For my first Arsenal match in August 2006, covered in the 10 am yell spit and spilled beers of fellow patrons at Nevada Smith’s in New York, I saw Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott come on as subs after Thierry Henry had done something or other phenomenal. My buddy Roland, who deserves all the blame for me being a Gunner, had filled me in on the Walcott World Cup call up fiasco and considered van Persie his favorite player. I was intrigued to see RvP play, and he pulled off an incredible shot on goal within minutes. Walcott did not. But then, he was still 16 at the time.
Van Persie now seems as if he’s been off for ages, though it’s only been a couple weeks and we will face him domestically for seasons to come. Alex Song’s deal transpired in seemingly days, though the recriminations linger on from his camp. And now 48 hours before the transfer deadline, Walcott looks to be off as well, unless he gets a substantial pay packet increase. We’ve offered a deal worth £75,000 a week, he’s currently on £60,000 a week, and he wants £100,000 a week. Arsenal do not believe he yet merits 100K, relative to the levels he has so far achieved (or failed to achieve) at the club in 222 first team appearances. We’ve got 48 hours to decide. If he doesn’t sign for us or someone else before the close of the transfer window, he leaves for free in June. We paid close to £10 million in 2006. Zero compensation doesn’t sit well with the accountants and 48 hours is neither much time to arrange a deal nor much time to arrange for a suitable replacement.
Walcott has shown “consistency in patches” (his words) and flashes of genius. Rare, yes, ephemeral, but still. The pain in the ass about the Theo contract non-extension is that no one would be broken up about the current version of the player leaving. He can sprint but otherwise he has a limited number of actual soccer-related tricks up his sleeve. Primarily the exit fear comes from the possibility that he’ll finally achieve his true potential in a different uniform. But currently, no, he doesn’t deserve what he’s demanding. He hopes to earn the highest wages at the club. It looks as if he won’t. But will we get an acceptable bid with next to no time remaining? Not looking promising, you’d have to say. Clearly, the timing of the refusal was engineered for Theo’s benefit alone. He will almost certainly leave and Arsenal will almost certainly get short-changed in the rush deal. At least RvP pitched his fake-pally public fit with enough time to deal with it.
This month, we’ve lost two of our best players to Manchester United and Barcelona, respectively. That makes two summers in a row, after two of the three best exited for Manchester City and Barcelona, respectively, last year. (We also sold Gaël Clichy to Manchester City, but no big deal there, since end-product-wise he mainly channeled ex-Gunner Alex Hleb, except Hleb could put in a better cross.) The summer before that, our for-one-season-only top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor pimped himself out to City. The summer before that, the stalwart (and alone of them all, non-money-grubbing) centerback Kolo Toure got free of William Gallas by heading to City. And before that, our all-time leading scorer Thierry Henry floated over to Barcelona. But at least we later suckered Barcelona with Hleb. Ha-ha.
When we want to see former players, whether in away fixtures or simply for social calls, luckily we can just visit two principal cities. Manchester and Barcelona. Early reports peg Walcott for City, naturally, since they’ve got more than enough money, despite the fact that they’ve got far better personnel in his position. But that, as they say, is not our problem. Perhaps someone just forgot to update the Arsenal to City multiple-use media template. The other main mooted destination, Liverpool, makes more sense, because their wingers need help. Chelsea’s name pops up, as well, but that seems unlikely. Why would they downgrade? Hazard, Oscar, Mata and … the headless sprinting chicken. But a clean-cut, very marketable because English-born, speedy headless chicken.
We can either go with the hysteria cue or take a more measured approach. Let’s do the latter.
In the past 14 months, we’ve lost two world class players, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas. The next level down, Samir Nasri. Another level down, Alex Song. Level down again, Walcott and Clichy.
In the meantime, we’ve strengthened with Santi Cazorla, who’s definitely world class. Next level down, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Mikel Arteta. We’ve brought in future bright lights in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and possibly Ryo Miyaichi. Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker and Gervinho can each put in a solid shift on their day. And from the academy, Ignasi Miquel, Francis Coquelin, Nico Yennaris and Emmanuel Frimpong. Meanwhile, Kieran Gibbs is at least as good as Clichy, whose main strength was resistance to injury, so perhaps we’re even there. And one day, our young savior Jack Wilshere may reenter the mix matrix.
