Long Live Project Youth
By Ian Tanner
Investing in young players has proved successful
There was a time, not so long ago, whenever Arsenal and Manchester United played, when Arsenal were guaranteed to lose. I’m not referring to on-field encounters, where our record is decent, but those off-field. Our beloved, quaint, welcoming Highbury could accommodate just over half Old Trafford’s ever-growing capacity, leading to a £1 million “loss” every home fixture. Like the sinking of Titanic, it was a mathematical certainty. To even attempt to compete, to sit at the Big Boys’ table, the prescribed solution was the albeit reluctant, short move to our new home and, it is oft argued, the simultaneous adoption of what became known by frustrated fans as Project Youth.
Project Youth has been pronounced dead in these pages and elsewhere, accompanied by no little rejoicing. Everyone agrees, in fact, so it must be true, and also the correct decision. Not so much out with the old, in with the new, as vice-versa. The many and varied failures of Project Youth include its poster child, the hapless and hopeless Alex Song Billong. Joining initially on loan before his 18thbirthday, he was never going to make the grade; ask anyone who witnessed his Craven Cottage fiasco. To those well-honed eyes, it was obvious that Billong did not belong. Just turned 19, he was so bad that even our myopic, cyclopic (not a word but it rhymes and you know what I mean) – not to mention stubborn – manager had no alternative but to substitute him before half-time. The boos and jeers emanating from the Away Section had not encouraged him to play better, strangely. Nearly six years on, it’s deemed illogical (geddit?) by those same know-alls to sell our one and only Song for a mere £15 million.
Another failure of Project Youth was also Barcelona-bound: Francesc Fabregas. Finessed by Arsene from Barca’s successful version of Project Youth, Cesc later returned to his boyhood club, swelling Arsenal’s coffers by a trifling Euros 30 million.
Samir Nasri joined when exactly 21, which is young enough in my book to be considered youthful! He was sold three seasons later for more than double his £10+ million price tag.
Kolo Toure, not quite 21 when he signed, went from almost zero (well, £150,000) to Invincible hero in two full seasons. Kolo was eventually sold for £16 million, with one year remaining on his then contract and no longer an automatic starter.
Emmanuel Adebayor, a £3m Monaco misfit, went to Citeh for £25 million when both he and Arsenal decided to take the money. This ever-popular ex-Gooner was still not 22 when he enrolled in Project Youth. Incidentally, he’s hardly played Champions League football since departing London Colney and now plies his trade in the Europa League some Thursdays (*), his market value having plunged to £5 million. As they say in America, do the math. It’s doubtful that he’ll ever score more goals for Spurs in the Champions League than he did against them one evening in Milan.
Still 17, Gael Clichy entered kindergarten in 2003 as back-up to an older boy whose name, fittingly, rhymes with a**ehole and who was himself eventually sold for £5m plus William Gallas. Clichy departed for £7m, almost all profit.
Dimwit David Bentley, another alumni of Arsene’s crazy academy, unwittingly assisted Arsenal’s cause not once but twice (proof that a fool never learns), thanks to the sell-on deal, negotiated by Arsenal’s inept management, that saw us collect £5+ million when he belatedly joined his beloved Tottenham Hotspur Reserves, who paid Blackburn Rovers (and Arsenal) £18 million for his services. Trivia Question: where the hell is Rostov?
Last, but by no means least, Robin van Persie. This £2.75m-rated 20 year-old wild-boy was sold for £24 million, enabling him to fulfil his wild-boyhood dreams. How touching.
Pre-Project Youth failures also came and went; youngsters who were so poor and ill-thought of at their then clubs that Arsene was able to pick them up for far more than they were worth whilst demonstrating yet again his xenophobia. Milan pocketed with glee the £3.5 million Arsene wasted on Patrick Vieira, 20. Thrice that was blown on a nearly-22 year-old Juventus wide-boy (not wild-boy) called Thierry Henry (My all-time favourite The Gooner front page featured TH14 asking a team-mate: “Why does Monsieur Wenger keep going on about a Barn Door?”). Please go easy on Arsene over the Henry purchase; it was financed from the sale of another French youth, Nicolas Anelka, for £25 million (virtually all profit), with the balance building a state-of-the-art training ground.
