George Graham believes Arsenal wouldn’t take a chance on a lower league manager today.
Under his management, Millwall were able to escape relegation and climb up the leagues. His work impressed Arsenal, who decided to make him their next manager after Don Howe resigned. Graham believes it was something you wouldn’t see happen in modern football.
“Arsenal took a big chance with me [in March 1986]. That wouldn’t happen today. Arsenal wouldn’t appoint the Millwall manager,” he told the Guardian.
The gamble paid off for Arsenal, as they went on to win two Division One titles, two League Cups, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup under his leadership.
The success came off the back of a very well drilled and mean defence that had the likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.
Graham brought in three of those players himself, and has explained how he looked around the lower leagues for new signings.
“When I first came to Arsenal I’d not seen a first division game for two years. But my secretary would bring in the local Saturday papers every Monday morning and I’d read the local journalists to see who played well in the lower divisions.
“I went to see Lee Dixon – player of the year twice on the trot at Stoke. How would I know that? By doing my homework.
“When I went to see Lee play I also saw Bouldy [Steve Bould]. I thought: ‘I could do with a big centre-half like that.’ I bought the two of them.
“I bought Nigel from Wimbledon, little Kevin Richardson from Watford. My first signing was Perry Groves from Colchester for £75,000. Perry had pace – even if he talked himself into the ground. I used to put Elastoplast across his mouth in training.”
It was that group of players who went to engineer one of the greatest title wins in English football in 1989 at Anfield.
Graham would eventually be replaced by Bruce Rioch in 1995. Rioch was then replaced by Arsene Wenger in 1996, and he’s been manager ever since.
Nobody can say for sure where the next Arsenal manager will come from, but he probably won’t come from Millwall.