Tag Arsene Wenger

Tag Arsene Wenger

Sir Alex’ lesson for the Professor

August 30, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 32 comments

If anyone needed proof that the current Manchester United side is superior to its north London rivals, then Sunday’s 8-2 demolition of Arsenal provided it. Even taking into account the multiple absences in the Gunners’ squad, the result offered a stark demonstration of the gulf in quality between Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad and that of Frenchman Arsène Wenger.

There have, inevitably perhaps, been calls for Wenger’s head from disappointed Arsenal fans who find themselves humiliated by an unthinkable result and disillusioned at a transfer window that has seen the sale of top-quality players with little in the way of replacements. The Gunners’ fans cannot understand how their club has fallen so far from the glory of Wenger’s ‘untouchable’ team of 2003-2004, which went an entire Premier League season undefeated.

For years in the late 1990s and early 2000s Arsenal fans enjoyed a shared dominance of the Premier League with United, which was finally ended in 2005 by the revolutionary spending of Abramovich-backed Chelsea. This event dramatically transformed the Premier League as Chelsea radically raised the bar needed for Premier League success with an end-of-season haul of 95 points.

At the time, this downturn in fortune for both United and Arsenal seemed insurmountable. But it was the managers’ reactions to the setback that has truly set them apart. While Ferguson rose to and overcame the challenge, Wenger floundered and has never recovered.

In the mid 2000s, sensing a danger to his United empire, Ferguson looked to the future, selling established players such as David Beckham, Roy Keane, Tim Howard and Ruud van Nistelrooy and replacing them with younger talent including Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin Van der Sar. These players were to form the backbone of a side that would win four titles between 2006 and 2011.

Furthermore, Ferguson adapted to the European game, developing tactics including a three-man midfield that provided solidity and a fluid attacking unit that rendered Ronaldo, Rooney and Carlos Tevez almost unplayable. This was crucial in reaching three Champions League Finals during the latter part of the decade despite a move away from the rigid 4-4-2 that Ferguson employed to great effect in 1999.

Wenger, on the other hand, was far less successful in adapting to the new challenge posed by Abramovich’s Chelsea. Players such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown were never satisfactorily replaced and although talented players including Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie helped mount some title challenges, there was always a negative feeling in the Arsenal camp. This led to a repeated and dramatic mid-season collapse in belief, such as that in 2008.

Today, the Premier League is faced with a new challenge – that of Manchester City and the club’s seemingly bottomless pocket. Ferguson has been charged in recent years with some hugely daunting tasks. He has replaced the magnificent Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the ever negative Tevez and has dealt with the retirement of ageing talents: Paul Scholes, Van der Sar and Gary Neville. Players such as Ryan Giggs and even Rio Ferdinand are in the twilight of their careers. At least with United.

Ferguson is, however, a master at creating new teams, keeping the best elements of an old team and merging them with new talent. Once again, he has succeeded in doing this, offering United fans a strong sense of optimism for the future and for the challenge that City will inevitably pose. He has signed young players of great quality such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young; brought through home-grown talents Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, and has coupled them with the undoubted ability of existing players.

Wenger, on the other hand, has been forced into selling two of his best players – Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Talk of signing 26-year-old striker Park Chu-Young and 28-year-old full-back André Santos will do little to encourage Arsenal fans as they lick their wounds from Sunday’s 8-2 defeat. Once again, it seems, Wenger and his team are failing to adapt whilst Ferguson’s United are facing the challenge head on.

It seems ‘The Professor’ has much to learn if he is to recreate a team to challenge that of his old adversary Sir Alex.

Wenger gets it right and oh so wrong on ‘tapping up’

July 25, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 24 comments

Let there be no mistake ‘tapping up’ in professional football existed long before the Football Association set down its absurd rules banning the practice; governance that is unworkable, impractical and utterly pointless in a globalised football market. Yet, Arsène Wenger once again called for the FA to amend its framework, with Arsenal’s Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas under the gaze of predatory rivals this summer.

Indeed, asked if he believes the pair has been tapped up this summer Wenger called on the rules to be reviewed. It is not the first time the 61-year-old manager has cried foul over more successful, financially dominant rivals chasing Arsenal’s players.

That the north London club has successfully pillaged Barcelona’s academy for Fabregas, Fran Mérida, Jon Toral, and Hector Bellerin in recent seasons is not without its irony of course. Wenger’s inconsistency has always been defined only by its consistency.

“I would like to return the question to you,” quipped the Frenchman.

“What do you think? We live in a realistic world. I do not want to assess what I cannot prove. I know how things happen. It doesn’t necessarily go through the player or the agent but I think it is a rule that has to be reviewed. It’s not really respected.”

Yet the Frenchman’s apparent hypocrisy is moot; Wenger is right that the rules on tapping up need reformation but utterly wrong that the FA needs to strengthen an outmoded philosophy. After all the rules not only patronise players but are a restriction of trade made worthless by contract law. Indeed, as Wenger has made clear this summer Arsenal need not sell Fabregas nor Nasri as each remains under contract with the Londoners until the club is prepared to release their registrations.

But legal protection proffered under contract law is made irrelevant, so say critics, because of player power, a mythical universal force that means clubs must put economics before everything else. In that Wenger’s intransigence this summer is to be admired, even if the Frenchman’s faux horror at Barcelona’s pursuit of Fabregas returns us to that word hypocrisy once again.

The need for reformation of the tapping up regulations – or, preferably, removing them entirely – is more relevant still given the globalised nature of the football market. After all, players are little more than an asset traded, not solely between clubs, but third parties and non-affiliated training academies too. These organisations, such as Desportivo Brasil with whom Manchester United has an agreement, are little more than farms for the manufacturer and export of youthful football talent.