Much could happen in the next 48 hours, even though reinforcements may not be forthcoming. At the very least, one would hope the “exodus” will include the dead weight we’ve been trying to unload all summer: Nicklas Bendtner, Park Ju Yung, Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Denilson and so on.
Back to Theo. He has long divided opinion, but the contract rejection couldn’t come at a worse time, not least from an “Arsenal are a selling club” PR point of view. To avoid losing him on a free, we have a grand total of two days to move him on before the close of the transfer window. Deja vu in everyday life can sometimes be interesting, but in Arsenal transfer dealings it’s a horrible, horrible thing.
Recently, Michael Vick appeared on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (PTI). Vick appeared on PTI to plug his new book, Finally Free: The Power of a Second Chance. In his nearly eight minute interview, the Philadelphia Eagles star openly acknowledged his problematic past and while contrite and thoughtful he also admitted the book was also an attempt to end the conversation about his history. “We can talk football, we can talk other personal things but let’s not talk about my past, let’s leave it where it is.”
Vick’s career and life provide insights into several aspects of sport including race, and media rehabilitation. After serving hard time in prison for dog fighting, Vick’s efforts in rehabilitating his career, image, and persona have been notable. Finally Free is really the last leg in a Michael Vick public relations campaign to undercut those who see Vick as little more than a talented, underachieving, amoral mercenary dog torturing athlete.
For years, Vick has worked with the Humane Society filming PSA’s and making appearances in the name of animal rights. Yet, as Vick seems to becoming full circle, this summer a prominent English footballer finds himself regarded as a talented but maligned influence. Much like Vick, the trial of John Terry provides insights into many of the same issues, but knowing Terry’s character (as will be explained) a reversal of Michael Vick proportions seems unlikely. Instead of the thoughtful, long term, self-reflective, and honest effort by Vick, Terry should go for the superficial answer much like his manic violent Newcastle peer Joey Barton.
The Trial of the Century?
In the second week of July, one of the most anticipated summer trials in all of England ended with a predictable acquittal. John Terry, Chelsea’s stalwart defender and starter for the English national team, was found not guilty of racially abusing another player. Accused of directing a racial profanity toward QPR defender Anton Ferdinand (Terry allegedly called him a “black cunt”), Terry professed his innocence, even taking the stand to relate to the court how soccer players interact on the pitch.
The trial itself played out in tragic-comic fashion via the New York Times. Needless to say, the language exchanged between opposing players at any level can reach rather dicey levels as insults directed at one’s family members prove quite common. In college, I roomed with a female soccer player who admitted to once using a remark about child molestation to get under the skin of the forward she was marking and that was Division III soccer. Between amateur and professional male athletes, mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives bear the brunt of such insults, just ask Zidane who sacrificed France’s 2002 World Cup to defend his sister’s honor (Italian Player Marco Materazzi later admitted to more or less calling her a whore). The Daily Mail quoted Terry pointing out that “players routinely tell each other they ‘s***’ each other’s partners.” It got even worse, as during testimony Terry further admitted “that conversations between players descend to degrading levels during the heat of battle in the Barclays Premier League.” Do tell?
Of course anyone who uses the Times as a source for such prurient details was disappointed argued the Atlantic’sAlexander Abad-Santos. Abad-Santos pointed out that the Times policy of neutering language to avoid controversy had turned “a NSFW cluster-cuss into the most sterile argument ever,” he noted. At least the Times gave us all stateside some new slang: handbags as in “this whole thing is handbags” or much to do about nothing as Chelsea teammate Ashley Cole described the whole affair. Terry portrayed his interaction with Ferdinand similarly. “As the argument on the field became more heated, Mr. Terry at one point compared Mr. Ferdinand to male genitalia, and then to female genitalia, in consecutive sentences. Most of these constituted ‘handbags,’ or ‘normal verbal exchanges between the players,’ reported the Times.” In the end, though damaging, the Times coverage remained so awkward, one could be forgiven if distracted. Again, this played to Terry’s favor, as the ridiculousness of this aspect of the trial overshadowed its more serious themes. Remember, Luis Suarez received an eight game ban for a racial outburst toward Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and then inflamed matters when he refused to shake Evra’s hand several weeks later when the two teams met in competition. By contravening pre-match tradition, Suarez reignited questions about his character and apparent racism. It got worse last week when Suarez blamed his ban and subsequent controversy on Man U’s “political power.” Is Suarez the Richard Nixon of the EPL, constantly and unfairly under siege, abrasive and contentious but oddly talented and always the victim? Who’s to say?
