The sound of silence is never a good thing on the football field but WBA defender Kyle Bartley is a man with something to say, ideas to share, suggestions to give.
By Dave Bowler
It’s been a theme for managers these many years now that the modern game lacks talkers. Players go on the pitch and say nothing, they complain. No instructions, no advice, and certainly no rollockings. Bartley isn’t like that. He makes his presence felt in the right way, looking to get the best out of himself and out of those around him. It’s a good trait to have and one that seems to come naturally.
“I think it’s important that players have good communication on the pitch and talking has always been something that has been within me as a player. I hate losing, I really hate it, so when we are out there, I want us to talk to each other because I think it makes things a lot easier.”
That Kyle is a big character should come as no surprise because for a long time now, he has brought a single-minded devotion to his game, to the pursuit of improvement and to the hunt for wins and for success.
Some players, past and present, will ruefully admit that with them, the realisation that the need for ruthless determination and a focused professionalism came a little late in the day, costing them time that a professional footballer simply cannot afford if he is going to make the absolute most of his talents. In contrast, as far as Bartley is concerned, the penny dropped when he was still a young teenager.
“I started off my career back home up north, when I joined Bolton Wanderers at the age of 11. I stayed in the youth set up there until I was 15, 16 years old. At that stage, I got the opportunity to move down to London to join Arsenal and that was a big decision to make at that age, moving to the other end of the country, to the capital city.
“I remember that my mum was a nervous wreck about it all at the time! Obviously she was worried about me being so far away from home at that age, but I felt that for my career, the chance to go and work with the coaches and the players that they had at Arsenal, it was too big a thing to turn down.
“There were other options at the time too, in the same area up north, but that would have meant me staying at home and at that time, I felt moving away from home would be a good thing for me because it was time for me to grow up and be more independent. I felt that leaving home would be good for my football as well as for me as a person.
“Getting away from my family and friends at that age, I felt like it would mean I only had football to focus on, nothing else, and I felt like that would push me on to develop quicker. It’s a short career and I wanted to make things happen as quickly as I could.
“I was in digs initially when I moved down there, for about a year and a half or so. I lived with an Italian family in north London, so the food was great! They owned an Italian restaurant actually, so they were great cooks, no complaints there!
“They were fantastic with me, lovely people to be with and I was really lucky in that respect. And they were such a nice family with two children of a similar age to me, so it was easy to settle in initially having made the move.
“Understandably, fans do tend to just think of what you do on the pitch, but growing up as a person is a very big part of growing up as a footballer. You have to handle responsibility on the field and you’re better equipped to do that if you’re doing the same in your life away from the game.
“Looking back, it was a difficult thing to do, but it was probably the best decision that I could have made. I had to grow up a lot quicker than what I would have done at home with my mum looking after me, doing everything for me! I learnt a lot of football lessons at Arsenal but also a lot of life lessons too.
“They are very good in that respect, because Arsenal don’t just teach you how to play the game, they are very clear about what a responsibility it is to represent that football club, being a good person, having good values. The staff there would talk to you about “the Arsenal way”.
Liam Brady Influence
“People on the outside would probably think of that as just being the way that Arsene Wenger wanted his team to play their football but there was a lot more to it than that, it was about being a person, the way you conducted yourself, the dynamics of dealing with people at the training ground and within the club.
“Liam Brady was very influential, he looked after the academy, and Steve Bould was coaching there. They were two brilliant people to work with, not just in terms of football, but as people too, steeped in Arsenal tradition.
“On the field, the way Arsenal always played under Arsene Wenger, it was a different kind of schooling for defenders, because Arsenal play from the back, they want you to pass the ball and build up the play, where some other clubs defenders are just there to win the ball and get it as far away from goal as possible.
“Working under Steve Bould, it was a really good mix because as a player, he was quite an old school defender, no nonsense, but when he came to play at Arsenal, he’d learnt the football side of it as well and added that to his game.
“I think he appreciated both sides of the game so he wasn’t somebody who wanted to play out at all costs and take unnecessary risks. He was somebody who was happy to do that when it was on, but always stressed that your first job was to prevent goals going in, make sure that you defended first. He taught me a lot about decision making, when to play and when not to.
“It is hard for young players at Arsenal to get first team chances because they have the money to go out and buy experienced, big name players when they want to. I guess that’s true at all clubs of that size like Chelsea, Manchester United and the rest. I think that’s something the age in this country needs to look at”.