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Monday, November 29, 2021

Football club ‘DNA’: a definitive guide to what is in yours

Every football supporter thinks their club is special. Each has certain qualities which endure, a style of play, a way of doing things, a personality. The less romantic truth is that this is often nonsense. 

Many fans latch on to happy memories of their team’s most successful period. They often believe that what worked then should be the blueprint forevermore in spite of evolution, circumstance or appointing Sam Allardyce. Clubs can trade on a few years of entertaining football forever despite the decades of dreary stuff that followed.

Most also believe their team is uniquely vulnerable to jinxes, injustice or making a meal of things from a promising position. Mostly this is confirmation bias, an oddly comforting way to view an unfair sport/world.  

Yet identity does exist in football and does differ from club to club. The modern term is “DNA”. The game’s ruling classes would say it is about a coherent strategy which informs how teams play from youth level up. Getting it right means squads can evolve and managers change with little long-term difference.

For fans though the things that endure are matters of folk history. The kit looking a certain way. Managers setting the right tone in their opening press conference. An outsized love for a certain sort of player.

The weight given to such beliefs overlook the brutal realities of modern football. Even the most romantic supporters would, when it comes down to it, just prefer for their team to win all the time. Most fans would sell their all-time leading goalscorer for a sustained spell of relevance in the Premier League, regardless of style.

Nevertheless, let us begin an audit of Premier League DNA. What does each team believe about itself, how well are they currently fitting that mould and is their manager a proud exponent of history or some philistine who just doesn’t ‘get the club’?

In alphabetical order:

Arsenal

Supposed DNA

Genetically altered, like the anti-vaxxers fear. Went from steely offside merchants to The IT Crowd aesthetes who are forever “trying to walk it in” midway through the 90s.

Current DNA

Spoilt by the glory of early Wenger, traumatised by the drift of later Wenger and at this point would re-embrace George Graham football if it meant getting back into the Champions League. An identity crisis which partially explains the febrile mood of their noisy online fanbase during every bad run of form.

Current managerial suitability

Suitably cosmopolitan, has Arsenal connection in common with Graham if not Wenger or Herbert Chapman. Doing well, but not really dispelling the sense that the club has an enduring lack of leadership. 

Aston Villa

Supposed DNA

A team of triers, with a bit of creativity in the middle, flair out wide and ideally with one of their own involved. Forever a mixed bag, who tend to make things quite difficult for themselves. Won a European Cup, you know!

Actual current DNA

Stuck in a post-Grealish slump and disproportionately haunted by their longer-than-expected spell in the second tier and the nadir rabble of a squad which got them there.

Current managerial suitability

Seemed perfect until about three weeks ago. Made a big point of prioritising ‘the culture,’ which went down well but not well enough to keep Dean Smith in a job.

Brentford

Supposed DNA

A strong anti-dickhead mentality. No one person is bigger than the club, which might present problems in the top flight as a not-big club. Polite but not pushovers and a pub on every corner.

Actual current DNA

Data-driven, nose-bloodying Moneyballers. Very much ‘living their values’ currently, although attempting to dismiss the nagging worry they are this generation’s Wigan/Oldham/Reading, brief overachievers who will never reach the same heights. Pubs still there, but now a mile’s walk to the stadium.

Current managerial suitability

Great, as long as Thomas Frank doesn’t start getting ideas above his station.

Brighton

Supposed DNA

Phoenix which rose from ashes of existential threat then rose even higher with help of spreadsheets. A generally sound bunch who turn nasty twice a year to play Palace.

Actual current DNA

You can’t spell DNA without Dan (Ashworth), football’s answer to actual DNA-discoverer Johann Friedrich Miescher, whose big England plans bore fruit in 2018 and last summer. Attempting to dismiss the nagging worry they are this generation’s Stoke, enjoying a long but ultimately unmemorable spell in the top flight.

Current managerial suitability

Ideal for the current moment, very out of step from the Skint/Goldstone Ground/horrible place with the athletics track era.

Burnley

Supposed DNA

Burnley

Actual current DNA

Burnley

Current managerial suitability

Perfect 

Chelsea

Supposed DNA

Fluid, complicated, ruthless. Don’t mind how they win but will not tolerate tiki-taka. Clearly transformed by all the lovely money, but the glamour of location and personnel predates Abramovich, as does an ease with being disliked.

Actual current DNA

Enjoying their triennial spell of being the best team in the country. Youth system as buy to let-style means of rich getting richer at the expense of the poor. Fans doggedly maintain a link to the past and still sing a song regularly about being in Division 2 more than 30 years ago.

Current managerial suitability

Thomas Tuchel’s winning, so he’s great. Frank who?

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