Granted some might argue, John Terry’s alleged racism though vile, doesn’t hurt anyone or thing physically while Michael Vick’s actions resulted in mutilated animals and disturbing levels of violence. Others might point out that discursive racism can lead to violence against ethnic, racial, and religious groups accordingly, John Terry needs to be punished for contributing to such discourse. In Vick’s case race played an important role, but secondarily. Race played a role in perceptions or how people viewed him. Most people – black, white, brown, yellow etc – were rightly horrified when the stories of his dog fighting facility emerged. The reaction to this might have been racial but the underlying facts of the case were not. From established press, (ESPN The Magazine published a controversial article titled “What If Michael Vick were White?”) to the attentions of more academic bloggers, numerous outlets have reflected on what Vick’s career and image mean. Sure Vick’s case involved very volatile emotions regarding animal rights, but plenty of non-white folks feel strongly about their animal brethren.
In regard to John Terry, his case shows that lingering pockets of racial tension persist in the EPL and more widely, Europe. Though numerous ex-coaches and current teammates vouched for his impeccable unbiased nature, others remained silent on the issue including Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother. Racism has been a recurring problem in soccer across “the continent” and internationally. Franklin Foer demonstrated sectarian, ethnic, and racial hatreds perpetuated by soccer fans and players in various parts of Europe in his book, How Soccer Explains the World. More recently, Italy’s Mario Balotelli accused Croatian fans of making racist taunts during the two teams’ encounter at this summer’s European Championship. Go to present day Poland and Ukraine where some clubs’ fans openly employ Nazi salutes and make references to the holocaust. When the Times noted that the trial revealed divisive schisms in “the close-knit world of Premier League soccer,” it seemed unsurprising. After all, though Chelsea won the Champion’s Cup this year, they struggled through their domestic campaign. Rumors floated around that the team’s Spanish and Portuguese speakers supported doomed coach Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) while the older English speaking players resisted the European tactics he brought to the table. Soccer’s swirling mix of cultures and styles, though enormously beneficial on the whole can sometimes clash. Terry probably deserved some credit/blame for AVB’s departure mid-season.
Of course, the efficacy of such trials and the FA general policy deserve some scrutiny. The FA has rightly targeted racism to be squashed; undoubtedly a noble and worthwhile effort. However, the effects of this policy seem less clear. Suarez remains unchanged by his punishment, should we expect any different from Terry? Add to it, that following the trial, Rio Ferdinand fell under FA investigation for replying in the affirmative to a tweet that Ashley Cole (who is black) amounted to “choc ice” (basically meaning black on the outside, and white on the inside) for testifying in Terry’s favor. Ferdinand responded to accusations of racism, how else, via twitter: “What I said yesterday is not a racist term. It’s a type of slang/term used by many for someone who is being fake. So there.” Should Ferdinand be reprimanded? Does the FA want to adopt the heavy handed tactics of Roger Goodell’s NFL? When Emmanuel Frimpong of Arsenal (on loan to Wolves) responded to a hostile posting by a Tottenham Fan with “Scum Yid”, Frimpong promptly removed the comment from his twitter feed, but shouldn’t he be punished too? Add to it, the complexity of Tottenham’s identify, which Foer documented. Having once been home to a large Jewish fan base, many Tottenham fans adopted the term Yid as a means to undercut the term’s viciousness. “Instead of denouncing the Jews as pollutants to the nation, chunks of the working class have identified themselves as Jewish, even if only in the spirit of irony.” (Foer, 85) While an improvement on anti-Semitic violence, it still leaves Jews as cartoons, outsiders, or “others” in European minds. The point is the FA policy and its ramifications can be dizzying.
With that said, the fact that Terry had to sweat it out on this, makes this writer feel better. Yet, enough doubt remains regarding his true racial beliefs that it might be good to consider the full man. When one does, you find a man guilty of much more than racism. Outside his significant soccer talent, consider his other claims to fame. On 9/11 he drunkenly mocked American tourists at Heathrow Airport. In January of 2002 Terry assaulted a nightclub bouncer resulting in his suspension from the English national side thereby forfeiting his shot at that year’s World Cup. In November of 2006, Terry allegedly racially abused Tottenham’s Ledley King. A 10,000 pound fine was levied for “inappropriate conduct.” He cheated on his fiancé Toni Pooole with a 17 year old girl in a London parking lot in 2007. Three years later, Terry famously slept with the girlfriend and of his best friend and English teammate Wayne Bridge. This led opposing fans to chant “Oh wherever you maybe, don’t leave your wife with John Terry!” Sure there are other incidents but really, you get the point.
