By Tai Emeka Obasi
In Frederick Forsyth’s book, The Fourth Protocol, the lead character, John Preston was the operations head of MI5 in London. He was saddled with the huge task of closing in on a topnotch KGB illegal agent deep in Central London and prevent the Russian from setting off a nuke that would detonate a mini nuclear bomb capable of causing huge catastrophic destruction. A destruction that would push voters enough to the left to change leadership in No 10 Downing Street.
They called it Plan Aurora, utterly callous, most complicated, very risky and extremely crafted to witness perfection within hours to British General Election. And which would tear to shreds The Fourth Protocol – a peace treaty preventing countries with nuclear capability from ever using it against another nation.
The KGB illegal agent in name of Major Valeri Petrofsky, was so good that Preston was groping around in the dark. But the stakes were so high that Preston’s boss, Sir Nigel Irvine, the septuagenarian head of the SIS, a veteran spymaster in matters clandestine, had to draw from his wealth of experience to save his country. He improvised a most secret message meant for only men of the ‘A’ League in the business; inside the heart of Kremlin. Someone read and responded.
While booms day loomed dangerously close, the man who had read the message sent another in the form of an ‘amateur’ agent. Sir Nigel interpreted the message thus, “I cannot give you the executive illegal agent because I do not know where he is but follow this man, he will lead you to the transmitter.”
And Preston followed.
For lovers of high level intrigues in the espionage world of intelligence and counterintelligence subterfuge of the Cold War era, The Fourth Protocol is a master class. It comes a close second to the other Forsyth’s bestseller, The Devil’s Alternative, the best novel I’ve read. And make no mistake, I’ve read plenty.
When I first watched a full Arsenal match with a bi-spectacled beanpole watching from the technical area, I had same feeling that this man, whose first name, Arsene rings in accord with club name, Arsenal was the man to take the club to the pinnacle of best in the world. This happened in 1997. Nineteen years gone, Arsenal is not yet the best in the world but the signs are quite ominous the North London club is not far off. This assertion is certainly a matter for another write up.
Arsene Wenger, in a rare public revelation, disclosed what he told Aaron Ramsey that transformed him from an ordinary player, who struggled all over the pitch to impress, overdoing simple things in most cases to a great box-to-box midfielder. In simple summary, the gaffer told the Welshman to play it simple – get confidence first, then do every other thing as much as the natural talent permitted. Knowing Wenger as a man who hardly ever made such personal conversations public, I reckoned that was Le Prof breaking his First Protocol.
And the protocol might have even been broken further. Patrick Vieira recently said that unlike his opposite, Jose Mourinho, who would bottle a player up to suit his(Mourinho’s) pattern, Wenger’s style is giving players freedom to express themselves. By forcing Ramsey to change for the better, Le Prof stepped out of routine, or protocol if you like.
Now, he has to go further…
In his ranks is another player, blessed with the same ability as Ramsey, who needs same words in private. This player even has undeniable potentials to be a greater player than his box-to-box team mate.
Having missed Jack all season, the news that he is nearing return is not only gladdening but also gives hope that our title run-in would be appreciably boosted.
Having gone through all football tutelages in Arsenal right from the kindergarten age of seven, Wilshere is one name well revered by everything Arsenal. His early displays promised a player of the highest quality. His progress to the main team was heralded. From some perspectives, including mine, the fearless-ball-carrying lad represented a poor man’s version of Lionel Messi. But that’s not taking anything away from dear Jack. Any version of Messi is still world class.
Jack’s mazy runs, close control, swift change in direction, fearless take-ons suggested any coach that attempted to clone the England international into the Argentine demi-god could hit pay dirt. Wilshere works tirelessly on the pitch, always ready to receive the ball, not afraid to burst into oppositions’ penalty area, ever ready to shoot at goal, always willing to withstand and fly into a challenge.
Always willing to withstand and fly into a challenge!
Perhaps, it’s the latter qualities that made Le Prof shift from creating a Messi proto-mould to developing a completely different player – a Jack Wilshere.
What came out of Le Prof’s perfection machine was still excellent. At just 19, Wilshere had made his name recognisable by any football fan anywhere in the world. At that age, he had faced the Barcelona midfield comprising the famed Xavi Hernandez and Andre Iniesta in a two-legged affair and never blinked for once. So dogged were his breathtaking performances in those two games that Pep Guardiola, the man who re-invented Barca’s tiki-taka to near ephemeral domination, singled out Wilshere as the brightest spark in the Arsenal team that surrendered on a narrow 3 -4 aggregate.
While Arsenal fans endured in the agony of those trophyless years, every one of them happily pointed in the direction of Wilshere as a proof dear Gunners would rise again. Of course that barren comatose had been banished to history but sadly, our beloved Jack had fizzled out that his contribution to that landmark transition was largely anonymous. Trying to go into the reasons for this non-envisaged drawback could draw miles of print as it certainly would the ensuing debate. However, like Le Prof talked to Aaron, Le Prof has to talk heart-to-heart to Jack.
Of course, one would conclude he already did…but then we should imagine he should have long talked to Ramsey before he disclosed he did. From Wilshere’s displays in the preseason games before he freaked out in training, he didn’t show any sign of departure from the Wilshere of past seasons. As a matter of utmost necessity, Le Prof, if he hasn’t already done so on numerous occasions, needs to talk to Jack ASAP. If he already has, then Wilshere didn’t understand him … so Le Prof has to invite him over for a repeat before he kicks a ball again – in training or matches. As many times that are required, Le Prof has to, until it gets into Wilshere’s skull for in the English father of two the world of football has a great artist. Nobody with his technical abilities was ever destined for less – Jack is world class. Debate this as much as you can but this is one talent the football world would sorely miss if his career ever ended prematurely.
And what should Le Prof tell Wilshere? PLAY SIMPLE! Yes, Wilshere has been derailed by injuries, but unlike most injuries, he invites his. In just three pre-season games before he got injured in training, Jack got himself into no less than three career-threatening tackles! I’ve never watched a player who never shied away from a challenge, however dangerous. Not even Italy’s Gatuso was as carelessly daring.
I recall one league match with Birmingham City – Wilshere, the smallest man on the pitch, tackled the biggest man on the pitch in name of Jurgen Kholer off both feet. Kohler landed on his back, lay still while Wilshere continued as if he didn’t make contact. That was courage and fearlessness to admirable level but those have been the traits threatening to force Wilshere into the dust bin of has-beens. Believe me, Jack is one of the strongest lads that ever played the game or he would have long ended his career.
I believe Jack still possesses the footballing ability to be among the very best of his generation but he must learn to be pitchwise and he must learn fast. When he is clearly losing a ball he should let go, instead of those careless challenges that make fans’ hearts skip beats. He should know that even Messi doesn’t dribble into impossible situations…release the ball when you perceive a cul-de-sac and not attempt to ride through it, thereby attracting vicious tackles.
Wenger has to force Wilshere to adjust his style because this is a very perilous time for Jack. At 24, he should be approaching his peak not spending all seasons on the treatment table. Another long lay-off and he could become another Abou Diaby. Le Prof has to save this very career. He must. And when the gaffer does, we’ll happily await him to break his Second Protocol, by telling us about it, with that knowing grin of course.
- 8 February 1936: First game for Frank Moss v Blackburn. Frank took over from Charlie Preedy in goal and was nearly ever present for four years playing in the title winning teams of the triple years (1932/3, 1933/4, 1934/5).
- 8 February 1941: Arsenal 15 Clapton Orient 2 (London War Cup, 10 goals for Leslie Compton).