Written by @gooner_in_bcn on Friday, 10 August 2012 11:06
Wenger has made no bones about it, his style of coaching and approach to the game both on and off the field is influenced by Johan Cruyff and his success as a player and coach. Wenger's beliefs of frugal spending, development of youth and philosophy of attacking, pressure football are all hallmarks of that influence. So too are they hallmarks of how FCB are set up as a club to a large extent; although FCB shelled out 409m in the last few years for transfers. Surprised? Yeah me too, so much for "home-grown" talent approach. This has led to the erroneous statements by many that Arsenal copy Barcelona. Simply put, they don't. If anything, they are copying Ajax, but then so too are Barcelona. To hear them talk of it though, this system was invented by the Catalan club, never mind that as a player and later as a coach, Johan Cruyff instilled that system and philosophy at FCB after leaving the Dutch giants. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery as they say, but what is plagiarism? That is what Barcelona are doing, they are taking a system brought about by others and calling it their own invention, and then criticizing others for "stealing" it. The self-proclaimed and media backed "greatest team of all time" can't admit, or won't, that they owe their success to someone outside their circle (in this day and age that means he MUST be Catalan to receive credit). How did they treat one of the greatest influences of the modern game and the one person that changed the fortunes at FCB? They stripped him of his "Honorary President" title and asked for the symbolic medal back. Stay classy Barcelona.
I won't get into the merits of who would win in a match between the 2003/04 Invincibles, having fought through the hardest league in football unbeaten or the Barcelona squad from two years ago, there are simply too many variables to consider. But if you count the 2006 CL final as a proper measuring stick, then you are certainly not paying attention, then or now. That discussion is best left for another time.
Let's be clear, Arsenal have made out like bandits selling to Barcelona. Most of the players have contributed little to the cause at the Camp Nou after their departure from the Gunners. Only Henry and to some extent Giovanni van Bronckhorst made their Barcelona adventure worthwhile. Hleb, Petit, and Overmars were relatively, well average and non-existent once they left Arsenal for the Catalan city. After a self-described average first year, the jury is still out as to whether Cesc will have the influence he had whilst wearing the armband at the Emirates, time will tell. In total, during the years AW has transformed the system and culture at AFC, he has managed to squeeze a ridiculous 95m pounds out of Barcelona for 6 players. Those 6 players in contrast cost the Gunners 39.5m pounds. The huge difference being they gave us, the supporters, a multitude of memories and accolades, not to mention legendary seasons such as Henry help spearhead in 2003/04.
When a club buys a player in his prime or relatively close to it, they expect to get good performances from him; at least enough to justify the price tag, but everyone knows there is always a risk they will flop. When you can capture a prospect before he even gets started in his career, and do it at a minimal price, well that's what all managers dream about. Arsenal have been able to do that to Barcelona as well; much to the displeasure of the coaching staff and personnel at FCB, not to mention the fan base. Arsenal are seen as thieves that come and poach the best talent due to legal loopholes for young players. Fran Merida followed Cesc 3 years on and made the switch. Since then, another three youth players have made the jump to join the youth ranks at Arsenal; Miquel (captured from Cornella, but a product of FCB's youth system), Toral, Bellerin all chose to ply their trade at AFC making the already strained relationship that much more tense. Any Barcelona supporter will be quick to tell you how we are thieves, stealing their talented youth, but they will also have selective memory over the approaches FCB made to acquire Afobe and Aneke not so long ago. Touché!
When you have similar philosophies and somewhat similar systems it is only natural that the two clubs are huge admirers of each other's players. Arsenal has taken advantage, when the occasion has called for it, of the labor laws encompassing youngsters in Spain to sign talented players from La Masia. At the same time, Barcelona players and staff have made every effort to tap up Arsenal players through the media (Mundo, Sport) and on the club's own website. This includes Cesc, Vermaelen, Koscielny, RvP, and most recently, Song. There simply is a startling difference in the way each club handles things. FCB are very brash and arrogant in my view, whilst Arsenal tends to keep things more private. Is it a biased opinion? Well, of course it is; that doesn't make it wrong. Barcelona feel self entitled to do and say anything they want without any repercussions, while the media endorses it and the governing bodies let them get away with it without even a reprimand. Yet, when Arsenal legally go after an available youth player, we are labeled criminals. Fair? Nope. Typical? Absolutely.
This is a Cold War that will last as long as Arsene is succeeded by a coach that shares his philosophy and the club maintains the Ajax inspired culture he has built. Barcelona have been at it longer, Arsenal have done well by it, and it seems we are going to be connected for a long time whether we like it or not. Hopefully tensions can ease over time, but as long as we poach their youth players and them in turn publicly, and unethically I might add, tap our players up; this could get uglier and uglier over time. But it will sell a lot of papers and produce a lot of clicks for bloggers and journos alike. So stay tuned as we could just be at the beginning of this duplicitous connection.
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