Even if John Terry needed a Michael Vick sized make over, I’m not sure he could pull one off. Intellectually, Vick’s pretty sharp, John Terry reminds this writer of Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. So how does the former captain of the English national team rehabilitate his image? Well first, play well and win; avoid being sent off in critical Champion’s Cup matches for openly kneeing people in the back. After that it is simple really, John Terry needs to open a twitter account and grow a mustache: the superficial answer for a superficial man.
John Terry, Joey Barton, and the Future of Football Public Relations
Does that seem flippant? Perhaps, but new social media like twitter, not around when Vick returned to professional athletics, enables athletes to escape the “filter” of the traditional media. Certain stylistic accoutrements like wild haircuts or distinct facial hair do well to draw attention away from volatile personalities. Vick’s earnest and hard won second chance came as result of jail time, open contrition, athletic success, and persistent attempts – through PSA’s and now his book – to change the conversation about his image. The example of Joey Barton provides the 2K12 route to “rehabilitation.” Be assured, as evidenced by Barton’s season finale, the route remains skin deep, but are there more apt words for Chelsea’s 31 year old defender?
Much like Terry, Barton’s personnel history vibrates with the controversy, but perhaps more disturbingly than his Chelsea counterpart. In 2002, Barton extinguished a cigar in they eye of his teammate Jamie Tandy. In 2007, a fight between himself and teammate Ousmane Dabore ended with Dabore bleeding from the ears. Speaking on the issue four years later, Barton expressed little remorse: “Frankly, Ousmane is a little pussy. Where I come from, when you fight there is no rule. You fight ‘til it’s over.'” Soon after the Dabore exchange, Barton assaulted a man outside a Liverpool McDonalds, punching him twenty times in the head. Barton served 77 days in prison for his crime. Yet, if not for a psychotic outburst in his team’s season ending match this year, in much of the public’s eyes Barton had been rehabilitated. Granted, his bizarre antics against Manchester City (resulting in a 12 game suspension next year) poisoned much of the work he had done in rebranding himself, but his example would serve John Terry well.
Sometime in 2009, Barton opened a twitter account and began randomly posting philosophical twitter messages. His tweets ranged from quotes by George Orwell (“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”) and Fredrich Nietchze (“Whoever feels predestined to see and not to believe will find all believers too noisy and push; he guards against them.”) to political diatribes (“Why are British troops in conflict zones risking their lives, on America’s behalf? Supporting a fascist regimes ideologies? Bring them home.”) to an homage to the Smiths (“There is a light that never goes out”………The Smiths! Best song ever written. Thanks marr / mozza for getting me through that drive….”) He visited art galleries and told soccer fans all about them.
Then in 2010, Barton glommed on to one of the oldest tricks in the book: the mustache. The midfielder promised not to shave his newly acquired mustache until Newcastle recorded a victory. It didn’t take too long, by August 22, Barton and his Newcastle teammates had thumped Aston Villa. Still, by this point, Barton had tapped into his inner Magnum P.I. His twitter feed and mustache drew attention away from his clearly unstable nature. Sure we used to equate mustaches with totalitarianism (has their ever been two more famous mustaches than those of Uncle Joe Stalin and Adolph Hitler), but today even Michael Jordan rocks a mustache that many argue looks very similar to that of a certain genocidal German. Today’s famous mustaches range from the conservative American Patriot Ron Swanson (“Parks and Rec”) to the businesslike Stringer Bell (The Wire) to ubiquitous “ironic” or hipster mustache (really a character like Swanson and Bell unto itself – see Jude Law here for celebrity example). People began talking about the quirky, mustachioed twitter happy Barton, not the thuggish freak that served over two months in prison.
