By Tony Attwood
We’ve had a torrid ten years at the hands of the press, so maybe it is about time they stopped.
I reckon it started at the end of the Unbeaten Season – something that shook the media to the core after they had spent five months (after the possibility of an unbeaten run was first mooted at Christmas) saying that it was utterly and totally impossible, a crazy idea, and anyway if anyone was going to do it, it most certainly would not be Arsenal who didn’t have the stamina, what with them having a French manager.
Indeed some of the papers even started having a go at Arsenal straight after the Unbeaten run was complete, noting how we’d actually lost matches in the FA Cup, Champs League and League Cup. (A rather obvious point given that we didn’t win any of them).
So the battering went on and on. Man U advertised on their web site a CD of supporters’ songs one of which called Mr Wenger a paedophile, the whole “top four is not a trophy” issue was invented, Arsenal were defined as the club with the most injuries and Raymond Verheijen rose from nowhere to be the most discussed fitness expert on the planet, after he blamed everything on the Arsenal manager.
For ten years the abuse ran on, with stories invented and explanations never properly given, until Arsenal won the cup for the second time in a row, and at a stroke the boss became the most successful Cup manager of the 20th and 21st centuries, and Arsenal the most successful FA Cup club of all time.
There had been an attempt to denigrate Ozil, talk of the desperation of bringing back Coquelin from a loan spell, laughter at the stupidity of a manager who was “reduced” to playing an unknown teenager at right back because everyone else was injured.
So it went on, and on, and on… Of course there was no apology, just a gradual change of stance. Bellerin and Coquelin – we had a brief spell of Arsenal being “lucky” to find them, and then slowly a recognition that maybe Arsenal were getting things right after all. That Monreal – who ever heard of him, Arsenal buying up unwanted players from bust Spanish clubs… well, actually maybe not.
And thus the press eased off. No admission of guilt. No. Just find another target. Who can we hit now? Ah, let’s do Man U.
“Has anybody in this room not a feeling to apologise to me?” announced the Man U manager at the start of a press conference recently, and it was a good question. He picked up on Arsène Wenger’s statement that it was “disrespectful” to see so much speculation about any manager.
“So you think that I want to talk with the media now? I am here only because of the Premier League rules that I have to talk with you. But I can see when I say something that you use my words in your context.”
So the press have turned – and not just on Van Gaal, but on Man U. The club that they would never ever criticise while Ferguson was there (because if they did, he would simply ban them – remember the long period when he refused ever to talk to the BBC?), the club whose side they would always take, no matter what.
Now it’s pay back time. Leave Arsenal alone for a while, and let’s knock Man U.
And guess what, they have suddenly discovered that not only is Man U owned by the Glazers, but they have remembered that Sir Alex Ferguson endlessly went down on his knees to that wretched family.
With Joel Glazer now playing the role of Kim Jong-un but without the loveable character, and jaunty humour, the future of Man U looks a little less certain than before. But who is to blame for letting the Glazer Supreme Commander run the club down, simultaneously slipping down the league and alienating fans through everything from its ticketing policy to its ban on walking sticks in the ground unless previously notified in writing.
To an extent the answer must be the supporters – which is an interesting reverse of how I feel about Arsenal, where I feel the modus operandi of the club should be supported. They were willing to accept the Glazers in the glory days – a bit hard to take them seriously if they protest now.
But we should understand that clubs, like countries, which are running in appallingly awful ways can survive for a very long time. As we were discussing the other day, there is something very odd about the financial arrangements at Real Madrid, and of course everyone knows about Chelsea this season. All the money in the world and they were losing to Bournemouth. And that funny issue of Man City running out of players last weekend, when they have more money at their disposal than anyone else.
One day soon a journalist will write a piece to suggest that maybe money isn’t what football is all about.
And since it is getting close the time for playing Barcelona, let us not forget some of their dealings with us…
Indeed just as North Korea stands alone as an example of how not to run a country, so Barcelona has a unique place in terms of how not to buy players – or at least how not to buy players from Arsenal.
Take Marc Overmars – we signed him in 1997 and made about a £20m profit on him when he moved on, but he never was at his best again, and that creeping injury gradually reduced his potential.
Then Manu Petit. I must admit I was saddened when he went at the same time as he played so well alongside Vieira, but clearly his days were numbered too, and he only lasted one season in Spain.
Thierry Henry was way past his best when he moved in 2007, and yes he won stuff in his penultimate year, but he cost Barce £250,000 a game. Was he really worth that?
Of course some players did ok at Barce – Sylvinho and van Bronckhorst have been suggested but they are countered by Fabregas who, once he got all that DNA think going really was never up to much in Spain, despite the genetic link.
As for Hleb, he said that leaving Arsenal was the worst mistake of his life. He took his time getting going at Arsenal, but he was getting it together when Barcelona came knocking – and that is indeed why they came knocking. But really – all that money for a player who plays 19 times for you?
Alex Song was a good player at Arsenal, and I always loved his determination – but was he so good that Barcelona needed him? Seems not since he is now at West Ham. And Thomas Vermaelen was certainly a fine central defender but clearly running out of luck with his injuries – and so it has sadly proved since his moved.
On the other hand what were Barcelona thinking about to let Alexis leave? Well, I guess they had other players, but their loss is our gain. Same is true for Bellerín who came to us for nothing because he was just not getting anywhere at Barcelona, what with all that illegal importation of children going on.
It is too early for the press to say anything critical at all about Barcelona, but one day their time will come. In the meanwhile we can maybe enjoy their knocking of Man U, but never fear, they’ll be back on our case fairly shortly.