My, my, how things have changed

28 02 2014

I was on a short Wikipedia safari last week and I happened to come across the page about Arsenal’s 1988-’89 season.

I’d forgotten how small the squads were in “that era”.

Name Nationality Position Joined Signed from Trans. fee
J. Lukic ENG GK 1983 Leeds U £50,000
A. Miller ENG GK 1984 Apprentice N/A
T. Adams ENG CB 1980 Apprentice N/A
S. Bould ENG CB 1988 Stoke C £390,000
L. Dixon ENG RB 1988 Stoke C £375,000
N. Winterburn ENG LB 1987 Wimbledon £350,000
D. O’Leary IRL CB 1973 Apprentice N/A
P. Davis ENG MF 1977 Apprentice N/A
P. Groves ENG MF 1986 Colchester U £50,000
M. Hayes ENG MF 1982 Apprentice N/A
D. Hillier ENG MF 1984 Apprentice N/A
B. Marwood ENG MF 1988 Sheff. Weds £800,000
P. Merson ENG MF 1984 Apprentice N/A
K. Richardson ENG MF 1987 Watford £200,000
D. Rocastle ENG MF 1982 Apprentice N/A
M. Thomas ENG MF 1982 Apprentice N/A
S. Morrow NIR DF/MF 1987 Bangor Apprentice
K. Campbell ENG ST 1985 Apprentice N/A
A. Smith ENG ST 1987 Leicester C Unknown
N. Quinn ENG ST 1983 Manortown U Apprentice

While we’re talking about late 1980s football, do you remember how the team photos in Shoot always contained three of four players that you didn’t recognize?

I had a look at this season’s Arsenal squad for a comparison.

Name                 Nat. No. Pos. EU Joined Contract Trans. fee
W. Szczęsny POL 1 GK EU 2007 undisc Youth
B. Sagna FRA 3 DF EU 2007 2014 £7.5M
P. Mertesacker GER 4 DF EU 2011 2015 £8.0M
T. Vermaelen BEL 5 DF EU 2009 2015 £10.0M
L. Koscielny FRA 6 DF EU 2010 undisc £8.5M
T. Rosický CZE 7 MF EU 2006 2014 £6.8M
M. Arteta ESP 8 MF EU 2011 2015 £10.0M
L. Podolski GER 9 FW EU 2012 2016 £10.9M
J. Wilshere ENG 10 MF EU 2008 2018 Youth
M. Özil GER 11 MF EU 2013 undisc £42.5M
O. Giroud FRA 12 FW EU 2012 undisc £12.8M
E. Viviano ITA 13 GK EU 2013 2014 Free
T. Walcott ENG 14 FW EU 2006 undisc £9.0M
A. O.-Chamb. ENG 15 FW EU 2011 undisc £12.0M
A. Ramsey WAL 16 MF EU 2008 undisc £4.8M
N. Monreal ESP 17 DF EU 2013 undisc £8.5M
S. Cazorla ESP 19 MF EU 2012 undisc £12.0M
M. Flamini FRA 20 MF EU 2013 undisc Free
Ł. Fabiański POL 21 GK EU 2007 undisc £2.0M
Y. Sanogo FRA 22 FW EU 2013 undisc Free
N. Bendtner DEN 23 FW EU 2004 undisc Youth
A. Diaby FRA 24 MF EU 2006 undisc £2.0M
C. Jenkinson ENG 25 DF EU 2011 undisc £1.0M
E. Frimpong GHA 26 MF EU 2009 undisc Youth
K. Gibbs ENG 28 DF EU 2007 undisc Youth
P. Chu-Young KOR 30 FW Non-EU 2011 undisc £1.8M
R. Miyaichi JPN 31 FW Non-EU 2011 undisc Free
S. Gnabry GER 44 FW EU 2012 undisc Youth
G. Zelalem GER 58 MF EU 2013 undisc Youth
J. Djourou SUI DF EU 2003 2015 Youth
F. Coquelin FRA MF EU 2008 undisc Youth
J. Campbell CRI FW Non-EU 2011 undisc £0.9M

My my how football has changed in the last two and a bit decades! Bigger squads (32 versus 20 players in our examples). More cosmopolitan squads. (Even the players that come through Arsenal’s youth system are from countries outside the UK, although it matters whether or not a player was born in an EU member country.) Contract length has become the most important detail about players and finally, squad numbers have been around for the last 18 years.

The experts tell us we need bigger squads nowadays because we need more players. Their logic is faultless and correct;

  • In 1988-’89 Arsenal used 17 players with Gus Caesar and Niall Quinn only playing 5 games between them. (Alan Millar, David Hillier, Kevin Campbell & Steve Morrow didn’t play at all.)
  • In 2012-’13 Arsenal used 35 players with 12 players making 5 appearances or fewer. (Too many went out on loan to list)

The experts tell us that squads have increased because there is greater physical exertion in That Modern Football. Once again their logic is faultless, we play substantially more matches nowadays.

  • In 1988-’89  Arsenal played 45 matches (38 league matches, 5 fa cup matches & 2 league cup matches) 
  • In 2012-’13  Arsenal played 53 matches (38 league matches, 4 fa cup matches, 3 league cup matches & 8 European matches)

Hold on, we don’t seem to play substantially more matches nowadays. The eternal vagaries of cup football meant that Arsenal actually played the same amount of domestic matches in either season. The difference is caused by the amount of European matches and this is easily explained away; English clubs were still banned from European club competitions in 1988 .

So, how can the increase in squad size be adequately explained?

Well the league cup is not held in the esteem it once was and Arsenal uses that competition as a method of incorporating youth players………….Yeah but they played more league cup matches last season than in 1988.

Well the fa cup doesn’t mean as much was and Arsenal uses that competition as a meth…………Yeah but they played about the same amount of fa cup matches in both seasons.

Well the European cup requires a massive amount of great players, with a certain level of technique……….Well in football in 2014  it’s dreadfully important to have so many players because football’s much quicker nowadays and players need to be kept fresher. …………..Yeah, so why do Arsenal sign players that they can’t trust in important matches?

Wait a minute, modern managers might actually need 3 players for every position so they can moan about being forced to pick their 3rd choice full backs when the need arises.

Yeah, and football in 2014 has to reflect the free labour market of the European Union. You just can’t expect a club like Arsenal to rely on London and it’s miniscule population of 10 million to produce enough potential players. You have to take advantage of the EU’s guiding principles and the dreams of impressionable young men. A modern club shouldn’t have to rely on the medieval idea of a youth team that relies on local youngsters, they should be allowed to cast their net as far as they can. Being forced into using local players, why that’s imposed poverty.

So, why is Arsenal’s squad so big? Well contemporary logic tells us that a squad should be that size, and who are we to argue with contemporary logic?

We must point out that everyone’s at it as well.

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