Some days you cannot help but despair at those who have made it into the luxurious position of informing the nation of their footballing opinion. So ridiculous is their view that you sit back and wonder ‘is there really no-one better?’
The muppets have been out in force this week. But before we start, let’s have a look at Wenger’s views on tackling, just so we know the basis for the cluelessness that follows:
“I must say I love the way the game is played in England. The one restriction has to be full commitment with the intention of going for the ball and only for the ball. The English game becomes dangerous when the players go to hurt each other. You need intention aligned with the type of game you play in England.”
“More protection can become boring as well. I’ve seen some countries when every little push or shoulder-to-shoulder is a foul and then it becomes boring because they interrupt the game too much. I prefer, by miles, the philosophy of the English game but you need to know everyone goes for the ball and only the ball.”
It is difficult to argue with any of that, and repeats a mantra so many of the country’s press like to omit from their stories – Wenger loves a good, hard, fair tackle. What he cannot abide are deliberate fouls, challenges designed specifically to go through the man. Not necessarily to seriously injure – no-one is suggesting players stoop that low (Roy Keane aside) – but to ‘let the player know you’re there’, or to ‘get stuck into him’. That sort of justifying euphemism.
And he’s right. But every time a Taylor or a Shawcross shatters a player’s leg with their reckless challenges, there are those who mock him for his subsequent anger, pointing to the likes of Adams and Vieira and claiming their approach was the same. Yes, that pair relished a battle, but they loved the win the ball cleanly in a crunching challenge, not put in a cowardly studs-to-the-knee lunge that does nothing but put another professional at risk. We’re no angels – Diaby and Gallas have been guilty of poor challenges in recent years, and were rightly condemned. All that can be asked is that all such incidents are treated with equality.
Which brings me to Mark Lawrenson, who wrote in today’s Mirrorthat Wenger ‘complains that his team shouldn’t be tackled’. No Mark, he doesn’t. There is a huge difference between tackling, and recklessly lunging, and if you can’t tell the difference between the two, what the hell are you doing on the Match of the Day sofa? Oh yes, calling players ‘jessies’ and harking back to the ‘good old days’.
It is a popular myth that Wenger wants to eradicate tackling from football. And the worrying thing is that this myth is being quite deliberately portrayed by those with a agenda they refuse to change. Every time he says he loves a tackle, but just wants it to be fair, those lines are omitted from the newspapers, and when Paul Robinson put in his shocking tackle on Diaby last weekend, Match of the Day never showed it. The BBC report never mentioned it, but they did write about his anger afterwards. What would those who only watched the highlights be left to conclude? Exactly.
The Soccer Saturday team today were even worse – showing a sequence of decent Bolton challenges from the game before asking each other what the Wenger’s problem was. Listen, you cretins – the problem wasn’t those challenges, it was the ones you conveniently didn’t show. The whole segment was so obviously contrived to anyone who had watched the game that you are left with only one conclusion – it was a quite deliberately misleading piece. I long for the years when news channels just reported – now they invent stories and controversy by viciously slanting the truth. There is simply no way that the entire panel could have been so myopic as to think Wenger’s beef was with some of the fairer challenges of the day. Idiots.
Moving on, we come to Harry Redknapp, who plays the old ‘Arsenal used to be hard’ card:
“Arsenal, a few years ago: Tony Adams, Keown, Bould, Winterburn, Lee Dixon, Vieira, Petit. That was a very strong, aggressive team – a fantastic team. They were great competitors; they had their share of cards, the same as everybody.”
“What Arsene’s saying is they’ve had one or two injuries. But if people are going for the ball and it’s a fair tackle then there’s no problem if they’re aggressive.”
Where do you begin? Yes, that team was physical and competitive, and while they could overstep the mark they never committed the sort of reckless challenge that ends careers. There is nothing wrong with teams being physical, or going in hard for 50-50 tackles. Wenger isn’t saying there is, no-one is. What gets him angry, and rightly so, is these ‘one or two injuries’ were caused by shocking challenges in which the ball was a complete irrelevance to the tackler. How is that so hard to understand?
If that was a motley crew of idiots, the last two take the proverbial biscuit. First, we have the ever-delightful Sam Allardyce, who takes his customary swipe at Wenger, this time claiming he influences referees:
“Arsene has most of the media in his pocket now and is almost – almost – affecting the officials so that you can’t tackle an Arsenal player.”
If that were true, would we be suffering the sort of challenges that we’ve seen this season? I would dissect this further, but Allardyce follows it up with a gem of such delusion that pointing out how wrong he is becomes entirely superfluous:
“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the Double or the league every time.”
“Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Spectacular. Frankly, given how highly the Real faithful value their style of play (there are already mutterings concerning Mourinho’s approach), he wouldn’t last a month. Yes, his track record is pretty good at Bolton and Blackburn, but less impressive than, say, Roy Hodgson or David Moyes. He is a competent manager at his current level but to think he could breeze to titles if in charge of a big club is supremely arrogant and sadly misguided.
And how do you think Blackburn players and fans feel today, reading that he feels he ‘isn’t suited’ to their level. Patronised much?
Thanks Sam, for giving us reason never to take anything you say seriously, ever again.
One more to go, and it is a peach – Tony Scholes, the Stoke chief executive. You may recall that Wenger had a go at Stoke’s tactics in their game against Spurs, likening their approach at corners to a rugby match (Shawcross and Huth ignoring the ball and concentrating on impeding Gomes being the main point). Stoke responded with a complaint to the FA, which was rejected (I’m surprised they didn’t use the word ‘frivolous’ in their response), but they refuse to let it go. Over to you, Tony:
“We have written to him [Wenger] objecting to these comments and have asked for an apology. Much as we respect Arsene Wenger, we cannot allow him to continue criticising us in this way.”
“Therefore, in the absence of any apology, we will continue with our complaint, even though it has been reported that the FA will take no action.”
Stop sniggering in the back. Yes, you read that right – Stoke are demanding action, despite already getting informed that we live in a country of free speech. Wenger didn’t even say anything that inflammatory, and Stoke are unwilling to look at themselves in the mirror long enough to realise that he’s right.
As for an apology, where was yours when Shawcross put one of our most promising player’s career at risk earlier this year? Or is that somehow less important?
In other news, we’ve got a match in a little over an hour. I would preview it, but I feel this piece is already long enough – suffice to say it will be a test for our new defensive pairing. Could be lively – enjoy the game.