By Tony Attwood
In an article last week I suggested that journalists and commentators who simply dismiss a manager’s insight and understanding out of hand should first prove their own ability by managing a club.
I also noted that the post at Borrowash Victoria of the East Midlands Counties League was up for grabs and suggested that Jeremy Wilson – a forthright critic of Mr Wenger – might care to prove his own abilities by taking the post on. Thus far it seems he has not taken up the challenge.
However his colleague Jason Burt has mentioned the issue, and not for the first time I am left with the feeling that we can on occasion be a bit ahead of the news.
Mr Burt writes that Arsène Wenger has “issued a withering attack on Arsenal’s “bitter” critics, reserving special contempt for his former striker Paul Merson.”
This relates to the point that Merson used the word “clueless” to describe Arsenal some 13 times in the space of about five minutes on TV.
Now we must respect Paul Merson in his opinions of managers, for not only was he a player, he was also a manager himself of Walsall.
In his first full season with Walsall (2004/5) his team went out of the cup competitions to lower league opponents, and were close to a second consecutive relegation, saving themselves only at the end of the season.
The next season, 2005/6 was another relegation battle, and just over half way through the season he was sacked with the club again facing relegation. He left, and rather than return to management elsewhere went and played one game for each of Tamworth and Welshpool.
Merson and Mr Wenger have history: Merson was at Arsenal when Mr Wenger came along, but then he was sold to Middlesbrough amidst stories that the two had differences. Indeed while other players that Mr Wenger inherited (players like Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, Bergkamp, Keown, Parlour) all flourished, Merson was moved on as quickly as an offer could be found.
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Mr Wenger referred to his problems with Merson by saying in his interview on the topic of Merson’s comments, “I managed him. I tried. I’m not interested in Paul Merson.”
So when Merson speaks of Arsenal of being “like an under-12 team, all bombing forward,” we should perhaps give him credit for having managed a club, but also note that his judgement was not sufficient to secure the mid-table stability that Walsall craved.
Mr Wenger then re-iterated Untold’s point that “People who have managed altogether zero games they teach everybody how you should behave. It’s a farce.” It is fairly clear from the interview that Mr Wenger was speaking at this point of the journalists who were criticising him, especially Jeremy Wilson, who I suggested should apply for the Borrowash job.
However in a desperate attempt to deflect attention from their own journalist the Telegraph report on Mr Wenger’s repost tries to suggest that he was still criticising Merson, and then points out that Merson managed Walsall. Unfortunately at this point Jason Burt gets as confused as Jeremy Wilson and suggests that Merson managed Walsall “briefly”. No, he managed Walsall from 10 May 2004 to February 6 2006. 20 months, which in terms of managers is a long old time.
Mr Wenger continued, “Honestly, I cannot even be upset about it. People criticise without any proven fact, just because they love to criticise. It’s much more about bitterness than any real objective facts.
“Honestly, if I really cared, do you think I would’ve survived 18 years? Honestly, the answer is there. What I care about is if players are punished or criticised in an unjustified way.”
Mr Wenger also had a rather neat put down for the so-called journalist interviewing him. Asked if he had criticised the team for letting slip the 3-0 lead against Anderlecht he said, “No, I rectified their mistakes. It’s not exactly the same. I don’t tell them ‘You’re an absolute idiot’. I ask them ‘What should you have done there?’ That’s the difference between newspapers and people.”
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