Joey Barton’s angled masterpiece was a combination of Brooklyn Flea artisan and Toledo used car salesman; in other words, “creative everyman”, if everyman only sold tricked out El Caminos that came with a free Rites of Spring discography. With a mustache, Joey Barton’s previous violent outbursts became ironic acts of cognitive dissonance. “I beat that man senseless because of how futile I think violence is, don’t you get it? I tweet Nietchze!” In the same way, Terry needs to grow a mustache and maybe tweet out some obscure Foucault quote about bio-politics or something. Then his acts of racism become nothing more the deadening affects of governmentality. See you aren’t even sure what that means and honestly neither am I. That’s the point. Terry’s set the bar so low, even a spark of intellect promises a wildfire of good publicity. Besides, all that talk of salty language at the trial reinforced the idea that players say such inappropriate things, John Terry’s outburst, whatever it really was, simply reflected this. All Terry needs to do is back that up with some reference to the power of discourse and he’ll have an army of anthropologists looking to complete their dissertations on the culture of profanity in football.
One might suggest fellow alleged racist Liverpool’s Luis Suarez grow his own mustache. Yet, as Roger Bennett and Michael Davies of the Men in Blazers podcast are found of pointing out, Suarez has Anne Hathaway sized teeth: the kind you see in nightmares about the dentist or eating carrots. No, a mustache on Luis would leave him resembling one of those caricature drawings you get at theme parks. Mr. Suarez will have to discover some other way to hide his unpleasant personality and casual bigotry.
In today’s over saturated media, nobody reads books. Vick deserves credit for a well earned climb back to respectability. Some will forever see him as a torturer of animals and this is how it must be. Actions have consequences, in addition to jail, there will be some people he will never reach. Vick served two years in Leavenworth. That’s real time alone, in a very bad place. So even if you hate him, you must admit he’s done some thinking on his crime. John Terry, Luis Suarez, and Joey Barton are different sorts who lack the sincerity of Vick and in Suarez’s case any sense of responsibility. Likewise, John Terry thinks his trial “handbags”, so a real conversion appears unlikely. Say what you want about Vick, but the man has suffered for his crimes and reflected upon them honestly. If we must settle for mealy-mouthed P.R. campaigns dedicated to scrubbing John Terry’s history clean let it be one as entertaining, hirsute, and schizophrentic as that of Joey Barton. That way fans will know it’s all a show and won’t be disappointed when Terry, Suarez, Barton or some other EPL lug decides to travel down the rabbit hole of racism.
[Our marketing guru Johnee99 posted this to his blogspot two summers ago, towards the end of June 2010/WC2010. We had planned to reblog it back then, belatedly came back to it this week and decided to finally get it up.
Watching as many World Cup matches as possible over the last 2 weeks, I have seen my share of the 2 tentpole commercials from Nike and Adidas. I actually saw the Nike “Write the Future” commercial well before the WC started and my wife had to force me to turn it off after the 10th time. I saw the Adidas “Zidane” piece on TV and was thoroughly bored. Why? Nike put the fan (me) at the center of the message. For the commercial to work, I had to identify with it, embrace it and care about it. The Adidas commercial completely forgets this–it’s a dystopic sci-fi explosion of ego and false drama that separates its athletes from their fans, creating some kind of otherworld where only gods play. I don’t care what happens because I don’t feel at all connected to these people.
Adidas has given the consumer ersatz fantasy; a “future” not written by the people, but by a crap art director. Nike, on the other hand, implies each of us in the writing of history–it is the fans at every turn that are writing the future (kid ripping Rooney poster off wall/Youtube and Facebook Ronaldhino tributes/everyman Homer Simpson Ronaldo spoof). As of today, Ronaldo is the only star from the commercial that is still in the World Cup–everyone else making early and unremarkable exits (Ronaldhino not even chosen for Brazil’s WC squad)–yet, this commercial still has wheels.
More than the athletes it sponsors, Nike has written a love letter to their fans. These fans also happen to be the audience for the commercial and most importantly they are the people buying Nike products around the world. Nike keeps the consumer at the center in a deeply aspirational way.
This is the key to any marketing campaign: make your customer the hero. Once they feel a part of your message, as opposed to a spectator, they will engage.
We’re belatedly kicking off our Euro 2012 coverage–belated since the tournament is kicking off later today (in a few minutes actually). We’ve got a few preview posts up to help you get ready for the next 3+ weeks of international European football–31 matches* in 8 cities in two countries (Poland & Ukraine) over the next 23 days–starting with Poland-Greece and Russia-Czech today (6pmCET/12pmET in Warsaw and 8:45pmCET/2:45pmET in Wroclaw, respectively) and continuing until the final in Kiev on July 1.