That Arsenal have contested continuously the Champions League despite the purchase (and/or nurture) and subsequent sale of these and many other no-hopers surely implies that every other club has even worse managers than we do. In the land of the blind, the cyclopic man is king. What people fail to grasp is that Project Youth has been a resounding success, not an abject failure. Our club has been transformed: players’ diet, squad strength and depth, stadium, training ground, medical centre, trophies and worldwide recognition, all achieved in the face of Chelsea and Citeh’s new-found financial muscle and numerous debt mountains piled high elsewhere.
And Project Youth didn’t begin as plans to leave Highbury were formulated; it’s existed since September 1996, not with the arrival of Wenger but that of PV4, bought on Arsene’s say-so. The numerous acquisitions over the last 14 months, including household names with years of top-level experience such as Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, could not have been financed otherwise. Similar duffers to those listed above are falling through the ranks, Yennaris, Coquelin, Frimpong, Gnabry, Afobe and Bellarin among them.
Contrast the sustained vitriol directed at Arsene Wenger with the universal apathy reserved in Britain only for the most disastrous and crassest of decisions. Take a bow James Gordon Brown, Kirkcaldy’s third-favourite son (behind Adam Smith and Jocky Wilson). Goon Brown, you may recall, was Phoney Glare’s chief henchman for a decade. On 2nd July 1997, Phoney Glare, who had then only been First Lord of the Treasury for exactly two months, and Goon Brown set about the £5 billion annual confiscation of UK pension funds’ assets through a barely commented-on new tax before “Arsene Who?” – remember him? - had celebrated one year in his new job. In May 1999, Glare and Brown celebrated two years at the helm of their about-to-start-sinking ship by announcing a plan to sell 60% of our gold reserves. Presumably they decided to alert gold bugs and bears to ensure further depression of the yellow metal’s price. The sale, at a bottom-of-the-market US$275 per troy ounce, compares unfavourably (I’ll go no further) with the current US$1,700+ price. Unlike the original The Goon Show, this version caused barely a stir, though it was certainly no cause for laughter.
If only Arsenal fans were as critical of their under-achieving political masters as they are of their over-achieving manager.
Finally, an appeal to anyone reading this who can pass on a message to Arsenal FC. Arsenal Media insists on 19. Santi Carzola, rather than 19. Santi Cazorla, at the matches against Sunderland, Stoke and Liverpool. Please end the embarrassment before Southampton.
(*) Fans of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid may argue that the Champions League is inferior to the Europa League.
13th September 2012
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Skooner 11:27am 13th Sep 2012
I agree, project youth has been a massive financial success, I look forward to joining the victory parade! - Post No. 28846
Timmy 11:33am 13th Sep 2012
This is impressive Ian, really impressive. If only Arsenal fans will learn to be realists instead of dreamers and dreamers and never wishing to consider the actual state of things. Thumbs up for a nice post. God bless you - Post No. 28847
Ron 11:48am 13th Sep 2012
All good sales as you rightly say. Youve also undelined why the so called 'project' HAS failed ie it was ran by a Club who seem to have thought they could actually keep the honed and polished gems away from jewel thieves and gem investers. Your sarcasm is thus misplaced. All youve done is shown what everybody knows already i.e the Club is a business first and football Club second. The rest is up to the supporters now in that their choices are stark in either supporting a healthy balance sheet or desire a team that genuinely challenges. Your smug summary might have contained a list of cheaper players who could have been added to the reported contents of the Clubs jewellery box, many of whom (if not having been penny pinchingly ignored by the Club and Wenger) might have had the effect of persuading a few to have actually stayed a while longer. PS A list of over paid and over tolerated chumps who emerged from project youth would i accept have called for more time and a far longer article on your behalf and you wouldnt have wanted a balanced argument would you? Of course not. - Post No. 28848
sleepinggiant 12:04pm 13th Sep 2012
