Arsène’s Mood Takes Down Western Economy
When Arsenal travels, the Guardian assigns David Hytner to protect its interests in milking the cash cow known as “Arsene Out.”
Last summer, Hytner accompanied Arsenal on the Asia tour, and now travels with them to Dortmund. In China he was demonstrably fair and balanced, but as I noted in my first Guardian alert, something yet-to-be-determined happened between then and now to move David toward the dark side.
This continued with his Monday piece from Dortmund, wherein Hytner continued the personal (ad hominem) assault on Arsène based on the pre-match press conference. To set the tone, the accompanying photo shows the very tall Per Metsacker training next to the very short Andre Arshavin. With weirdness thus established, the headline reads: “Arsène Wenger is still chafing at his UEFA ban.” Yes, “Chafing.”
Now to me, “chafing” suggests a rawness of the skin that, for example, a frenzied dog brings on himself for trying to free his neck from a too-tight restraining collar. Too strong an analogy? Well, let’s give it a moment and then decide.
In fairness, Hytner may have begun accurately enough:
“Arsène Wenger‘s sarcasm betrayed the depths of his anger…At least, I can sleep in the same hotel as the team,”
But with his customary factual set-up, Hytner goes for the caricature-kill:
“Wenger still cannot comprehend the two-match touchline ban handed down by Uefa, and which feels like the latest arrow of outrageous fortune to be directed at him.”
Indeed, with neither a review of the event nor a scintilla of his reasons, Hytner draws his matador’s sword:
“Yet to Wenger’s mind, as he seeks to punch off the back foot here in the Ruhr valley, the imperative to make a positive start has been made more difficult by Uefa’s hard line. He was asked whether he felt he had been afforded a fair trial by Europe’s governing body. ‘No,’ he replied, leaving his audience to snigger at his terseness.”
“Snigger?” Yep, Arsène’s lost the plot.
Since it’s old news, Hytner provides no context to explain “the problem”:
“The problem arose when Wenger served a one-match touchline ban in the play-off first-leg against Udinese at Emirates Stadium, a legacy of his inflammatory comments after last season’s exit at the hands of Barcelona.”
“Inflammatory?” Perhaps. But what exactly were “the comments?” Don’t ask this “reporter” to have looked into that. Was there any basis for these purported “inflammatory” words? Not in Hytner’s “coverage”. No choking? No fast whistle? Not a hint about a red card at the very point when Arsenal was in the ascendancy at Camp Nou? Nope. This is David Hytner’s “Bussacca Moment.”
No. The topic of the day – as that of the last two months – is that Arsène Wenger’s mind is on trial:
“Wenger believed that he would be allowed to communicate with his bench from the stands via a third party – his assistant Boro Primorac – and he did so, openly. But UEFA took issue, dismissing Arsenal’s claims of unclear communication to bring the sanction against Wenger.”
The fact is that Arsenal did not claim “unclear communication.” It claimed that permission was granted by UEFA’s on-site contact person to allow the contact. The lingering issue, then, of whether Arsène was set-up, or entrapped, or falsely accused does not even arise within Hytner’s story frame (or, dare I say, “frame-up?”).
Indeed, in Hytner-speak, it is put-upon UEFA, which has shown forbearance and generosity in the face of Wenger’s alleged provocation:
“The club appealed and, while it was pending, Wenger was cleared to take a full part in the second leg at Udinese, in which he gave a vital half-time team talk. But UEFA upheld the punishment and Wenger will also be suspended for the home tie against Olympiakos.”
Indeed, the “chafing,” “inflammatory” Arsène Wenger will be duly muzzled and, amazingly, still put on trial as to whether he’ll have properly prepared for every contingency:
“Wenger will give his team talk at the hotel but when he arrives at Dortmund’s stadium, he will head to the stands and, effectively, sit on his hands for the 90 minutes. He will only be permitted to speak again with his staff and players 15 minutes after full time and he must plan, in advance, his response to every conceivable scenario for his assistant Pat Rice to implement.”
Now this is as close as Hytner would come to showing he might actually enjoy Wenger, considering that Arsène gave the journos a juicy quote they didn’t deserve:
“I will send my vibes and hope they will not be detected by UEFA,” Wenger said, with slightly more than a hint of irony.
