How do you explain the emergence of Arsenal over the Premier League era turning into one of the biggest clubs in Europe? Alex Fynn and Kevin Whitcher look to share the ins and outs of the transformation and its relation to one man in their reporting on the development of what they brand as a ‘superclub’. (Note: This review covers the edition published in 2009 – not the latest update available through the link.)
This is not just a must-read book for Arsenal fans (as you know, I am not an Arsenal fan). This is a must-read for all those who love the game and know that it’s more than what goes on when the whistle kicks off a match that can determine a club’s fortunes. With skill, thorough research, key interviews and involved and engaging narrative style Fynn and Whitcher outline a course of events that made the club great … as well as seen it struggle to live up to the standards it set when Wenger first started chiefly due to their oversight of the stadium development.
How it is engaging is that it is written partly in the voice of an observer and partly in the voice of an invested fan. No individual escapes criticism when deemed merited, even Wenger himself. The view of the player performances and their effect on the club’s success is considered as an intelligent fan and credit is given where necessary.
The narrative appears to focus on the exploits of two central characters – David Dein and Arsene Wenger. The first part considers Dein’s efforts to turn the fortunes of his beloved club from the also-rans of the early 1980’s where they only had a few FA Cup finals to show for themselves since the double winners of 1971. The journey from Terry Neill to Don Howe to George Graham depicts Dein as someone who made it to board level but was eager to really push the club on to bigger and better things especially on the pitch. It is of great interest to see how Dein is seen as someone who is isolated from the major footballing decisions in the Graham years and the little regard that Graham had for him and how that would influence him for the time when Wenger took over.
The shift to Wenger and his stewardship of the club’s playing resources peak at the age of the Invincibles in 2004. From there the move to the Emirates Stadium and subsequent years without trophy success is intriguing to read about. The role of the board in matters, how big the task was to move from Highbury to something better. The concerns that dein had for these changes and the effect they would have in terms of investing in the playing power needed to maintain challenges for trophies. Dein’s subsequent demise and the other boardroom wrangles. These all make for the kind of reading that once again proves that truth is often stranger than fiction and can make for better reading.
That you are kept intrigued by developments is down to the writing and the great way both authors inject opinions of others related to the club with the dealings that go on behind the scenes. The closed culture that Wenger developed especially as his London Colney training ground came to fruition is insightful and how that has effected engagement not just with the media, but more importantly with the fans.
In as much as the authors can be critical of the reliance on Wenger’s trust in youth, there is still a large degree of gratitude and admiration for the man who has made the club and the protective nature he has for his players. It is clear in that admiration, however, that an observer can already question whether what he has built to this stage is capable of bringing the success that the investment in the Emirates is looking for. Admirable though the achievement of consistent Champions League qualification is, this book was completed without knowledge of the rise of Manchester City and with Spurs presenting a credible challenge and Liverpool stabilising, there are even more questions to be answered by Wenger as to whether his method will last.
Whether you support a big team or your small local side this book makes for intriguing reading and informs a great deal in terms of what qualities and principles will be useful to help clubs succeed and what level of change is necessary to succeed. Indeed this is a good book to read to consider what the nature of success is and how much that should revolve around the success of one man at the helm. It is a brilliant read.