...so the success of our club is measured in the state of our balance sheet and the amount of money we sell our top players for. Go back to bean counting. Let the real supporters talk about football issues. And we have not 'contested' the champions league any more than Aston Villa or Everton contest the FA cup. We play in the champions league, but we do not contest it. We are one of the also rans who have a 'plucky' cup once in a while. I am close to getting physically sick of hearing about our 'great' run to the final in 2006. If you want to get a good idea of where we stand in European terms, tell me, do you ever hear of Manure fans talking about their glorious runs in 2009 and 2011? OR Liverpool fans talking about the amazing night in Athens in 2007, when they nearly beat AC Milan. And, God help us, even before they won it, the Chavs had no fond memories of 2008. Because fans of those clubs, like Barcelona, Real MAdrin, Ac Milan, Inter Milan and BAyern Minich have respect for their clubs and pride in their histories, even if in Chelseas case their history is short. They would never consider it a good achievement for their club to get to the final of a competition they should be winning. Thats because those clubs compete for the champions league. We are simply happy to play in it and I am ashamed of any fan who pronounces themselves of this degrading downplaying and abdication of our clubs history. - Post No. 28849
Joe S. 12:14pm 13th Sep 2012
Well obviously the money side stacks up but what's in it for the fans over the long haul outside of seeing our best and brightest strike gold elsewhwere. I'm all for a project youth when it means a group of young players maturing together to become a potent force as in some of our earlier squads but presently the trend at Arsenal has been a middle aging one where I'm afraid finding the right balance between youth and experience will never be achieved. - Post No. 28850
Der Projekt ist Kaput 12:51pm 13th Sep 2012
Jesus H....Yeah, let's stay a club who's ambition is fourth place and to sell our decent players once they've got a neon £ sign flashing over their heads. There is NO way under our current regime where we could build, retain or properly add to a team looking like Premiership winners - let alone a squad like the Invincibles. It's just terribly sad. As Sleepinggiant says, go back to bean counting. - Post No. 28851
Theo's Bikini-Line 12:59pm 13th Sep 2012
Don't worry Ian. I'm sure that after that article someone from the media department will be in touch - most likely to offer you a job so well have you communicated their 'message'!! - Post No. 28853
Herbert 13:12pm 13th Sep 2012
Good piece Ian but unfortunately many who will read this simply dont have the intelligence to understand the bigger picture with regard to Arsenal, recent times have hilighted the ignorance of so many of our fans, and they will pain you as an "AKB", when you ahve simply pointed out the facts! - Post No. 28854
Tony Evans 13:21pm 13th Sep 2012
Agree wholeheartedly with Ron's reply - exactly what I was going to say. - Post No. 28855
Gee 13:35pm 13th Sep 2012
That £60m+ of untouched cash in the bank will surely land us the League title this year? Or at least allow us to compete for it right up until the end? No? oh ok then - Post No. 28856
Carlos 13:55pm 13th Sep 2012
Looking forward to the balance sheet being paraded down Upper Street - Post No. 28857
Adam 14:20pm 13th Sep 2012
All the club needs now is 60,000 chartered accountants to attend every home game and everyone will be happy. - Post No. 28858
maguiresbridge gooner 14:49pm 13th Sep 2012
Another remnant of project youth will soon be departing in January no doubt for more profit maybe not as big a profit as the rest but a profit all the same.Before the project passed away it's a pity it didn't bring the same success on the pitch over the last eight years with silverware as it did in the board room with big fat profits for all concerned.But i suppose that's our clubs priorities now like your post to show a profit. - Post No. 28859
Smee 14:59pm 13th Sep 2012
Didnt know this was a political forum. - Post No. 28861
NBN 15:47pm 13th Sep 2012
Fantastic to see that our board are making themselves so much money from the club. Next time im feeling a bit mugged off at paying 50 quid for a brief im sure the thought of them sunning themselves in Monaco will make me feel much better. - Post No. 28862
Gare Kekeke 16:10pm 13th Sep 2012
Ron has spoken not just for me but for many other Gooners too. Not necessarily the majority but a lot of fellow Gooners. What’s the point of a club the size of The Arsenal developing young players if all we are going to do is sell them off later on for a big fat profit because many of them didn’t want to stick around for a variety of reasons? Oh yeah and Adebayor HAS played in the European Cup since his departure from us in 2009. I seem to remember him scoring in his loan spell for Real Madrid in 2010/11 ironically against Tottenham in Madrid and getting booked against Barcelona at the Camp Nou a few weeks later. These days we are Ajax but without the enviable domestic and European history. Like Skooner & Carlos, I look forward to the balance sheet victory parade. Up The Arsenal! - Post No. 28863
