With Liam Brady set to step down as current Director of the Arsenal Youth Academy, the club are currently looking at numerous names to step into the boots of the Arsenal legend.
Brady has been in charge of the Arsenal Youth Academy since 1996. After a review by The FA last year which saw them warn Arsenal that they were at risk of losing Academy status, and with it the prestige and funding that go’s with the status, changes had to be made. One of the area’s where The FA were reportedly heavily critical was in the management and leadership of the academy, with Brady taking the brunt of that blame. A decision was then made that the Academy needed new leadership, a new direction and that Brady would leave Arsenal when his contract expires in May 2014.
This move was enough to satisfy The FA to allow Arsenal to keep their academy status, with another review set after May 2014 to see how the new Director has changed things. Arsenal being the classy club they are have allowed Brady to leave on his own terms, with Brady announcing himself that he will leave the roll, rather than it appearing he is being pushed aside by the club. It is likely that Brady will be offered another role with the club, potentially on the media side, or a match day ambassadorial role.
This leaves Arsenal with a big hole to fill, one which they have to start filling now to ensure they not only secure the future of Arsenal’s academy, but ensure that future Jack Wilshere’s come through at a more consistent rate.
A few early names have already been mooted as his replacement.
Dennis Bergkamp is seemingly the fans favourite, but this is unlikely. Whilst fans will do anything to see the Dutchman back at the club, it is unlikely that the role of Director of the Arsenal Youth Academy will suit him. After working as assistant manager to Frank De Boer at Ajax, a move to oversee the academy would be a step down. He see’s himself as a manager, however his fear of flying means it is more likely that he will have a career as a very good assistant manager. He will join Arsenal in the future, but will be with the 1st team set up, not with the academy.
There are a few names from within the club currently who could be promoted within.
Liam Brady’s right hand man is David Court. He has also been with the academy since 1996 and is the most natural successor to Brady within the club. However, after stinging criticism from The FA, the question mark above him is would he just be Brady Mark II, and not actually move the academy forward as required? A brilliant servant to the club, he is more likely to remain as the new academy director’s number 2, ensuring that despite the big change at the top, there is some continuity underneath.
First team coach Neil Banfield has previously managed various youth teams at Arsenal winning two FA Youth Cups, an FA Premier Academy League U17 title in 1999-00 and an Academy League U19 title in 2003–04. Whilst he certainly has the track record for the role, he provides an important link between the youth sides and the 1st team, often being the 1st team coach who puts the arm around the youngsters and ensures that they feel comfortable when joining the first team. His role as that link is perhaps too important to see him become Director of the Arsenal Youth Academy.
Terry Burton, who replaced Neil Banfield as Reserves & Head Development coach in 2012 is another name in the frame. With a long association with Arsenal – having been captain of the Youth Cup winning side back in 1971 – he certainly has the credentials for the job. Whilst he never made it as a professional football, this enabled him to go into coaching early, seeing him return to Arsenal in 1979 as youth team coach. He was in charge of the set up as reserve team coach the last time Arsenal had a top academy, when the likes of Tony Adams, Paul Davis, Martin Keown, Paul Merson and Rocky Rocastle were breaking through. He would be a very good choice as Brady’s replacement. Whether at the age of 60, he is the man who would be a solid, long term option, is the only negative.
The last name in the frame, and perhaps the favourite for the job, is former Arsenal player Paul Davis. A surprising inclusion, mainly due to the fact that many people will not know what Davis has been doing since leaving Arsenal in 1995.
In 1996, he became a youth coach within Arsenal, where he remained until 2003. He went on to join The Professional Footballers’ Association coaching department, where he now holds the role of Regional Coach Educator for London and the South East. He has gained the FA and Pro UEFA Coaching awards, the highest in British coaching, as well as the UEFA ‘A’ Licence and the FA Diploma in Football Management.
He certainly has the qualifications and foresight, but it is the fact he is already involved in coaching coaches that is important.
Being the Director of an academy is less about coaching the youngster’s and more about overseeing the coaches coaching them. It involves man management and being able to direct and better those coaches. It is also important that they can oversee the entire academy. With Davis already employed as a coach’s coach, he would be the ideal candidate to come in and take over from Brady as new Director of the Arsenal Youth Academy.
Add in the fact he has played over 400 times for the club, he would be comfortable and fit in seamlessly within the staff, At 51, he has both the experience and time ahead of him to make real improvements to the academy.
With Brady not due to leave Arsenal until May 2014, there is still plenty of time for the club to discuss other candidates. But as it stands, top of the list will be Paul Davis.