By Tony Attwood
One of the great things about Arsène Wenger is his ability to run rings round journalists so many times that they not only get giddy, they have no idea what he is actually saying to them.
But I must admit that since he accepted a job at Fifa as chief of global football development, I have pondered what game he is playing this time. This is the man who (you may recall because it is one of my favourite Wengerian moments) called international managers people akin to car thieves, in 2006. They take what you own, he said, wreck it, return it to you and expect you to repair it for next time.
He was sanctioned and fined for that one.
And now he’s working for what can only be described as the enemy of all people who support first and foremost and ahead of everything else, their club.
That in itself has seemed odd, but for him to then suggest a doubling up of internationals so we have a big blow out World Cup one year and a Uefa championship the next seems very strange.
But what we do know from his years as Arsenal manager is that not only is he a brilliant manager, managing Arsenal into Europe for a quarter of a century – more than any club other than Real Madrid much of the time on something like 25% of their income (even less during the stadium repayment years), he is also innovative, and mischievous.
Watching his pre-match interviews one could see how much he enjoyed himself running circles around the plodding journos, so my first inclination has been, is he up to that again.
But also, more than anyone else Mr Wenger will know what the awful Infantino is up to, sacking all the senior staff in the African confederation and moving his non-African pals in, while fighting the corruption charges by using the courts to suggest it is the accusers who are the corrupt!
So maybe Mr W knows something we don’t, or has a plan up his sleeve. Or maybe he is pulling a huge practical joke.
The notion he has put forward is of qualifying matches being played in October and March, after which the players get 25 days off before resuming training and playing.
His explanation to L’Équipe was that, “We must recognise that society is demanding more and more high-stakes and emotional matches. Even Euro 2020, which took place two months ago, seems far away. I think that the football public no longer wants the qualifiers to last a year and a half. They can be concentrated in four or five weeks.”
Now the media has again turned on Wenger, as they have always done, calling his answers to their questions “bizarre” and “delusional.” But now, for the first time ever (yes really ever) the mainstream media has turned on Fifa.
As you will know if you are a regular here, Fifa is buried in a series of scandals and ventures all of which could fall one way or another (from the corruption of the Swiss legal system by Infantino to the aforementioned replacement of all Africans by Infantino’s cronies).
Now if we assume for a moment that Mr Wenger knew perfectly well that no one would go for his proposals (not least because no self-respecting journalist or editor would ever be seen dead supporting something Mr Wenger proposed), what is the game he plays?
First, what he has achieved is worldwide criticism of Fifa – something that none of its other outrages, such as accepting the use of slave labour in Qatar, or having half of its senior execs arrested during a convention in Switzerland, has ever achieved.
He’s also managed to bring in talk within the media of countries rejecting the plans because there was no consultation. But there has never been consultation between Fifa and the people who provide them (free of charge) with their players before, so that’s a first.
Added to that we know that Fifa gave support to the Super League, and indeed its plan in Africa is for an African Super League.
Now a man who played the politics of football so incredibly successfully over the years is very unlikely to be unaware of all this.
So the question is, has he not only changed sides by joining Fifa, but has he simultaneously also lost all the analytic ability? The media that hated him so when he was at Arsenal are suggesting this is the case.
But really, is that likely?
Or is it that in the wholesale battle between Fifa and Uefa that is raging unreported (except here) at the moment, he’s actually trying to get each side to eliminate each other, leaving the clubs free to sort out their own futures?
Certainly he often suggested that many levels of football need reform, from the awful state of the youth game (and pitches) in England, to the disgraceful corruption and wastage surrounding Fifa.
Putting forward a scheme that you know will fail seems a bit fanciful, but just supposing it is pushed forward and the clubs and Uefa simply say no. What then?
If that crisis could finally toppled Infantino and indeed Fifa, Mr Wenger would have done us the biggest service since the unbeaten season, record number of FA Cups, 25 years in Europe, and the record equalling double achievement.
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