year seemed like a lot of money in 2004 but Dein saw the writing on the wall. The scale and rate of change in English football was going to be astronomical. Abramovich spent money like water to build Chelsea from a shit-hole of a team full of racist fans into one of the biggest brands in world football. £70m is what Roman would put out for 2 players. Chelsea’s salary would double Arsenal’s. Once that happened, building a stadium that seated 60,000 and brought in an additional £70m in revenue? Chump change. Arsenal would need their own billionaire to compete.
“Kick greed out of football”? Impossible. So why not kick greed into the boardroom? Dein tried by bringing Kroenke to the table. But he soon realized that Arsenal didn’t need an owner who would be happy making a few million pounds off developing some property around the stadium, they needed an owner who would speculate to accumulate. Dein was wrong about Kroenke. Kroenke was small potatoes. Dein needed a big, Uzbek, potato and his London based Persian partner: Usmanov and Moshiri.
But Arsene and the board rejected that notion outright and Dein was fired.
Arsene could think back to the board from the 2004/2005 season; Clive Carr, Richard Carr, Lady Nina, Ken Edelman, Danny Fiszman, Ken Friar, Sir Gibbs, and Peter Hill-Wood. The only remaining members from that group are Ken Friar and Peter Hill-Wood and Hill-Wood is on borrowed time as the specter of a heart attack looms over him.
The management’s not the same either. Pat Rice retired last summer after one of the toughest 4th place finishes Arsene has ever endured. Where are the familiar faces? Who can he talk to about the way forward? Jack Wilshere? He’s all that will be left once Theo is gone.
And so, Arsene’s Arsenal and his dream of building a golden generation, of self-sustaining football bringing the club glory for decades, lies in tatters. And he is all alone, beset by enemies and relying on strangers. The warmth of Highbury has turned into a frozen fortress of Arsene Wenger’s solitude, The Emirates.