It is well known that when Napoleon was asked to promote a general to the rank of marshal, his invariable question would be, “is he lucky?”
The same question might well be asked now about the hapless Arsene Wenger. Player after player has been ruled by injury. Centre back Per Mertesacker for months on end and now the essential Aaron Ramsey pulling a hamstring in the calamitous loss to Liverpool in the first game of the season.
But did Wenger unwittingly conspire in his own Liverpool disaster? Did he lean too far backwards in letting Laurent Koscielny, above all, plus Mesut Ozil and striker Olivier Giroud sit this vital game out?
Coincidentally, a couple of days later at Stamford Bridge, one saw West Ham bring on another French international, Dimitri Payet, from the bench, making an immediate difference. How long does a player need to recover? Wenger fielding two inadequate young centre backs surely conspired in his own and his team’s downfall.
What a sad, bitter and ironic end to the pitifully short life of Dalian Atkinson. Once such a prolific star with Aston Villa and so many other clubs besides, remembered perhaps best of all for an astonishing solo goal against Wimbledon.
He had just one England B cap but was arguably good enough for more.
The bitter irony of it all is that he flourished financially too soon. After the Bosman decision and the commercial television bonanza, a player of his capacity would surely have been earning vast fortunes each week as so many Premiership players without remotely as much of his talent are doing today.
He is well remembered not only at Aston Villa, and goodness knows how they could do with him today, but at a club as far away as Real Sociedad in Basque Spain, where he teamed up in attack with the well known Liverpool striker John Aldridge. Rest in Peace.
Walter Zenga has, somewhat unexpectedly, been installed as the new manager of Wolves. A former goalkeeper for Italy and Inter, he was never short of a quote. I remember one in particular. It came out of an incident just before a Lazio match at the Olympic Stadium when Paul Gascoigne belched into the microphone extended to him by a television reporter.
“To understand why Gascoigne did this,” orated Zenga, “we would have to get inside his head.” To which I wrote, that if he did so, we should find on one side a marvellous football mind, and on the other, shades of what Groucho Marx says to Chico in one of their famous films: “Barabelli, you’ve go the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.”
Would Manchester City be wise to get rid of Joe Hart, even if their new distinguished manager, Pep Guardiola, deems him insufficient when he has the ball at his feet? Never important, surely, for a goalkeeper, a secondary issue.
Hart, it is sadly true, cut a dire figure in the recent European Championships. His nervous state of mind was all too clear when filmed in the tunnel cursing and swearing as England took the field. Behaviour which brought down moral recrimination from some viewers.
What seemed perfectly plain, though not alas to Roy Hodgson, was that in his actual psychological state he was a bad risk and should have been dropped. He wasn’t and would err badly again in the disastrous match against Iceland.
I’ve never been happy with the comparatively recent rule whereby a keeper cannot handle a pass back. It should surely be a secondary aptitude. But for better or worse, there it is. Sweeper keepers are all the rage, but I still feel Guardiola would run risks getting rid of Hart, who will surely recover his confidence in time.