By Tony Attwood
Against Leciester away, earlier this season, a group of supposedly Arsenal supporters started to chant “Spend some ****ing money” (**** = not offending NxNow) and “We want Wenger out” etc.
Of late I have not heard much from them, as they have left the complaining to the journalists who are always happy to fill a gap, but I am sure that a defeat against Tottenham this weekend would quickly have them back at least with the “Wenger Out” chant if not a call for more money to be spent.
But what are we to make of these “supporters” twin demands? Both being slogans the analysis of change tends to be a little short on detail, but I suspect that if given the opportunity during the summer they would have opted for Mourinho as manager and a transfer budget that saw the likes of Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Bailly and Ibrahimovic arrive.
Certainly as far as I can tell, many Manchester United supporters were delighted to see both of the previous incumbents (Moyes and van Gaal) go, even though an Gaal delivered a trophy. They wanted the PL league and the Champs League won. And they wanted them won NOW.
And so yes, it could have been Arsenal, if the anti-Wengerians had had their way. Arsene out, and instead in comes… Mourinho.
Although it might sound horribly like hindsight, I can say hand on heart I would have been seriously worried if he had come to Arsenal. Not just because Chelsea had a poor season last year (or at least what Arsenal supporters would have considered very poor since it didn’t involve qualification for the Champions League) but also because of the bust up with Dr Caneria.
It wasn’t just unedifying, it wasn’t just an employment tribunal that Chelsea could never win, it was utterly and totally wrong, legally, technically and morally. And it wasn’t the first time – he had public rants against his medical staff in 2006 when Petr Cech was injured. Plus the case of Oscar who was told to play on despite the medical view that the was suffering from concussion.
In fact, if the club doesn’t win, everyone is wrong except Mourinho.
But leaving that aside, it seemed to me last year as if Mourinho had been able to turn good players into poor players – Fabregas and Hazard particularly come to mind, and he had blamed (often in public) everyone but himself. I suppose I might have been able to forgive him that if he had come to Arsenal and won the league, but even so my heart would have been heavy.
Yet obviously Manchester United’s owners thought he was the man for the job. And you never know, he still might turn it all around even now. But at the moment, from my perspective as a person who writes about football, but has never managed a team, he looks utterly bonkers. Like a tub of butter under the grill. Completely in meltdown.
While Mr Wenger never speaks ill of his players, and is always supportive of them in public (even when it causes derision to fall upon himself as with his famous “I didn’t see it” comments about fouls) Mourinho let Lingard and Mkhitaryan get t it in the face.
Now you might think that public criticism can encourage a player to work harder – and I suspect that sometimes that is true. But it can also cause all sorts of problems. It can make players lose confidence and make their performances worse. It can make some players fester resentment. It can make the players demand a transfer.
And above all, it has an impact on other players who might have felt that Manchester United was a good place to come (despite not being in the Champions League) and can turn them away from the prospect. My own view therefore is that commentaries such as,”We didn’t have a tactical problem, we had problems with poor performances, we lost the ball very, very easy. Even now our central defenders today they lost easy balls, bad passes,” actual make subsequent transfer windows harder and harder until the very best players really don’t want to come to the club.
Of course anyone can get angry and say the wrong things (although Mr Wenger doesn’t do much of that) but Mourniho does it big time. Indeed was doing it again in the next match. Consider this comment:
“Today for the second goal, Amrabat on the right side, our left back is 25 metres distance from him, instead of five metres. But even at 25 metres, then you have to jump and go press. But no, we wait”
Mr Wenger might have said that in the dressing room, but Mourinho chose to say it in the interviews. It was reported later that quite a few players went up to their manager and complained about what they felt was unfair criticism in public. If that is right, then once again it doesn’t make for progress in the club.
Of course Mr Wenger had his moments with referees in his early days in England, and he was suspended for one in which he was accused of pushing the referee. But there was no wild rants, no crazy blame games, Mr Wenger gathered his evidence, went to appeal, and in a calm and quiet manner was completely exonerated.
The point is that all managers can become angry, but they have to learn to control their anger – as well as admit (even if it is just to themselves) that they (like referees) can make mistakes. They also have to learn that complaining about referees does no manager any good – indeed it tends to make the manager look rather like an idiot. Indeed I think it fair to say that one of the real reasons there is a referee debate going on (despite the efforts of the Guardian with their prolonged “let’s stop talking about referees” campaign”) is because of Untold not because of any complaint from a manager.
But Mourinho goes into ref bashing wholesale and it is only the leniency of the League who still retain the view that Mourinho is some kind of demigod that has meant that all he gets is occasional one match bans and insignificant fines.
Then there is the issue of what Mourinho says about other managers. While Mr Wenger is mostly polite and offering praise, Mourinho makes it clear what he likes, wants and demands even from other managers!
My point here is simple: if Mr Wenger had decided, in the face of endless criticism from the anti-Arsenal-Arsenal groups that he had had enough, we could have had Mourinho. And would life have been better? Certainly not on the evidence thus far.
What is most interesting is that at Chelsea before he was sacked last season Mourinho was blaming the team for not playing as he had ordered them to do. Now at Manchester United he is making the same complaints. Doesn’t that suggest someone who isn’t quite able to get his ideas across?
Of course it is possible that if Mr Wenger had gone we might have got a manager who could have immediately taken us to the top of the league for the whole season. But we could also have had a manager who, leaving aside his rages, could have spent the £££££££ that these “supporters” wanted spent. But not spent it on Mustafi and Xhaka, both of whom look like real gems, but on the sort of players that Mourinho bought.
Yes there were demands for a top scoring centre forward. And maybe with a different manager we would have found one. But in such a case we might have also followed the same sort of advice and lost Theo.
As it is the top scoring table in the league now reads…
|1||Diego Da Silva Costa||Chelsea||8|
|3||Sergio Leonel Agüero||Manchester City||7|
|7||Michail Antonio||West Ham United||5|
Now you may have noticed that I don’t share the view that having the top scorer in the league in the team is a pre-requisite for winning the league. I think having a couple of top scorers helps. Which is what we have.
“Beware of calls for simplistic change” is hardly a slogan that is going to catch on, but I still think it is one worth remembering.
From the Arsenal History Society
The Arsenal History Society publishes numerous series of articles exploring different aspects of Arsenal’s history. You can find an index to all the series to date on the Society’s web site.