Footballers can save beautiful game from filthy rich owners – with Henry, Bergkamp & Vieira aiming to rescue Arsenal
THERE are statues of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp outside the Emirates.
And there is every chance a likeness of Arsenal's Invincibles skipper Patrick Vieira will join them before long.
This is how English football shows its appreciation of former players – it freezes them in time and casts them in bronze.
As for valuing and respecting the abilities and experiences of the men themselves, English football hasn’t been so keen.
But if footballers ran football – or even had a serious say in the running of major clubs and governing bodies – then the European Super League scheme would never have seen the light of day.
While rank-and-file supporters certainly played their part in the swift collapse of that despised breakaway plot, past and present players took a leading role.
Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, James Milner, Patrick Bamford and Ander Herrera were among many who showed an instinctive understanding of the destructive nature of the plan and articulated their views strongly.
Most footballers value and respect the competitive framework of the game’s pyramid system, the roles of clubs as focal points for communities, the importance of sporting merit, of history, traditions, rivalries and cold nights at Stoke.
The businessmen, bankers and accountants who run football have no such appreciation – hence last week’s almighty s*** cyclone.
So as the civil war against the serpentine owners of some of England’s biggest clubs rages on, it was refreshing to hear that Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp have thrown their weight behind the Arsenal takeover bid of Spotify founder Daniel Ek.
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Now, experience tells us takeover bids which make a lot of public noise do not tend to end up as takeovers.
And Arsenal’s American owner Stan Kroenke does not want to sell up, despite last week’s humiliation.
Married to a Walmart heiress, Silent Stan is absolutely filthy rich – almost twice as rich as Ek, a Swedish Arsenal fan whose streaming service has made him a controversial figure in the music world and one of the world’s poorer billionaires.
But by getting Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp on board, Ek has leant substance to his efforts.
These are three of Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles and three of Arsenal’s greatest players.
They intend to speak out against the ruinous Kroenke ownership – ten years, no serious Premier League title challenge and not so much as a Champions League quarter-final – and put pressure on him to sell.
They intend to rally an enraged supporter base around Ek’s bid and, if the takeover were successful, some or all of them would take senior roles at the Emirates.
That may sound unlikely. It may sound like wishful thinking.
But when those Super League plans were revealed nine days ago, it would have felt like wishful thinking that a mass popular revolt should bring the Dirty Dozen to their knees inside 48 hours. And it happened.
There were more than 1,000 fans protesting against Kroenke outside the Emirates before Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat by Everton last Friday.
Should Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp join future demos, the pressure on Kroenke will crank up significantly.
It must be hoped that the events of last week were not merely a one-off triumph against naked greed but a turning point in the fight for football’s soul.
And footballers, past and present, must play central roles in that battle for hearts and minds.
Cynics might dismiss Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp as useful figureheads for Ek – but that would be to forget the lessons of last week.
A week when Bayern Munich, a club run by former players, stood against the Super League scheme, while English clubs did not even consult their managers and players before they signed up to shred the fabric of competitive football.
Can you imagine Sir Bobby Charlton voting in favour of a breakaway Super League when he was a Manchester United director?
There are no longer any former players on the Old Trafford board.
Plenty of ex-United stars are signed up as ‘club ambassadors’ to stop them saying anything negative in the media – but as for positions of influence, none.
Footballers remain an underestimated bunch, especially in England.
Yet it was Henry, rather than any administrator, whose stand against the epidemic of racial abuse on social media has led to next weekend’s widespread boycott.
Marcus Rashford is a more effective leader of the opposition than Keir Starmer and Gareth Southgate would be a better FA chairman than any recent holder of the post.
Liam Rosenior, the Derby coach and former top-flight player, is one of the most articulate spokesmen you could ever hear on racism and many other issues surrounding the game.
Rosenior is on the interviewing panel for the vacant FA chairmanship, but he would probably be better suited to the job than any of the bankers, accountants and businessmen he gets to grill.
I know of a former England international, with an economics degree and a vast knowledge of the game from grassroots to the top flight, who applied to succeed the disgraced Greg ‘Jurassic’ Clarke in that role but didn’t even get an interview.
After Clarke’s disastrous downfall, there is a welcome eagerness to appoint a woman and/or a candidate from an ethnic minority.
Yet there is another under-represented group in English football governance – players.
This is why the involvement of Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp in the bid to oust Kroenke at Arsenal must be welcomed.
And if Kroenke were forced out, that is why one or more of them should hold positions of genuine authority inside their club.
These men would ensure Arsenal never repeated last week’s outrageous folly. And these men should never be satisfied with being statues.
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