As supporters, we’ve all become obsessed with big money transfers since the inception of the Premier League. The money that flooded in the game in the form of television rights and sponsorship meant that everyone could now spend a few million on bolstering their squads and as time has gone by, the spending has increased tenfold. Yet, we have forgotten about those who don’t cost a dime but are valuable as gold, the Ray Parlour type.
Arsenal have reluctantly dipped a toe into the big-money transfer market over recent seasons, but it’s all a long way from the days when Arsenal shocked the football world by breaking the £2million barrier for Ian Wright from Crystal Palace in 1991.
My point is that as the game has become a global money-spinner, we’ve all been distracted and disconnected from a few of the oldest rules in the game. Of course, it’s nice to have the flair players, who would say no to adding Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Eden Hazard, Isco, Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Paulo Dybala or Sadio Mane to their ranks, but we’ve forgotten the players that don’t always make the headlines but are worth their weight in gold, the Ray Parlours of the world.
Ray Parlour was an excellent player for Arsenal from 1992 to 2004, making 339 appearances for the club and contributing 22 goals. He won the double in 1997–98 and again 2002 and was one of Arsenal’s Invincibles in 2003/04. He wasn’t the most flamboyant or gifted player but he was a committed workhorse, who gave everything over 90 minutes.
‘The Romford Pele’, as he was known, was so well regarded that he appeared alongside many of Arsenal’s acclaimed talents such as Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, and Dennis Bergkamp. You have to be good to share that company!
Ray Parlour was another of George Graham’s excellent homegrown jewels and he installed him tentatively into his midfield in 1992 for his combative and competitive style. By the time Arsene Wenger arrived, Parlour had found his niche but, the Frenchman built upon his existing gifts and made him more of an expressive midfielder and an attacking threat.
George Graham, in particular, could spot a player who perhaps, didn’t come with the usual bells and whistles but one that could be integral to his team. How the Arsenal midfield could do with a Ray Parlour type character today. A heartbeat for the team going forward and a tenacious defender and ball-winner on the back foot.
Despite the doom and gloom regarding Arsenal’s finances, they will reinforce in the middle this summer, but probably not at a cost of £80m. Arsenal may go bargain hunting again for an emerging Spanish player to work with a group of emerging youngsters, who are currently learning the ropes.
So where is Arsenal’s next Ray Parlour?
Perhaps, the next Ray Parlour will come from the academy, from the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland Niles, Matt Smith, and the exhilarating Miguel Azeez.
They have already unearthed Bukayo Saka (recently signed a contract extension), who at 18, plays the game like he has contested the Premier League for years, now they need someone that can impose himself on a game without necessarily being the headline act.
Someone, who gets the best out of others by providing cover at the back and support in attack, probably not a marquee signing, more likely a face we already know.
George Graham believed in work rate, desire, and ambition, Ray Parlour had that in abundance but he also had the talent. It shone occasionally, but his contribution was a far greater factor to Wenger’s success during the first ten years in the Premier League than anyone realised.