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Vic Akers Exclusive: Ex-Arsenal kit-man backs Arteta for success; regrets Ramsey exit

Few individuals can boast such an influence on the recent history of a club as Vic Akers can at Arsenal.

The former left-back joined the club as the community manager in 1986 before founding the women's side a year later as manager.

During a 22-year stint at the helm Akers led the club to unprecedented levels of success, while also laying the foundations for the success Joe Montemurro has brought about in recent seasons.

Akers' influence stretched beyond the women's side and he was appointed as kit man for the first team in 1996, a role that he left upon Arsene Wenger's departure in 2018.

Since leaving the club he was associated with for more than 30 years, Akers refused to retire and instead moved onto a new role as the assistant manager of National League side Boreham Wood in February 2019.

His new side sit eighth in the table at the half way stage and with the play-offs in their sights, Akers is as focused on the task at hand as ever.

"It is all loaded on the league itself and our goal is to try and secure a position in the play-offs, and if we can make it to Wembley that will be an even bigger boost," he told Tribal Football.

"We are still focused on the top two and if we can make that it will be a major plus. The table is tight and congested so it is all to play for."

Having been involved at the top level for a number of years, Akers hasn't been involved in non-league football since the 1980s as a player.

However, he has been impressed with the standard of players, managers and clubs in the division.

"I was brought up on the lower leagues so I know what standards to expect," he explained.

"When you look at the clubs in the National League right there a number of huge clubs, including Notts County who are the oldest league club there is. But it is fantastic going to their ground and playing clubs like Yeovil, Barnet, Dagenham and Chesterfield. We played Wrexham too who once beat Arsenal in the cup."

Non-league football has produced a number of Premier League players in recent years, with former Arsenal left-back Cohen Bramall someone Akers knows well.

While things didn't quite work out for Bramall at the Gunners, he is now a regular at Colchester United and started their recent EFL Cup quarter-final against Manchester United.

For Akers, helping players moving up the leagues and achieve their potential is a real motivating factor and he hopes to help more talented youngsters develop through his new role.

"We have a couple players with us now who are good young players that are progressing well that just need to be taught a life lesson alongside the football lessons," he said.

"If they can grow into good, respectful young men, which is what we try to do, I think they have a great chance. We certainly have two or three that can play in the football league. When you see kids come from league clubs to ply their trade in the non-leagues, they get to play men's football, not under 23s and it's a way of growing up. I find it invaluable for clubs to loan out these players and we have one right now from Brentford in Justin Shaibu who is playing really well."

One player that benefitted from lower league experience is Gabriel Martinelli, who has broken into the Arsenal side this season after spending the first few years of his career in non-league football in Brazil.

Akers has been very impressed with his fast development and was taken aback by how well he settled in England.

"I have been incredibly impressed with his work, he has a really English type attitude," he said.

"He is a grafter that works hard for the team, closes people down and has many of the attributes you would traditionally associate with English football."

While Akers' involvement with the Arsenal men's side was significant and lasted more than 20 years, he will perhaps be best remembered at the club for his work with the women's team.

During his time as manager, Arsenal Women won 36 trophies including 11 league titles and one Women's UEFA Cup.

"In our early years we were totally dominant in what we achieve and that was a major achievement," Akers said.

"For me to leave that legacy is a huge honour, but it's also great to see the team doing well again after a few baron years. To see that come back it is very pleasing for me and the club and I still have a big interest in Arsenal and the women's game. It has come on leaps and bounds and long may that continue. The women's game is on a roll at the moment and being professional has been a big boost to the girls."

While women's football continues to grow, Akers said an issue that needs to be resolved is the lack of competitiveness seen in some of the matches.

"There is a large gulf between the top four sides and some of the others in the Women's Super League," he explained.

"This is a gap we need to make up because you cannot have a league where one of the top three is certain to win. We have just had the inclusion of Manchester United as well which is promising, but I suppose this is similar to the Premier League too, so it does come around in most sports too. When you see some of scores Arsenal Women have been putting up in recent weeks it is not good for the game. It could be up to five years until that gap closes and I think the game will be better for it. Nobody enjoys a 9-0, not the winners or the losers. There are lots of really good things too, like FA Cup finals at Wembley which I worked tirelessly for and the north London derby at White Hart Lane."

Arsenal Women won their first WSL title since 2012 last season under the guidance of Australian head coach Montemurro and Akers said that he has done a good job taking the side forward and winning honours.

"He has done a fine job," he said.

"There is the difference that he has had money to spend on the squad and that wasn't something that I was afforded during my time at the club. Arsenal have players from all over Europe whereas they wouldn't have come in the past. Now this is one of the strongest leagues in the world and top players now want to come and join."

While the Arsenal Women's team goes from strength to strength, the Arsenal men's side is currently halfway through one of their worst seasons in living memory.

Now on their third head coach of the season in Mikel Arteta though, things are starting to improve and a win against Manchester United on New Year's Day was an example of things improving.

Akers knows Arteta well from the Spaniard's time as a player and he expects him to continue to do a good job as the head coach.

"I am good friends with Mikel having had him there as a player and a captain, we were very close and still are," he explained.

"I texted him when he got the job to wish him well and I am glad because either Arteta or Patrick Vieira would have been my choice as coach because they know the club and its values. I felt sorry for Unai Emery because he was very pleasant any time I met him but he had an issue with the language and it wasn't easy for him. Mikel's appointment is a good one and he has already brought a discipline back to the club which is necessary and I think they will be on the up pretty shortly. If he is also able to bring players I think Arsenal will do well."

One of the starkest changes under Emery was squad turnover, with long-serving players such as Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all leaving the club.

These departures have certainly been felt on the pitch this season but Akers also feels they were a big loss to the dressing room.

"For me Ramsey should have never been able to leave and he was truly at the heart of the club," he said.

"For me it's daft that they let him go. I also remember Wilshere coming through but sadly his career has been impacted by injury. They have chosen to go with youth but Ramsey is exactly the type of player that could have been an ideal captain for this squad. It is difficult to lose some of the best players to other clubs and I think it could have been avoided. I am hopeful for the current young crop of players and I just hope they learn to accept what is but before them. I think Mikel will get hold of the young players and teach them about hard work and if they don't buy in they won't be at Arsenal. I really hope the club gets its values back."

With Arteta trying to turn around what has gone wrong at Arsenal, one man that will be wishing him well is former manager Arsene Wenger.

On the subject of the Frenchman, Akers is still full of praise for what he achieved and for how he was as a person.

"For me Arsene was second to none," he said.

"He always gave me great respect and spoke well about what I was doing in the women's game and gave me advice, and I think he was the best person in the world to go to for advice. I am disappointed that he had to leave the club under a cloud. He is sadly missed and no matter what people say he was a massive influence at the club. Hopefully he will do things to develop the game in other ways through his work at FIFA."

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William Dodds

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