January 6 is the 79th anniversary of the death of Arsenal’s greatest manager, Herbert Chapman. If you doubt that he is Arsenal’s greatest, and think the current incumbent is greater, consider this: Herbert Chapman was far and away the best manager of his generation worldwide, without any shadow of doubt. He is in all probability the greatest ever, so far ahead of his time was he. Is Arsène Wenger the greatest manager of his generation? No. Alex Ferguson clearly has a far superior record, and there may well be others in other countries greater than Arsène – how many different clubs has Mourinho won leagues with now? If Arsène is not the greatest of his generation, how can he be our greatest ever?
In a way the debate is similar to ‘Who is the greatest player ever?’ Is it Messi? In a sense he is the greatest because he is the best now, when football is the most advanced we have known it. He is standing on the shoulders of those who developed and advanced the game before him. What influence has he had on football? What has he changed, apart from a few stats in books? Not much. Similarly Arsène Wenger and every modern manager know things that were unheard of in Herbert Chapman’s day (though many of them he worked out) because now we all know them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them greater than him. One day I’ll get round to writing a full blog post about this, but In summary: Messi – great; Pele – greater.
And similarly: Wenger – great; Chapman – greater. To prove the point, here are some more of the great(er) man’s words, from the book ‘Herbert Chapman on Football’.
“As to the question of residential qualification: it is good to see local players in a team but the view I take is that football today is a world’s entertainment, and that it is my responsibility as the showman I am supposed to be, to put on the best possible programme. Indeed, the game as it has grown and developed demands this, and I must look for my players, my stars, wherever they are to be obtained.”
This is from the 1930s, remember. Arsène Wenger was not the first to think of it.
“Too many players are introduced into English football for their ability in tackling and defensive play generally, so that they may stop the other fellows getting the goals. We should set a higher premium on ball play and the science that goes with it; we want less of the strong man business and more skill. English football suffers most of all at the present time owing to a lack of craftsmen.”
This was written at a time when the FA took measures against English managers who dared to get jobs in football abroad!
“There are two reasons why clubs strive to get the best players and are prepared to pay for them. The first is ambition and pride in doing well. The second is simply a practical business matter. They have a ground of high value. Thousands of pounds have been spent on it in erecting stands, making terraces, and providing all the comforts for the spectators that are possible. That is sound business, the commercialism of the showman if you like.
“If the policy is to be that of the Arsenal, what is the good of this ground if the rest of the equipment is third-rate? By this equipment I mean the team.”
There may be a lesson here . . .
“One of the best safeguards a club can take against the deterioration of form is to have keen competition among the players for places in the side. It is not good for a man to believe, no matter how accomplished he may be, that he is sure to be picked. In that case there is a danger of him becoming slack or, at any rate, not sufficiently keyed up to make the supreme effort which modern football demands in every match. In the days when clubs were very much better off in having first-class experienced players in reserve, it was not unusual for almost every position on the field to be most competently duplicated. A man who lost his place, even through accident, could never be sure he would get it back again, because his substitute might show even better form than he had done. If this were the case today, football all around would be the better for it.”
I cannot imagine Herb presiding over much of a decline in standards at his club. Sadly his premature death meant that Arsenal were robbed of the world’s greatest manager far too soon. The loss for English football is also incalculable.
More of Herb’s wise words another time. In fact I’ll keep returning to the subject until every Arsenal supporter acknowledges that he is without question the greatest manager we have ever had, or ever will.
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