We’ll also put up ongoing coverage as the tournament progresses. Ideally we’ll put up at least a daily wrapup and/or preview post–the previous day’s results, the day’s upcoming fixtures, a roundup of links, maybe even the occasional liveblog. But at the very least an open thread, with the hope of getting some commentary in the comments–which we haven’t really had since the World Cup two years ago (which happened to be our launch btw–happy 2yr birthday to us)
*: 31 matches arising from 24 group stage matches (6*4: 6 matches arising from round-robin in each of the 4 groups of 4 teams apiece) plus 4 quarterfinal matches + 2 semifinal matches + the final. (Not sure if there’s a 3rd place match, but if so it doesn’t really count for anything, so I’m not counting it either). I do enjoy the occasional combinatorial exercise.
Three slightly frozen memories, ready to be thawed and forgotten:
(1) The coin toss. Compatriots Seedorf (class act and true legend) and Van Persie (legacy yet to be determined) faced each other, hugged, and exchanged symbols of their respective clubs. Seedorf was jovial, calm, confident, and looking RVP in the eye. Robin seemed unwilling, nay, unable, to look Clarence in the eye for more than a second or two. Van Persie seemed… twitchy. He looked around, he appeared distracted.
Maybe he was foreshadowing (and influencing) his team’s performance that night, admitting to himself that the game might be over before it begins. Maybe his mind was already tanning on the Mediterranean beaches of Barcelona or the navigating lively and bustling streets and plazas of Madrid.
(2) I’ve been focusing on Sagna a bit, wondering if he’s been thinking, “Hell, Clichy went to City, I’m just as good, maybe better, I actually start for my country, so why I am I still here?” Even before his injury, Bacary has seemed lazier this season. (Watching as he jumped for that ball against Assou-Ekotto, his awkward attempt that caused his injury a few months ago, I wondered, “Why would you jump so needlessly, so awkwardly?”) Yesterday, Sagna’s passes were poor, he wasn’t charging forward (but who was?). And then the moment that infuriated me: The ball was put to the space in front of Zlatan, Sagna appeared to assume that Ibra was offside, so Sagna fucking JOGGED as the mustached, cheesy-nightclub-predator-looking Swede sprinted, collected the ball, and fed it to Robinho. 2-0. Pitiful. Sagna, the team veteran and two-time selection to the Premier League Team of the Year as voted by his peers, seems to be gone as well. Only he knows where, but I doubt he knows where, for his contract isn’t up until 2014.
(3) Starting Rosicky (experience) instead of Oxlade-Chamberlain (potential world-class talent): I understand the reasoning, but in hindsight it was such a bad decision.
Watching the Milan game, I found even more respect for Cesc. It’s been obvious all season, but last night it was glaring: This year’s squad simply thinks about going forward. They wait an extra second or two, make an extra pass or two, and often send it back to a defender or goalkeeper in order to regroup for absolutely no reason at all. Not so with Cesc. With Fab 4 we were going forward, one-touching, passing with instinct, and then thinking, if thinking was even necessary. With Cesc, there was no thinking, just doing.
Arsene, and ONLY Arsene Wenger, could admit his team still has a chance to move on and at the same time put a value on how slim the chances are: “Two to five per cent chance.” Got to love him!
The Telegraph ran interviews over the past few days with Arsenal legends Denis Bergkamp and Emmanuel Petit, before and after Wednesday’s game, respectively. Of the two, Bergkamp was more politically correct in his interview (conducted by an Arsenal striker from a previous era, Alan Smith). The Dutchman reminisced about The Invincibles, remembering Henry and Vieira, the all-English back four they had back then. But he also had criticisms of the present squad: he mentioned that Arsenal have too many players who are similar in the way they play, that there is not nearly enough diversity, no impact player to come off the bench and bring a new dimension. He wondered if Arsenal need more English players, but he professed his continuing trust in the Professor, that Wenger has endured peaks and valleys before now.
Petit was more direct and honest in his comments. After the game, he mentioned that Ramsey appeared to be a “twin” of himself on Wednesday, that Theo hasn’t grown at all in the past few years, and that Arshavin and Rosicky need to go. (I’ll add Djourou to that shortlist.) He said that that 6 new players around the age of 27 need to be brought in–that “we shouldn’t hesitate to talk about the end of the cycle.”
It’s important and worth noting that these former and future Arsenal legends are speaking out. It means that times are truly, officially, tough. It means they care, it means they are bothered.
