Spare a thought for poor Arsene Wenger, beset it seems from all sides. On the one hand Robin Van Persie, fresh from his unconvincing displays, in the image of the whole Dutch team, in the Euros that last late irrelevant goal scored surprisingly with his right foot rather than his potent left. For him the Gunners, though they have only just bought two strikers of renown in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
For Van Persie, who has been treated surely with patience and support by Arsenal during his long periods out through injury, that wasn’t enough. He does not feel that they are in a position to challenge for the major honours even though they will yet again be contesting the Champions League. Manchester City have all too plainly been licking their fat lips in the hope of buying yet another Arsenal star and yet another striker.
When, in a year or so, the Platini plan limiting such colossal and somewhat repugnant expenditure as City’s, perhaps they will no longer be able, or their Abu Dhabi backers be able, to tempt the likes of Van Persie with anything up to £200,000 a week, not to mention the vast fee they would have to pay Arsenal. So much so that it seems even their owners are keen for them to jettison another enormously costly attacker in the shape of Emmanuel Adebayor, on loan last season to a Spurs club now keen to keep him; but would they, you wonder, afford him? It seems they can.
In parenthesis, how close did City come to winning anything in Europe last season? They were summarily dismissed from the European Cup by Bayern Munich and couldn’t even cut the mustard in that dim superfluity the Europa Cup. Far be it from me to suggest that Van Persie wants to leave Arsenal simply for the money, but wherever he goes next, there is no guarantee of Europe success.
From another direction, Wenger and Arsenal have been under fire from that delightful oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who has 29% of the shares and for a long time now has been yearning to get on the board. That Arsenal’s hierarchy, of whom he is so critical don’t want him is understandable enough. Immensely wealthy he may be but this is the man who was imprisoned in Russia for four years, reduced from six, for alleged fraud – subsequently declared unjust by the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan – and who was charged, though the charge was dropped, with carnal offence. And it does seem a trifle strange that among those he’s accused of making money out of the Gunners and putting nothing back is none other than David Dein, whose shares in the club were bought by Usmanov himself for £71 million?
No doubt Arsenal could do a lot with Usmanov’s vast fortune, but if their somewhat marginalised chairman Peter Hill Wood, once bridled at the thought of allowing the current chief shareholder, Stan Kroenke, on the board – only to be forced later to fly to the USA to beg him to come on board, how suitable a person would Usmanov be?
It certainly wasn’t Wenger’s fault that a year ago, he lost a recalcitrant Samir Nasri, a petulant figure in the recent Euros, and Clichy. It is probably true that Usmanov’s money might have kept both of them at The Emirates but, even then, Arsenal plainly decided that the game would not be worth the candle. Maybe Usmanov should try elsewhere in the Premiership. Goodness knows there are enough clubs which would be all too glad of his money. While you do wonder how long Manchester United can remain successfully in business given the colossal debt which the Glazers have burdened upon them.
Spurs, meanwhile, have replaced Harry Redknapp, despite all his success at White Hart Lane, with 34 year-old Andre Villas-Boas and I am at one with those who see it as a risk. What, after all, for all his success in the deeply different context at Porto, did he achieve at Chelsea, where his tactics came apart and his attitudes and policies alienated senior players? There could scarcely be a greater contrast between the hugely experienced, endlessly pragmatic Harry Redknapp, a consummate wheeler-dealer, though he detests the appellation, and young Villas Boas, whose treatment of the likes of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, both now up and away, was tactless at best, self defeating at worst; not to mention the exclusion of both Anelka and Alex from that Xmas party!
It seems that Luka Modric will soon be gone and since he is one of the few outstanding playmakers in Europe, the loss could be catastrophic.
Over at Chelsea, Roberto Di Matteo quickly worked wonders with morale and tactics, once Villas Boas had gone, and I was delighted to see him belatedly given his due by promotion to the full managership. Perhaps with a diplomatic gesture to his oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, he is making hopeful noises about deploying Fernando Torres in the resilient Drogba’s powerful role. Frankly I shall believe it when I see it. Quite apart from the fact that these are two quite different phenomena, Torres’ rabbit killing goals in the Euros haven’t convinced me of his supposed revival. And now! Oscar.
By Brian Glanville