Mark 16:15pm 13th Sep 2012
If project youth is there for making money through sales its a success but if its about building a team that will win trophies forget it.And that at the end of the is what the big clubs in Europe do WIN TROPHIES - Post No. 28864
Spike 18:35pm 13th Sep 2012
What does the (in your mind successful) sale of RVP tell us: Ferguson is focussed on winning trophies and does not care about the financial side, Wenger is focussed on the financial side and does not care about winning trophies. Swap them around and the best striker in the league would still be at this club and our chances of winning would be greater. - Post No. 28865
Au Revior Wenger (now in 2018) 20:03pm 13th Sep 2012
The only two players in Wengers reign who came though from the academy level to the first team are Cashley and Jack.Thats two in 16 years.While in the 80's we brought through Davis Adams Rocky Thomas Quinn and Merson.How anyone who can call Cesc who learned his craft at the Barcelona academy alone with Messi is just stupid.When it comes to bringing in youth Wenger is a FRUAD - Post No. 28866
AFCasap 20:32pm 13th Sep 2012
another arsene fan club supporter delirious about "good business"....but turns a blind eye all the crap stinking up the place for years, coz arsene knows...why do we have so many joke "fanatics" - Post No. 28867
northbank123 21:09pm 13th Sep 2012
This is exactly what everybody knows. Project Youth IS a success financially. Project Youth IS NOT a success football-wise as we're miles away from United and City and have won **** all for years. You make your mind up which is more important. - Post No. 28868
Rob 23:39pm 13th Sep 2012
Sorry Ian but I have to point this out. Under Bertie Mee, the youth team produced Charlie George, Pat Rice, Peter Story, Peter Simpson, George Armstrong and John Radford - also - if I remember correctly - John Roberts. Different times I accept. But also a different Manager. Just a slight reminder, to all those of you convinced the Club was founded in 1996. Wenger is great from a financial viewpoint and as Adam above says, 60,000 Chartered Accountants and we're laughing. Almost ! - Post No. 28869
Highbury Boy 0:24am 14th Sep 2012
I've been saying for ages to anyone who will listen that I really do fancy us for the Treble. That's best balance sheet,highest cash balance and most profits. This is a limited company business with responsibilities to shareholders. End of. With Wenger and Gazidis at the helm the company will never go broke but the football team will never win anything worthwhile. - Post No. 28870
DW Thomas 0:54am 14th Sep 2012
When players are sold without winning trophies and profits are the priority, fans should revolt. Problem is Wenger is still employed based on past glories. Lies are told to placate the fans while the club counts their millions. I still enjoy watching the team, but have no hope of really winning anything, not even the league cup. How could I? Groundhog Day is the only thing I can see coming. You can bet on that! No intelligent person can possibly believe this team will make any serious challenge. I do hope that I'm wrong. Wishful thinking. No ambition leads to no change and finally no future. Depressing. - Post No. 28871
Ron 9:23am 14th Sep 2012
Great point Rob,but i should say that those players were actually developed in the main by Billy Wright ie several years before Mee. Yes, Mee and Howe developed the 1971 team with them but Wright was twice the developer of young talent than Wenger could even dream about being, yet he left as a broken and discredited boss. Wenger is as said by somebody on this thread a bit of a 'fraud' in this area. - Post No. 28872
Michael 10:47am 14th Sep 2012
that a very interesting article with some very good points, I would counter though its not quite balanced as AW has bought many estabished who were failures ie. reyes, stepanov etc. and also some yong players that have come through the academy bendtner? there is of course no argument that AW has done some great things for the club, but for a balanced argument you have to weigh up all the costs of his faiures as well to see where we with profit/loss - Post No. 28873
Angry & Frustrated 11:07am 14th Sep 2012
Agree with Highbury Boy,s comment, which hits the nail on the head. - Post No. 28874
Joe S. 11:25am 14th Sep 2012
