By Tony Attwood
How fast can you know that a player or manager is no good?
Today the Telegraph has the headline “Has Guardiola finally been found out?” That implies that he has been tricking everyone all this time in some ill-defined way. He’s got three Spanish titles and two Champions League trophies, and he’s been “found out” over two matches.
The argument is that “at Barcelona he was carrying on the good work of his predecessors from Louis van Gaal right back to the vision of Johan Cruyff, that he was not having to fix something because it was not broken.”
A look at the league table in Germany however shows us that things are not that simple…
In effect all the Telegraph is doing is what everyone in the media, and their lap dogs, does now – judge everything on the last match.
But I see a new tendency. To judge by half a match – after all why bother with a whole game if you can reach a conclusion based on 45 minutes. However even that is, I suspect, too long for some. Let’s say 15 minutes. Or maybe five.
So clearly Wenger is useless because we lost to Swansea in the last five minutes. After all if we can’t beat Swansea then what hope is there for us? Rather like the fact that if Chelsea can’t beat Bradford in the FA Cup what hope is there for them?
Yes, it doesn’t always work out like that.
There are two things that seem to me to be missing from most analyses these days: context, analysis and knowledge.
OK, I’ll try that again, there are three things that…
Context is just ignored. All that “Arsenal haven’t won the league in 11 years” stuff ignores key facts like the diverting of money into the stadium project. That might be a right or wrong thing to have done – and that is a point to debate, but the “11 years” thing on its own is pointless.
For by bringing the stadium into it we can note that Liverpool have not won the league in 25 years, but have not built a stadium. They tried, but never actually got the spade into the ground, although a lot of money went AWOL. The moral is, I guess, be careful who you sell your club to.
Analysis also seems to have gone out the window. Ospina is rubbish, we need someone better. We must buy a central defender… Everything is reduced to utter simplicity. (A bit like that new commentary about how Britain came to elect a government that promises even more austerity and cuts than before. The answer is “It’s the electorate, stupid.” A whimsical answer but it doesn’t really tell us much).
Indeed it goes further than this, because if Arsenal gets something right – like Bellerin and Coquelin this season – the approach that brought them in is at first derided as “panic measures” and then “Wenger was lucky he had those two players there to rescue him”. If it goes wrong, it is Wenger’s fault. It is hardly an analysis more a jerking of the knee.
Now I would never say that my occasional comments about Coquelin since he first signed are detailed analysis, nor that everything I have written was right. But when on 27 July 2008 I wrote on Untold
Personally I have already seen several amazing sights in the two games this season – Wilshere, Coquelin, Barazite and Ramsey all look good – and we’re only two games in.
OK, Nacer Barazite didn’t make it at the top level, and he is now with FC Utrecht, and ok one paragraph is hardly a detailed analysis, but at least I tried picking out the stars of the future with a little bit of analysis.
And you know what, I feel good about that (as Blacksheep will attest since I remind him of it every 90 seconds as we travel to and from games). It makes me happy – I made a positive prediction and it came good.
So what about these people who endlessly say, “this is the season Arsenal are going to finish up mid-table” and they are proven wrong year after year. Are they miserable because Arsenal finished in the top four? I guess so. A world of being endlessly unhappy, while I go around smiling. Who has the better life?
And on to my third element of decent commentary and debate: knowledge. I don’t mean a detailed knowledge of stats and everything to do with football, but some sort of background awareness would help.
It is because newspaper columnists reveal such a lack of knowledge that I end up hammering away about the same things over and over again – such as the CAS ruling on contracts, Barcelona’s transfer ban (which most journalists now seem to have got, but I am still seeing the odd note about Barce buying x or y this season), Chelsea’s loan activities, John Henry’s admission of lying, the FA’s financial and administrative incompetence, QPR’s FFP situation (now back on the agenda, but hasn’t been for months, except here). And perhaps most importantly, why Untold endlessly comments on referees.
This doesn’t mean I think everything should be a detailed academic analysis, and I’m as prone to shout lunatic comments at the ref and opposition as anyone, but when stepping back from the game, and tapping away on the phone or keyboard, surely there is a need for a little bit of context, analysis or knowledge somewhere. Otherwise what have you got? The suggestion that the most successful manager in the history of the club is useless, it seems.
What I want from Arsenal is improvement now the privation and austerity of the early stadium building years is over. And that is what I have got this season. A re-working of the team to take into account the massive range of injuries and blend the accumulated talents went on longer than I was happy with, but we got there, and the second half of the season has been very enjoyable.
On December 13 last year, the Untold match preview for the game compared our plight at that point with our plight on 6 December 1997. Then we were sixth in the league after a modest start to the season and we went on to win the Double. No Double this season, but even so the parallel has been quite remarkable, and that was an interesting bit of foresight based on… context, analysis and knowledge. (Rather amusingly the Independent picked up the idea and ran it as their own a few days later – but that’s how it goes these days).
Compare ourselves now, even after the Swansea defeat, with the early season team destroyed by injury and we have a balance between defence and attack that looks so much better than I have seen for quite awhile.
And we’ve got a second consecutive cup final to look forward too, which again is something to take into account. Would I like us to have moved forwards more quickly? Yes. Would I have liked the stadium to have cost us £200m less? Yes. Would I have liked a rich American to have come in and built it for us? Ah, suddenly my thoughts come back to Liverpool and what their rich Americans did, which ultimately ended up with the British state owning the club and bailing it out, no. And suddenly context, analysis and knowledge says, well, probably not.
Of course second place is not enough in terms of wanting it all now, rather like a six year old who can’t go out and play because it’s chucking it down with rain just at the moment.
Yes personally I would like us to continue the transfer policy that has brought in Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil.
However even here I manage to know what seems to escape the aaa and their media buddies. Just because a player is out there it doesn’t mean he wants to come to Arsenal and risk being pilloried by the aaa and the media, while being hacked to bits by wild maniacs and having no protection from refs.
And the timing has to be right. I have enjoyed watching Bellerin this season, and I know that had the club rushed out to buy all the defenders that the press were screaming for, and which some of the media still hark on about, then Bellerin would never have had his chance. Nor Coquelin.
It seems I am that rare breed of football fan – one who doesn’t mind doing a bit of background research, considering the detail, and even being prepared to wait.
Maybe it is because I have watched so much lower league and non-league football in my life, sitting and standing alongside fans of small town teams who know that the chances of them ever seeing their side win anything are somewhat less than zero. Talking to these fans gives one a totally different perspective on life, football and the level of moaning one sees on blogs.
And so, all things considered, when I hear Mr Wenger say, “We are not in need of absolute change,” I can live with that. Which is probably why I am fairly happy in my life. Or maybe its the other way around.
13 May 1991: Birth of Francis Coquelin. He played for AS du Bourny, and Stade Lavallois before moving to Arsenal in July 2008. After loan spells with Lorient and Freiburg he returned to Arsenal and after a five match loan to Charlton became the first choice defensive midfielder and was hailed by Thierry Henry as “the police officer”.