By Tony Attwood
This morning ex-Arsenal player Stewart Robson made a very strong attack on Arsene Wenger on BBC Radio 5 Live’s breakfast show. His point was that all the problems at Arsenal were down to the manager who had completely lost the plot.
Unfortunately I was driving at the time the broadcast came on so I was unable to record it or make notes, but what struck me about the piece was that Robson made no justification for his comments (in that he did not give any specific incidents or issues that Mr Wenger had got wrong) but he simply spoke in a style that might well be called a tirade. By this I mean that he pointed to no specific occasion, or explained how the manager might have worked otherwise in this specific football and economic environment. He simply put the blame on the manager.
What I am wondering today is whether the BBC knew he would do this, and so thought it a clever idea to put in a one-sided report, or whether they simply looked for who was available and didn’t bother to check what he might say.
Certainly there was no mention that Robson had previously worked for Arsenal TV but had then been moved on. It is interesting incidentally that Robson’s Wikipedia page makes little mention of this, casting it in passing alongside his appearance on Absolute Radio’s Rock’n’Roll Football. It is as if this element of his past is being slowly whitewashed out.
Now obviously I have no inside information on why Robson left Arsenal TV, but I do know that just before he left there was a considerable level of pressure on the club to remove him, because of his persistently critical view of the team, again without much in the way of explanation as to what he would do if he were the manager. This is something that would have been interesting, given that he was assistant manager of Rushden and Diamonds at one time, along with several other clubs.
The point I would make is that in the build up to Robson’s appearance on the radio there was no mention of the fact that Robson had left Arsenal under what we might generously call “a cloud” or that he has a long history of being critical of the club for which he played 150 games over five years.
Of course we do live in a world where ex-footballers come on and give very biased views without any background or explanation as to how they would justify their views. But the BBC surely has a duty of balance given that they are the national broadcaster paid for by households in the UK with a TV. I have no problem with Robson being on, any more than I had a problem with with IRA being given air time, or a member of UKIP, or a member of a fascist group being on. Indeed such people should be on TV and radio so that we all have a chance to hear their views, even if we profoundly disagree with them
But we also need a context and a balance, and what the BBC is certainly failing to provide is any sort of balance over the issue of Arsenal and Mr Wenger.
To give but one other example, I recall a day or two ago hearing Perry Groves being interviewed in which he made the point that Arsenal had recently sold all their best players – mentioning in passing Nasri and Song.
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OK that is a point of view – and I have to admit that I do find Perry Groves (unlike Robson) an enjoyable and amusing speaker at times. His speech to the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association’s AGM last year for example was great fun and occasionally insightful in terms of Arsenal in 1989.
But on the issue of selling our best players, there is another side to the coin – not least one that puts forward the point of view that Song has been voted one of the two worst buys by a Spanish club last summer, by Spanish supporters.
As for Nasri – well, he was one of the players strongly criticised by the management after the 3-1 defeat of his club at Southampton. He was dropped for the next game, and his contribution to Manchester C this year doesn’t look that promising. He scored on the opening day, but not since in the league, although he did get one other goal against Ajax in the doomed Champs League campaign. His performances have been called (in some quarters – I admit not by everyone) “tame” and not at all “match-winning”. And yet he cost £24m. He is not a bad player, but hardly a £24m player now, and there is a feeling in some places, I think, that City were conned into paying far more than the player was worth.
Arsenal have made a habit of “letting go” players who look good, but actually are over achieving. Hleb is a prime example. Flamini, who commanded no fee but got a sensational salary on leaving Arsenal, is another who slipped away, and found he could not repeat his one season of brilliance at Arsenal before ultimately also finding that he couldn’t get a transfer on after his time in Milan. Even Henry ended up costing Barcelona £250,000 a game because he wasn’t used that often.
These are points worthy of inclusion in the debate. Of course we don’t expect someone like Groves to have such facts at his finger tips, because that is not his style or approach. He is very amusing on George Graham and Arsenal’s history – we don’t look to him for insights into the present day.
But when the BBC have on one, and only one person to discuss today’s game, it seems odd that they should give airtime to such a biased point of view without then putting in a bit of balance. A blog like this one can put forward one point of view only in its pieces, because we are hardly a national institution paid for by the populace, but the BBC really should do better.
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