Graham Dougan was a youth prospect at Arsenal in the 1970s but never quite made the grade, making his career in the upper echelons of the old division two. He was also a Scottish U25 international. He is a regular pundit on TV in Malta and Luxembourg, and an after-dinner speaker of some repute.
He writes exclusively for the site and we sure you continue to enjoy his keen and unique insight into the game. This week he looks Matteo Guendouzi’s nomination for Golden Boy.
Like many of you, I have been very impressed with young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi this season. The Frenchman, with his hair like a buxom wrench in a medieval tavern, really catches the eye with his energetic performances, his desire, and his willingness to thrust his backside into opposition groins in order to win his side a free kick.
When you consider that former recruitment guru Sven Mislethwaite had to travel all the way to the Orient to discover him, it makes his progress even more remarkable. In my day, the furthest a scout was willing to go was the end of the Jubilee Line, so it shows you how much football has changed.
I remember when I was discovered, the man in question was an Irish chap named Flaherty or O’Doherty – it’s all the same really – and he was so impressed with my performance in the game he saw he signed me up on the spot. Later, it turned out he’d mistaken me for Mick Channon, who went on to have a starling career for Southampton and England, and it emerged later that he’d spent all afternoon in the Wolf and Goblet which went some way to explain it.
As my grandmother used to say, sometimes you need the hand-shady of good fortune in your career, and that was certainly mine, even if things never quite worked out for me at Arsenal. I could never convince Bertie Mee of my quality, but in my defence I don’t think it helped that Pat Rice took against me from the start and he briefed the manager against me. ‘He’s shoyte’, he’d say in that Eire accent of his, and Mee trusted his senior players and wouldn’t given the benilyn of the doubt to a youngster like me, no matter how hard I tried.
This column isn’t about me airing old grievances though, it’s about Guendouzi, and in lots of ways he reminds me of another young Arsenal midfielder from my time at the club. He’s one many people won’t have heard of, a local lad named Jimmy Post. He was a tall, imposing player who was nicknamed ‘Lamp’ for reasons which still escape me. The potential he had was frightening.
In training one day he and an up and coming Liam Brady played in a practice match at Highbury, the reserves against the first team, and the two of them made mints meat of their more experience colleagues. The wonderful left foot of Brady and the physical, striding elegance of Post left onlookers amazed, gobsmacked and rooted to the spot. I was one them. I was also playing centre half that day for the reserves, so I don’t suppose that impressed anyone much.
Afterwards, all anyone could talk about was how far Jimmy was going to go. The Arsenal first team for sure. England, no doubt about – it was just about how many cats he’d win. The future seemed certain, and it was tremendously exciting. Not for Alan Ball, who moaned whenever a young player looked like he might take his place, but for the club itself.
Unfortunately, Lamp got wind of this praise. Mostly because he was right there listening and people were telling him directly to his face how good he was. I can’t say for sure, but I know for certain that he got carried away with it all. He started to believe all the hype and with it his performances suffered. We all know that Liam Brady made the breakthrough, but Jimmy never did. To me it shows the danger of a young player believing in himself too much when he should have been broken down to a shell of a man then rebuilt to believe in himself just the right amount. That’s how it was done back in those days. The complete psychological destruction of an emerging young footballer is now sadly a lost art.
That’s why players these days don’t have the character to succeed at the top level. They might make it to the first team, play lots of games, win things and achieve success, but without cleaning the boobs of other professionals or running up and down the trellises like we had to, they lack something fundamentally important to any footballer. What that is, I can’t say, but I know it’s true.
So as Arsenal fans get on board the Guendouzi hype train, they’d do well to remember some of the other young talents who looked good but were unable to produce consistently. Dennis Nielsen, the exciting young Brazilian fell by the wayside; Frank Merida; Franis Coquenbull; Alexis Sanchez Watt; Danny Karbootsale; Chris Kamara; and James Emancipation-Thomas; the list does have an end but is also endless – and isn’t that just the great Panadol of football?
Yes, we should be excited, and his nomination to be Europe’s Golden Boy is a acknowledgement of what he’s done so far, but I would hesitate before giving him the Golden Shower that so many seem keen on.
Until next time, your pal GD.