THT – Hello Sir. It is a pleasure talking to you. It was really difficult to track you down. How have you been?
AW – I am doing well! Not speaking to the Media for the last five years has done me a world of good. I could concentrate on my well-being and nurture my beliefs. But, then I thought it was time I gave the world back the love and respect they gave me. And that is when I decided I would talk to TheHardTackle.
THT – Sir, how have you been keeping yourself occupied nowadays? How is work going on at YAEFA (Youth Academy of English Football – Arsenal)?
AW – I have been giving irregular visits to London Colney to look at the players, pass them the requisite knowledge, help them to understand the game, grab the essence of ‘beautiful football’ basically. It is delightful to stay involved with these kids, they give hope to the next generation of footballers who are playing for the country. It is easier to work with kids than with grown-up individuals who would weigh every word of yours against their own judgment.
THT – Sir, looking back into time, how much do you repent the fact, that the great Arsenal Football Club closed down to make way for this state-of-the-art Academy?
AW – I do not repent it at all. What we now have is a breeding ground of exceptional talents whose careers are channelized effectively by hand-picked group of outstanding coaches. Somewhere it had to start! And I believe Arsenal was the best place to show the way to the world of football, it had to be done here, I had to do it!
THT - Going back into time, sir, where did it all go wrong as far as the club’s ambitions were concerned?
AW – It never went wrong. We were always operating on a very healthy profit margin even when we played in the Championship in the last two years. We were still showing a great balance between our financial growth and our beautiful football. I think the fans lost a bit of patience when we went 16 years without silverware. What they didn’t understand was, they were part of a system that was growing, a company that was making great progress financially! They were striving for trophies and medals while I was looking at the bigger picture. They never saw the bigger picture. Maybe, I misunderstood them.
THT – Sir, what has been the most irksome of transfer business you have done in your life at Arsenal?
AW – Surely, it has to be the Cesc saga. We thought the deal would go through in the summer of 2011, but it was not until 2016 when Cesc finally left for Barcelona. In 2012, they came up with 31 and we had an evaluation of 39 for the player. In 2013, they came up with 32 when we thought 38 would be the ideal price. In January, 2015, we extended his contract by a year and I still remember Cesc crying in my office pleading to let him go. But, a system is a system, right? You need to follow it! So, it was in January 2016, when our evaluation of the player matched theirs. By then, Cesc had permanently damaged his hamstring and grown a huge beard, but Barcelona were willing to pay the price, after-all my dear friend Redknapp had taken over the reins at Barcelona! * chuckles *
THT – Sir, what brought about the change from a delightful side of experienced players who mesmerized the Emirates faithful to the kids with potential who choked season after season?
AW – It was the market that was to be blamed. We always needed “Super-Quality” to make the squad stronger, quality players were worthless. We never found that kind of quality at a right price. We did manage to bid for Kaka in 2014, but his agent was not too happy with the 8 Million Pounds we had to offer. See, that was the problem! We could never capture the ‘right’ player for the ‘right’ price.
THT – Sir, how would you explain the Season 2019 when you shocked the entire Premiership by fielding a squad with an average age of 16?
AW - It was always the ultimate ambition. It was the stepping stone to this existing Academy. We had to show the world what potential these kids had. You cannot let your kids get wasted on bench or playing for the meaningless Reserves, they made no sense to me. I always wanted them to shine. Kids are God’s gift to mankind. They are beautiful creatures. They are like the….
THT – …Sir, sorry have to cut you short there, how did you manage to motivate players like Wilshere and Frimpong to play till 2021, it must have been hard for them?
AW - Not really. Both were made player-cum-coaches at the club, they shared the captaincy in every alternate season before Frimpong chose an alternate career in Kick-Boxing. Wilshere carried along for two more years when the club finally closed down. He was a diligent lad; he understood and respected the system.
THT – When you look back at the strange journey that former club captain Robin Van Persie took, how much do you hold yourself responsible for that?
AW – He was God’s chosen child. He gave everything to the Arsenal team. Even in the year 2015, him being one of two surviving members from the brilliant 2008 team we had, he scored, I think, 36 goals and assisted 24. Unfortunately, there was hardly any contribution from the rest of the kids and we finished 12th that season just ahead of Spurs. He was mentally disturbed in 2017, when I suggested him to take up Buddhism. He agreed to take it up and ended up as one of the most respected Bhikkhus in Thailand. It was his destiny.
THT – Finally, to wrap it up, what do you think was your biggest mistake in your coaching career?
AW – I have to admit it, I should have given the 145K/week contract in 2014 to Theo. The lad deserved it I think! But, something in my mind forced me to believe that he should be alright with the 143K we were ready to give. Theo not only left the club but ended up retiring from football and became a teacher. I believe that was bit of an outrageous decision on his part. But, coming to think of it now, I should have given him the contract.
Sir, it was a pleasure talking to you. We wish you all the best with YAEFA and hope England finally qualifies for the 2026 World Cup after failing to qualify for the last two.
Disclaimer - The author has written this just as a piece of humor (more on the dark side). He is a firm believer of Arsene’s philosophy since 1996.