Agree with those elephants with long memories who have pointed out the rich history Arsenal have had pre Wegner of developing young players either through the acaademy or through the old apprentiship system. Most of the players mentioned in the above post are actually ringers who Arsenal bought in from outside.Arsene should not get the credit for discovering them. The writer has taken a lot of liberties in order to make a lame point. - Post No. 28875
Gazza 12:32pm 14th Sep 2012
ill stick the project youth trophy next to the forth place one then - Post No. 28876
Angry Dave 13:26pm 14th Sep 2012
Diabolical article, all you've stated is what everyone knows anyway and any REAL fan couldn't give a stuff about boring balance sheets. Would rather AFC turn into AFC AFC and start again (like Rangers) with a passion for FOOTBALL and not Business but hey thats the way of the Barclays Business League these days, it's all about money. And as a sidenote god help us if that moron Gazidis offers Wenger a new contract - I will certainly not be stepping foot inside the bowl if that happens. - Post No. 28877
Ronster 13:42pm 14th Sep 2012
It's sickening how some have elevated Wenger to God like status when one of the great post war English coaches Don Howe who is still passing on his wisdom to youngsters in his seventies,has received no formal recognition by the club. - Post No. 28878
John Gooner 14:17pm 14th Sep 2012
Well done for stating the obvious in your condescending style. Nobody in the land would argue that project youth has been a massive financial success. How are we being repaid for continuing our financial support during this period of sustained 'success'? Fans worship heroes and savour great victories, where will these 'successes' of yours feature in the record books?! When you're old and dying, would you prefer to remember great goals scored by great players or the odd £25m windfall gained at the expense of losing a club hero; a value which due to inflation will be meaningless in years to come. You play too much Championship Manager sir. - Post No. 28879
GaryFootscrayAustralia 15:31pm 14th Sep 2012
Rob and Ron, valid points you make about the late 60's - early 70's squad core of youth team players, and you make the critical link between Billy Wright starting the development of those guys on the right track, and Mee / Howe moulding and honing them into winners. Of course we know about the players GG brought through in the mid - 80's but once again the groundwork had been laid by the previous manager - poor Don wasn't much chop in the hotseat but he did blood a few of the boys that Gadaffi scared into being men ahead of their age. We also know that, as a result of that process, AW inherited a core group with character, now he has to build another after breaking the previous one up too early, or simply not replacing them at all. This I believe was the strategy flaw that proved the undoing of Bertie Mee. In between times, we sold our best midfielder (arguably our best of all time, amongst those that remember football before 1992) to a top continental European Cup winning club, and our top striker to Manchester United. The more things change... - Post No. 28880
Mike 10:16am 15th Sep 2012
Please remember that foreign players were not allowed to ply their trade in the English first division - that was probably the reason that you got players coming through the youth systems - This all change just before the advent of the EPL - coincidently probably the last time England had a decent international squad - the influx of cheaper players from Europe and subsequently Africa with better technical skills killed any youth development as such - Post No. 28889
Fozzy's mate 18:05pm 15th Sep 2012
Ian - of course you are right buying rough diamonds polishing em up and selling em on is a financially efficient model as Mr self sustainable would say. But as many who have commented counter what have we won in the last 7 going on 8 years? OGL doesn't like spending big money even when he has it available. Unfortunately football is not communism or accountancy. What is the point of generating dough just for the cash mountain to grow higher? You sneer at those who criticise those who run our club but facts are facts and with the resources available now generated by the financial model you correctly admire we should be challenging for the big prizes more than we are. Looking at the other side of your song example you could say we took 6 years to make him satisfactory and then sold him. - Post No. 28893
Jason B 13:59pm 16th Sep 2012
It might be a good idea for the gooner to re-design the Henry and barn door front cover for the next issue.It might the same effect on Giroud!! - Post No. 28903
20th May 2013
Online Ed: 4th place trophy and CL qualifier secured