Last year saw Birmingham (February, Carling Cup), Barcelona (March, Champions League) and Manchester United (March, FA Cup) assist Arsenal in their self-destruction. By mid-March, the season was over, save for the 4th place finish. This year, Milan has played the role of Barca twofold, ending the Gunners’ Champions League aspirations in only one game. Sunderland (FA Cup) and Tottenham (crucial league match and chance for to avenge last year’s home loss) are next.
Last year’s fall from contention in three competitions was official and final in March. These next two pivotal games fall in February. I hope Arsenal doesn’t fall in February. Wenger is no Caesar, not yet anyway, but I’d rather not revisit his Ides of 2011. I’d rather not see him stab himself in the back for a second consecutive year, one
How many of us can endure another early fall, just before Spring?
After the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday, I was emailing with a friend who has been an Arsenal season ticket holder since the ‘70s. He knows infinitely more about the team than I do, so I figured I’d let him speak in his own words. (My email comments inserted for clarity of what questions/comments he’s responding to.)
Last night represented a tipping point the moment that Arsene lost the stadium.
And here is the key thing, doesn’t really matter if he was right or not about taking off the Ox (i.e. the strain) the thing is that people no longer trust him. The anger and resentment at the lack of recruitment is going to boil over…
Bad times ahead, but here is the thing, due to injuries we have no idea how good we are or aren’t…
Let’s try and stay calm and judge at season’s end.
I would agree that Wenger has lost the home support. The outrage about the substitution dwarfed by far the “Spend some fucking money” episode of late Aug.
Everyone wants to blame someone. Right now the finger’s pointed at Wenger. Not surprising, as it’s been in that position for 6 months, 18 months. However, re: throwing baby out with bathwater, let’s say Wenger goes, per the collective wish. Who the fuck can attract talent to a non-Champions League side at Arsenal whose first name is not Arsene. RvP is likely off, anyhow. In my opinion, if Arsene gets sacked, it’s not even a question. Furthermore, if Wenger gets sacked, Sagna and Vermaelen seem in major doubt. I don’t mention Wilshere, Szczesny and Frimpong because of their love of the club. But look at their ages. Their only personal memories are of an Arsene Arsenal.
Arsene has made Arsenal believers believe they are pre-destined to end up in the top four. Say he’s axed (and I realize you’re not necessarily saying he should be–rather that that’s the vibe), who would do better? Perhaps a couple folks… But who would the board pay for? None of them.
If Wenger gets axed, the only way I can see it not being an utter fiasco is to surprise-hire a former star to be coach. If experience is a judge, it’s highly risky and rarely pays off. If he’s to get sacked, obviously I hope for the Cinderella story. But isn’t that exactly what has pissed people off about Wenger? He keeps saying, “We can, we can,” and then when the mioracle fails to transpire, we don’t and the fans turn on him. How much leeway would Steve Bould get? Or Tony Adams. Or Bergkamp, even, though he seems eminently happy at Ajax.
The Wenger issue is wrapped up in what the board do or don’t want the club to be.
It is clear that twice in the last five or six years the team needed a little investment and they could have pushed on. But the investment never happened. This lack of investment finally produced the inevitable when we started the season in disarray…
Now, there are only a few possible reasons for this:
1. Wenger won’t spend.
2. The board won’t back him.
3. The money isn’t there
4. Wenger has identified players and the board, which doesn’t feature a single real football man, doesn’t know how to get a deal done.
Only when you can make a call on the above can you make a call on Arsene.
My own take on it is that more 2-4 than 1, but also that Wenger is appalled by the prices and wages. He is to some extent the last sane man football, but there lies the problem, football isn’t sane…
However, changing him as manager only makes sense if you want to change the way the team operates. And why would silent Stan do that? We are very well run financially and we generate our own money… And are vaguely competitive.
So you are right, what is the point in changing wenger? He is the best man for the job. As defined by the board. And the board isn’t changing….
But, what the fans see is a Tottenham team made competitive by Scott Parker who cost peanuts. A manager who started the season with a woefully weak squad, a manager who has allowed our best player to get into the last two years of his contract without renewing. And now won’t.
A manager who puts too much faith in players who are always injured or just not good enough… Diaby, Gibbs, Denilson and Chamakh and so the anger mounts and the frustration grows and last night something broke. Mutiny is upon us. Something snapped last night and I am not sure that the return of Henry or promise of Wilshere can fix it. Wenger needs a marquee signing to lift the club’s (everyone’s) spirits and perhaps if he combined that with dropping Arshavin and Chamakh (perceived as non-tryers by the fans) and playing some of the homegrown players then he might turn it around.
