By Tony Attwood
My French is far fr0m perfect but I get by, and I was reminded of a word I particularly got to know when a newspaper recently quoted Thierry Henry’s use of “caviar” – meaning the perfect pass which puts the striker through. The number 10 or the attacking midfield player has put through his perfect pass – his “caviar” and the forward really has to to his bit.
Henry said that Bergkamp could do them for ever. I thought that Pires and Henry could do them from each other. My theory was that defenders got so worried about Henry that they used to put two or even three men on him, and then that would leave Pires free (since by the time Henry had two or three men on him he would be playing where on paper Robert P was supposed to be leaving Robert free in the number 9 position). Henry himself put the caviar across and then Robert scored, being unmarked, since Henry had drawn everyone out of position.
And when Santi C came along I thought: my goodness have we found another one? Recently the answer has been no – but then I think back to Pires’ first season with us which if we we wish to kind we might call “average”. Quite a few in the crowd thought he was a dud that first year around.
It was only when Pires worked out two things (one, how to take a stroll along the half way line with the ball, waiting to find the caviar, and having the nerve to go all the way back if the pass wasn’t on, and the the other, the trick of getting unmarked when Henry had half the defence wandering around him) that things really worked. That was the second season.
But the situation is more complex. Arsenal had Bergkamp in his team from the off – the man who was deemed so useless by the Italian media that they ran a “Bergkamp of the week” story each Monday, in which the readers voted for the most awful miss or pass they had seen over the weekend. No wonder that Dennis too didn’t quite click when he first came. His belief was shot to bits.
Henry too was slow to pick up the pace. Vieira made the joke about the fact that it wasn’t that Henry couldn’t hit the goal, it was that he couldn’t hit the clock – and in fact couldn’t get anywhere near the clock.
What we readily forget these days are these bad opening seasons. Because Fabregas and others have had the chance to move gently into the team through our youth system, we forget how hard it was for some of the new players to make it. Vieira was the exception – he looked stunning on game number 1 when he came on as a sub. But we had a lot of players who didn’t make it as time passed. Boa Morte anyone?
This takes us on to Liverpool’s purchase of Andy Carroll – the Wenger purchase of Henry was the same sort of gamble – and this by a manager who had just spent two years in Japan. Not forgetting that the opening of that first campaign in Japan was awful – with the chairman calling the manager in for a talk after about 8 games. Wenger is reputed to have listened to the chairman, and then said, “Yes it is not going well.” The chairman said a change was needed, and Wenger thought he would be sacked. Instead the chairman offered to sack his translator.
Wenger in short is a gambler – a real live big time gambler – whose early gambles are ignored because he won so much at the start and because the seasons before him were so awful. Rioch gave us a Euro place, but only on the last game, and his style of play was so utterly awful even I had trouble supporting the team. Before that we had George Graham trying to do an imitation of Billy Wright.
Wenger gambles and his early gambles were sometimes yes sometimes no. He gambled that he could revitalise the back five by changing their diet, and modifying their style slightly. He gambled on Henry, and gambled that Wright was past it. He gambled on Chris Wrey and played him in the cup final ahead of Wright, who was apparently outraged. Remi Garde? Gilles Grimandi? Stepanovs?
Yes sometimes the names are wheeled out because they were flops, but not too often much because no one cared that much because we were winning doubles.
So he gambled on Anelka – twice. Once to bring him in and settle on a bill of around half a million pounds, selling him a couple of years later to Real Madrid for £25m, and then using that money to build the new training complex. He gambled that Anelka was not the long term centre forward he needed because of his personality issues. And he was right.
Thus Wenger is a gambler in different ways. He gambles on players he will spend big money for, he will gamble on when to sell them (I’ve mentioned the fact that Barca ended up paying something close to half a million pounds a game to have Henry), and he will gamble on which players to bring through from the youth team (we seem to have about three ready to break through at any moment). He also gambles on buying young players – Ramsey, Theo, Oxlade Chamberlain. He even gambles on players who he knows are unlikely to play for the club for a while – Campbell without a work permit, Ryo, not quite ready. And we have our own Jack W already there (unless England crock him again tonight).
Vieira has even said that he didn’t quite know how he came to leave Arsenal for a club so steeped in the mire of Italian football that having won the league title he found he had it taken away from him after something naughty going on with the selection of the refs. Wenger gambled that this was the moment he would get more money for Vieira than at any other time. And he was probably right.
It is this side of Mr Wenger’s life that is often ignored – and that is why so many analyses of him go wrong. Like all gamblers he can win big time, and he has losing runs too. That is a good argument against gambling. But just how boring would you like Arsenal to be?
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