Welcome to issue 180 of The Saint. I do hope that you enjoy the fine journalism on offer and that you will also join me in extending a congratulatory salute to the ladies of the women’s football team who achieved the Arsenalesque milestone of winning their league without losing a single match. A sterling feat in any sporting discipline.
That Arsenal side – the va-va voom of Henry, the grit of Patrick Viera, the panache of Robert Pires and the baldness of Pascal Cygan – was my introduction to football. Quite the introduction. I demanded for my birthday the year that the Gooners won that title a shirt with Patrick Viera’s name printed on the back.
The sad thing for Arsenal is that they have in my opinion never really replaced Viera since he left the club for Juventus, much in the same way that Manchester United never adequately replaced Roy Keane when he departed Old Trafford.
To construct a team of winners you need a hardened core of successful leaders at its core. When I see Arsenal now, while they may be easy on the eye, they lack a Viera in the middle with a Tony Adams barking orders at the back.
When many were wailing and gnashing their teeth at Jose Mourinho’s assertion that Arsene Wenger had presided over a decade of failure at the club, I feel that he was perfectly entitled to say it. Wenger’s failings in the transfer market at not providing Arsenal with a spine of proven winners is one of the main reasons for the trophy drought which is engulfing that
particular corner of North London – it must be somewhat galling to know that in that time Birmingham City, Wigan, Swansea and their rivals from the other end of Seven Sisters’ Road have all won trophies.
Victory is very much a state of mind. Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson shared one thing in common, aside from a rather reddish hue to their nose and cheeks. They were able to assemble various sides who may not have been superbly talented, however their man-management skills were supreme.
A former player of Clough’s at Nottingham Forest said that it was Clough’s coaching and man management skills that were crucial in making him the player he was. Does Wenger lack that? It is difficult to say given the success of the 1990s and early 2000s. Has he lost his mojo? Again it is difficult to say, however one thing is sure, that is that he and Arsenal need a trophy soon.
One man with dubious man-management skills who has arrived in the Barclays Premier League. Felix Magath is what some would describe as a no nonsense, old school manager. The German media christened him “The Last Dictator in Europe” while one of his former charges at Schalke 04, the Peruvian international JeffersonFarfan, said that he lacked any basic humanity.
His track record is mixed. Titles with Bayern Munich and Vfl Wolfsburg – the first in their history – is offset by tales of mass player unrest at clubs such as Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg. However, given the state his new club Fulham find themselves in Magath’s skill set could be crucial in the battle to keep the West London side in the top league. His style inspires an instant reaction and he is often described as a Mr Fix-it for teams in need of a lift.
However, as this season at Sunderland showed, abrasive management often fails to work for the pampered stars who play the game now. It will be interesting to see if the man who imposes fines on players for a back-pass and who is a great fan of using medicine balls in training will work out at the club. It is a funny old game this football thing.
One not so funny matter is the generally horrendous performance of the Scottish rugby team and its parent organisation, the Scottish Rugby Union. Online this week is an excellent deconstruction and analysis of the current situation by hardened Scottish rugby fan Robert Barbour, a man who has suffered over the years as a result of the men in dark blue’s long string of failures.
Perhaps then the CEO of the SRU was attempting to cheer up rugger buggers from across the land by saying it was possible for Scotland to win the World Cup and Six Nations by 2019.
While I am not one to crush ambition, surely your ambition must have some basis in reality? Either way, it is probably one of the more zany assertions to be made by the leader of a sporting organisations in recent times.
While the SRU is lacking in it, I must say it takes that special thing to be a winner. I hope that Arsenal rediscover their winning ways soon for it would be a great shame to see a club of that magnitude suffer such a barren spell.
However one thing that Arsene Wenger should realise is that he needs winners in the side for success to come. There is no shame in going out and buying a Yaya Toure like figure. Either that or an ageing John Terry would do, though I cannot see that happening anytime soon.
Enjoy the issue.