But I am not holding my breath.
It’s very sad but I think this is the end of the Wenger era.. Football has changed for the worse (look at man city) and I think rightly or (almost certainly) wrongly Wenger can’t compete any more. He needs a new challenge and we need a new leader to rally round.
P.S. The irony is that if he does get this squad to fourth it will be his greatest ever achievement!
Thanks for your thoughts. I guess the primary point is that regardless of how divided Arsenal supporters are, everyone hopes for fourth. A common enemy can be powerful.
There are, of course, those who wish their team to fall on their face so that change happens, but I don’t believe in that. And frankly, I feel incredibly negatively towards that mentality. If a fan wants their own team to lose, fuck them.
Want the team to fail? Sorry but I think you are wrong on that. There isn’t a fan in the stadium who wants them to fail. Getting pissed at Wenger or the board because you don’t want them to fail is not the same as wanting them to fail..
But you have to get the context.
English football has been through seismic changes in the last two decades, partly due to the revolution on the pitch that Wenger started.
Fans (including me) are starting to feel alienated.
Twenty years ago I could arrive on match day and pay £6 on the gate to get in.. I watched mostly English players play a game we recognised as English. And we loved it. Yes we envied the Europeans their flair and sophistication, but our game was hard, fast, harem scarum and damned exciting.
Games were at 3pm on Saturday. the FA Cup meant something and you couldn’t watch matches on telly very often. Our stadium carried 70 years of history and the club felt special and unique. We felt part of something, and our songs and our chanting helped the team, or so we believed. Better still the players were accessible, they were like us, we knew them, or knew someone who knew them. They earned four times as much as us, maybe ten times as much but we all lived on the same planet. So we belonged to our club and more importantly our club beloved to us.
Now at Arsenal we sit in the modern corporate bowl that is the Emirates and we cringe at the ‘Arsenalisation’ process (adding murals etc) that for us equates (no offence) to an Americanisation. We wonder how ‘our’ club got sold to a billionaire who won’t speak to us and what happened to the promise of competing we were sold when the club decided to move.
We loved our old home, it and we meant something to us, and man, we loved Wenger, this strange unknowable Frenchman who brought Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Ljungberg and Henry. Who kept the steel and grit of The Arsenal and added unbelievable flair.
Now we sit in this wonderful, soulless edifice to the new middle-class game and pay absurd ticket prices to watch players who aren’t fit to polish the boots of the invincibles and we wonder what the deal is?
We wonder why did we leave Highbury and we still can’t compete. And to make it worse the club operate a weird system of omertà. They massage the attendance figures as if we are morons who can’t count the empty seats and they tell us the money is there but then never spend it.
They sell our best players and they buy kids to replace them and we look around and we wonder if David Dein was right?
We wonder if we should have stayed at home and looked for investment for players not seats. We wonder why Tottenham spend more money than us, and we are sick and tired of watching Wenger build half great teams and then refusing to go the extra million or two for the player that would/could/should make the difference and we want to believe….
We want to believe that Wenger still knows, that the five, six, seven year plan will bear fruit, that UEFA will enforce the Financial FairPlay rules. That we will somehow have the last laugh and then we look at our squad and we look at the oh so obvious fault lines – fault lines that we all discussed in the pub at the beginning of the season, but which the club didn’t fix and we wonder WTF, and then, well then we get mad, wouldn’t you?
We feel ripped off, sold out and lied to. We don’t trust the board, or the manager anymore and we don’t trust in the players any more either.
So to go full circle to your primary point. the Arsenal fans want to believe. But we just don’t. The support this year has been great until recently, really behind the team. But something broke last week. There was real, genuine anger. The worst I have ever heard. I heard serious anti-Wenger chants for the first time and I am not sure his haughty response in the press conference will have helped.
I think the club is at a tipping point and revolt is in the air. Fourth place might quell it. But I’m not sure.
Gonna be an interesting ride between now and the end of the season.
Prologue: Salvador, up in northern Brazil, is so unlike Rio and Sao Paulo, the rest of the country refers to Bahiaians rudely as "slow". As I trudged through the late afternoon sun looking for the Newcastle - Man Utd game, it struck me that the heat may have something to do with it.