I am about to leave for a holiday for a couple of weeks – out of the rain of Northamptonshire to the sun of Italy.
During this time I am leaving the site open so that comments can be posted by those who have posted before. However anyone new posting, or anyone posting with a link elsewhere won’t get through (most of the spam that hits the site has links in it which is why that rule is put in).
I’ve taken other steps to try and stop the silly mob from messing up the debate – but some might get through. Sorry about that.
Anyway, maybe no one will have anything to say over the next two weeks, but if you do, please feel free – in relation to what lies below or anything else.
So, two points before the great journey south…
Yesterday a comment was left on the site which troubled me. Troubled me because it seemed to show that Arsene Wenger had come out with a very unusual statement – one very unlike him – which was something of a hostage to fortune.
The comment was that “At the end of last season [Arsene Wenger] claimed he’d identified the squad’s weaknesses and this would be rectified via the transfer market. He also said he wanted to keep the squad together, but add to it in crucial areas.”
I wrote back and asked to correspondent where this came from – hopefully not coming across too aggressively in my request, and certainly (in bringing this up again) not wishing to go high and mighty and point out some minor error in the quote or prove I was right.
Reports of what people say are not always exactly right, and often it is a slip of the memory, but also we all know how the press will manipulate (when not actually inventing) what has been said.
I have managed to find what I believe is the piece referred to, so here’s the original, taken from Arsenal.com on May 8 2008
‘Arsene Wenger has identified Arsenal’s key weakness this season – defending long balls.
The Arsenal manager is a renowned number cruncher and it’s no surprise that he has been scouring the statistics to find areas which must improve before the next title race gets underway in August.
Wenger has already acknowledged that his team have “lacked a bit of maturity” at times this season, notably when they surrendered the advantage in big games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. At the shareholdres (sic) Q&A this week, the Frenchman was more specific.
“I must say that we had among the best attack but [with one game to go] we have conceded 31 goals which is six or seven too many,” he said. “It’s as close at that to win the championship.
“We didn’t given more goals away than any other team in the League on open play, nor on set pieces, but where we gave more goals away was on direct balls, in the air, through the middle, and most of the time on second balls.
“On set pieces and open play we were as good as Manchester United and Chelsea. The numbers are available. But we have to rectify how we deal with direct balls. When a team just goes for long, direct balls, against us, we have to improve.”‘
Now what is interesting is that in the days following, that piece was reported on a number of blogs and in the press, but as it was reported, so the comments about buying players was added. In the original Wenger identified the problem – but he didn’t say that he would buy players to overcome that problem.
On other occasions, he did speak about keeping the squad together but on this I think we have to be slightly more cautious, because public statements about players are often mixed messages. Only a silly manager (I think here of the Renknapp variety) criticises a player he wants to get rid of. Doing that reduces the value, and so he talks the player up. I’m hardly working on the same planet as Wenger, certainly not in the same league, but if anyone criticises one of my staff I always defend them to the customer, irrespective of what I say in private. I think that’s quite common.
I’m not trying to say Wenger made a perfect call throughout last season, but trying to balance hindsight with what was known at the time. The club had ended up four points behind the winners, and (according to the boss) let in half a dozen more goals than they should, from long balls. It’s logical to stay with the squad you have – it was hard to foresee such a level of injuries in the midfield and defence as we got.
I have, from time to time, let slip that I feel that corruption is rife in football. Of course I can’t say, “word is that XX is ripping off money from club YY by taking a percentage on each and every transfer” because I’m liable to be sued and taken off the face of the blogsphere.
So when three ex directors of Derby County are sent to prison for fraud having taken over the club seemingly for this very purpose, it is an opportunity to look a little deeper.
The game was this: these professional men (accountants etc) took over the club that was in debt for £3 and put themselves in positions of power (chief exec, finance director etc) and then paid themselves £125,000 plus VAT each. They “forgot” to tell the board how much they were paid.
The money was then channeled around various off shore accounts and companies: an obvious fraud.
The judge, Ian Alexander QC, said of the three, “You, like so many people who commit business and professional crime, somehow give the impression that you do not believe the rules apply to you, and that what you do in your business life is perfectly acceptable.”
Now here’s the interesting bit, because the directions brought in a £15m cash injection via ABC Corporation, registered in Panama, but without anyone knowing the real source. Some say it came from Michael Hunt, the former MD of Nissan UK who got eight years inside for tax fraud. More illicit money sloshing around.
As we watch other deals go on, clubs change hands, directors move in with talk of pumping millions in, we never have any idea (or if we do but can’t say) which ones are real and which ones are using the club as a quick way to launder a load of cash. We know that people who commit frauds will then use the courts to their advantage, will bully and behave generally like Bates was found to have done recently with a Leeds director (although of course no one is saying Mr Bates is guilty of anything other than the libel of which he was found guilty and on which he has to be £1.5 million court costs plus damages.
My point is – when money emerges from unknown sources, when people come in to rescue a club, when previously unknown professionals talk big – sometimes there is something stinking underneath. Derby have just emerged from hell, but there are a lot of other clubs still being run by such men.
I’ll contribute some more thoughts in a couple of weeks – unless of course my hotel has an internet connection which is not overrun by old men try to do their own line banking.
Very last thought: Ayling apparently put in another great show last night at Lincoln, and scored the winner. I’ll stick with my prediction of him as the guy who breaks through this year. And Coquelin.
Best wishes, and thank you for reading.
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