In that context the ban on tapping up makes sense as a protectionist measure only for those institutions that are unwilling to sell but cannot retain players by any normal means, such as money, silverware, or a feel-good-factor. Arsenal, then.

This argument is moot in any case. The one successful prosecution by the FA in recent memory – that of Ashley Cole and Chelsea – was made a mockery by Arsenal’s willingness to sell the player shortly thereafter. As if Wenger delights more not in success but in the moral superiority that the former Monaco coach so often basks in.

Then there is the very real truth in Wenger’s comments – clubs need not confer directly with players that they wish to sign when football is an industry over-populated with agents, middle-men and brokers. Perhaps Wenger would prefer the phones of every licensed – or otherwise – agent tapped to ensure that his want-away players never again hear of an interested outside party.

Have Nasri and Fabregas been “tapped up” in any normal definition? Absolutely yes. Does it matter a jot? Not at all.

Of course Manchester United cried foul in 2007, reporting Real Madrid to FIFA over the Spanish giant’s incessant pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even then United relented a year later when Madrid returned with a world-record transfer bid for the Portuguese forward. Once again economics trumped the moral high-ground that Sir Alex Ferguson had claimed.

Ferguson though is ever the pragmatist. The Scot’s apparent angry promise that he would not “sell that mob a virus” hid the gentleman’s agreement that Ronaldo would eventually be allowed to leave. All that mattered at that moment was the price.

“You don’t want to [keep unhappy players] really,” said Ferguson yesterday when asked about Nasri and Fabregas.

“Cristiano Ronaldo was never unhappy at United, but he always had a thing about playing for Real Madrid and I believed him. We did well to have him for six years and getting that final year was a bonus because he was disheartened the previous summer. It could have affected him at the time, but we did well to keep him for an extra year and we got top money for him. But it’s usually the foreign players who want to get back to their nest.”

In that there is some truth where Fabregas is concerned, with the 24-year-old Catalan desperate to return ‘home’. Nasri has no intention of returning to Marseille of course as the midfielder plots a lucrative move north to Manchester City.

And there’s the rub: no FA regulation can compete with a £200,000-a-week offer. It is the same principal, if not the absolute salary, that has attracted so many youthful player’s to Arsenal from Catalonia in recent years.

Sanctimonious Wenger does Ramsey little justice

March 3, 2010 Tags: , , , Opinion

As stricken Welshman Aaron Ramsey lay, leg shattered, the pious cry of Arsène Wenger could almost be heard above the youngster’s screams. But with the dust settling, it is debatable what chasm will heal first: Wenger’s rash assertion that there is an anti-Arsenal conspiracy to injure his players or the midfielder’s fractured bones.

Football, as a contact sport of long-standing, is well used to serious injury but its power to shock is undiminished. Ramsey’s injury was every bit as sickening as those suffered by Eduardo, Alan Smith, David Buust and countless others over the years.

As a highly talented youngster at a leading club Ramsey’s injury, naturally, garners more national interest than most. But it is this very fact that proffers Wenger a platform to pronounce Ryan Shawcross not only guilty but lay the charge of national conspiracy at the Stoke City player’s door.

The degree of legitimacy in the former-Manchester United youngster’s tackle has been widely debated. Opinions range from essentially labeling Shawcross as the demonic figurehead of a brutalist sport bent on destroying Arsenal to the belief that Wenger should personally apologise to the Stoke defender.

Neither is true of course, and although it is hard to defend a tackle whose outcome was an injury of such severity, perspective must be kept.

That Ramsey’s broken leg, on first medical analysis, will heal and enable the player to return within the year is a blessing. And in time perspective normally brings a more rational response as well healing broken bones. Except, sadly, in Wenger whose extrapolation from one tackle the intentions of an entire community is deeply flawed.

The trouble with Wenger is that his didactic assertion, born of a skewed partisan viewpoint, that football is in some way out to get his team is hugely wide of the mark. The Shawcross incident is hardly the first time Wenger has made this charge. It has become an habitual pattern.

Football is and always has been a sport both of technical skill and physicality. There is no monopoly on the former at Arsenal and no conspiracy to direct the later solely at Wenger’s side. The Frenchman’s attempt to assert moral authority over the rest of the football community is deeply insulting.

Wenger also allows a legitimate charge of hypocrisy to be laid at his door. In recent seasons the Arsenal manager has condoned the perpetrators of two of the most shocking tackles seen in English football.

William Gallas’ brutal two footed assault on Bolton Wanderers’ Mark Davies is no less violent simply because the outcome was less destructive than Shawcross’. Similarly, Abou Diaby’s challenge on Bolton’s Gretar Steinsson was miraculous only in that it did not break the Iceland midfielder’s ankle.

Just two examples to illustrate a point but each challenge could have resulted in far more serious injury. Would it then have been justifiable to label Arsenal a side pre-determined to break opponents’ legs? Of course not.

Sadly the debate has degenerated into two camps. Those within the Arsenal family, spurred on by Wenger’s illegitimate paranoia, genuinely believe than not only did Shawcross mean to break Ramsay’s leg but that there is a culture of violence against their team. Few outside of the Emirates buy into that analysis.

The pity in all of it is that Ramsey deserves better support from his manager. He’ll need it.

Poll: Arsène Wenger is…

August 30, 2009 Tags: Polls 4 comments

Arsenal Manger Arséne Wenger completely lost the plot in his side’s defeat to United at the weekend. Wenger started the week lashing out at UEFA for threatening to ban the cheat Eduardo, and ended it blaming the referee, fourth official, Elvis and the Man in the Moon for his side’s 2-1 loss. Wenger defended Eduardo’s outrageous dive against Celtic, and then did the same went Emmanuel Eboué repeated the trick against United. Confirmed liar Wenger seems to be losing the plot…

Arsene Wenger is...

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