Tuesday, 7 February 2012

"Pretension" is better than cure?

Some teams are winners. Others are losers. Some just like to pretend. Of late, there seems to be a gulf developing between a few of the good teams in the Premier League and the really good teams. Arsenal and Liverpool are two of the most successful clubs in the history of British football. With a staggering 31 domestic league titles between them, there’s no doubting the ability and, indeed, the success these two clubs have achieved over the years. That being said, today these two giants of the football universe have decayed, almost self-imploded, into two sides that may be in serious danger of not finishing in the top four.

Arsenal were known, not too long ago, as the side that finishes teams off professionally. The side that gets the job done. Who can forget the famous “one-nil to the Arsenal” catch-phrase one may have heard on popular radio commentary in the mid 80s and early 90s? Well, I probably can because I wasn’t alive. Is that “forgetting” then, technically? Alas, I digress. The Arsenal of today though, are in an entirely different mould. A mould created, some would say even pioneered, by a man who I initially thought the football club was named after. Arsene Wenger has done much for the world of football. He has created a style which most envy, managed one of the greatest teams in history through an unprecedented 49-match unbeaten run and given many an ostentatious interview in that savory, glazed, croissant-reminiscent French accent. Sidenote- the world would be far more beautiful if we all spoke in a French accent. More ignorant perhaps, but undeniably more beautiful.

Today however even the sweet seduction of Wenger’s French tongue may not be enough to save his job. Arsenal have slowly but steadily gone from “invincible”, to “challengers”, to “definite top-four finishers” and now to, well, “polite pretenders”, to put it mildly. It’s hard to believe Wenger led them through this descent. The same man who once was Sir Alex Ferguson’s most fierce opponent, has timidly given way to the likes of Sheikh Mansur and Roman Abramovich. Oh, and the managers who have worked, are working and possibly will work for them in the near future. Not to mention the expeditious rise of Tottenham Hotspur, which no doubt will have been taken with a pinch of salt by the Arsenal faithful. The worst part about it though, is that this whole demise has been self-inflicted. Wenger’s insistence on maintaining a firm (read stingy) hand on wages and transfer bids, his obsession with youth (some have reported that he’s keeping tabs on RVP’s son) and his insistence on playing one particular way against all opposition (even if the quality isn’t there to do it) has resulted in the “Gunners” shooting themselves firmly in the foot. The foot was fourth place, unfortunately.

If Arsene Wenger caused Arsenal’s demise, what has caused Liverpool’s stagnation? A side that clearly had the beating of almost everyone in the 70s and 80s, today the Reds are conceding home draws to the likes to Norwich and Swansea (no disrespect, but these should be games Liverpool win) and are getting beaten away at Bolton, who have lost 8 or 9 games at home this season. But the best eleven isn’t sub-par. Holding City and United to a draw, and winning at the Etihad in the Carling Cup are accomplishments one wouldn’t associate with a side that loses to Bolton. The problem is that the squad is inconsistent. There are far too many players who are not good enough to be in a title-winning squad on that roster.

Are they content then, with having a sub-standard squad? Obviously not, if the money they keep spending is anything to go by. Kenny Dalglish’s transfer policy, though, has more holes than a slice of Swedish cheddar. Andy Carroll, Stuart Downing, Jordan Henderson- what was he thinking? Okay, Henderson has time, before the Liverpool faction pounces on me. What he doesn’t seem to have, though, is quality. Certainly not worth 20 million (in any currency). They missed out on Juan Mata and instead spent copious amounts on Stewart Downing (redefining liability on a daily basis). That money should have been invested in a proper striker who can score (preferably with his feet and not just from close range). Unlike Arsenal, clearly Liverpool have no qualms about spending money. The problem is they seem to also have no qualms about buying abysmal players. A club with their level of success, financial backing, and an intuitive football brain like Kenny’s at the helm, this should be a side that, at the minimum, finishes consistently and easily in the top four.

The answer to the problems both these sides face seems to be rooted in an acute need for a sharp re-think within the football clubs. That doesn’t mean (nor should it be interpreted, I cannot handle the death threats any longer) as my way of subtly indicating that a managerial switch is called for. It simply means that if “gliding by” is no longer enough, then a look at the big picture is needed. Just a passing glance. An angry French perusal, anyone? Else we shall soon be seeing a dominant top four, followed by a plethora of teams contesting to avoid relegation in the Barclays Premier League. West Brom, Norwich, Swansea, Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool- to name a few. 

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