“I don’t think I will be man-marked [in the stands]. If you want to respect the rule strictly, you should be marked by two men – one on the right and one on the left. If one is sitting to my right, I can talk to the guy on my left.”
In service to Arsène’s joke, Hytner betrays he’s capable of providing the kind of context that he withheld when it came to Barcelona or Udinese:
“During his time at Chelsea, José Mourinho dodged a Uefa touchline ban by concealing himself in a laundry basket to enter the dressing room. ‘I am too tall for that and the laundry baskets are too small in Germany,’ Wenger said.”
Finally, Hytner’s evidence that Arsène is “still chafing”:
“But what is difficult to explain is that we just did what we were told to do. They confirmed the suspension but then Michel Platini [the Uefa president] came out and said it’s not right. . . The situation is not ideal and I really don’t understand any more what the rules are. I have to leave things to Pat and he will make the right decisions. For once, I will have somebody else to blame.”
As his parting shot, Hytner displays Arsène’s humor before turning it against him:
“I don’t like to do that,” said Wenger, with a smile, when it was put to him that he never signed players who were taller than him. Arsène then explained that there is, in fact, a football reason why he usually avoids such tall signings: “Usually, I look at the quality of the player and not at the size because we play a very technical game. I usually choose smaller players.” But, characteristically, Hytner turns all this into evidence of the manager’s arrogance. To quote Hytner:
“Mertesacker has a peculiar distinction. The 6ft 6in centre-half is the only player that Wenger has looked up to at Arsenal”.
In Monday’s second article, Hytner probed still further into Arsène’s psyche and then publicized his fears:
“Arsène Wenger has spoken of his fear that Arsenal are being left behind by a financially elite cartel led by Barcelona and Real Madrid. Arsenal’s manager also name-checked Chelsea and Manchester City as part of a group of clubs whose spending power has separated them from the rest of Europe’s sides.”
Not that Hytner would opine or analyze any link between football and finance – an everyday commonplace around Untold Arsenal; but, rather, he psychologizes this entire matter, as if it as a projection of the manager’s overheated psyche:
“The Frenchman foresees an economic meltdown across Europe and he said that it may be the only thing to rein in Barcelona and Real, who have benefited greatly from being able to negotiate individual television rights contracts in Spain. The Premier League has always had a collective agreement.”
Aha! It’s a French thing, this catastrophe. Indeed, to quote the “Frenchman”:
“I am convinced that Europe will go into a huge financial crisis within the next three weeks or three months and maybe that will put everything into perspective again.”
And some more from Le Prof (albeit with a Hytnerian twist):
“Football is not untouchable. We live with people going to the stadiums as well and from advertising from people who buy products. All our income could be a little bit under threat in the next few months. Football is not only about money. We believe in ourselves that we can compete with them but it’s as simple as this.”
It is possible, of course, that connecting football and finance might be a link too far for Team Guardian’s keyboard assassins to fully grasp. But, rest assured, they already have learned to blame any such meltdown on the Frenchman’s psyche. (Their future headline: “Wenger’s Mood Takes Down Western Economy.”)
Finally, Hytner gives his readers the all-important “take away”: the last paragraph that was traditionally understood as the reporter’s real point. In this case, he allows “The Frenchman” to give his own perspective:
“I wouldn’t rule it out but it’s too early to speak about winning it [the Champions League]. Saying that would raise a lot of scepticism about the team and I don’t think anyone would believe it. But we have to do as well as we can and we have to form a team in the next two months. It’s too early to have that kind of ambition.”
No credit, here, for measured honesty. Rather, if you listen carefully, you’ll surely hear the din of “well done’s” from Hytner’s editors for ending the piece in this less than triumphalist way… Indeed, the skepticism Arsene expresses is precisely the skepticism that Hytner wishes to reinforce about Arsène Wenger’s ability to “form a team in the next two months.” If one thing is certain, David Hytner will be there to shovel dirt upon those hopes.
Given Hytner’s now predictable performance, I take license to hope out loud that Arsène and Arsenal give Hytner “the Fergie Treatment”: leaving him outside a future press conference. If he were then to become eligible for the sack at Guardian Football, surely there’d be a place for his talents at The Sun. Then again, his ability to write in multi-syllables might deem him suspect, if not overqualified for the job.