Wenger and the weekend’s action

By in Niall Quinn's Route One

Some­times these days when you are watch­ing Arsenal it feels bet­ter not to watch at all. It can be that pain­ful. Hands over your face stuff. Watch­ing Arsene Wenger in these last few sea­sons has been like watch­ing an old man who thinks he can still do all the new fangled dance moves while still wear­ing his sens­ible old man shoes.

He can’t and some­times it hurts just to watch him try.

Yes­ter­day on the first day of a brand new sea­son it was espe­cially cruel. Manchester United were ready when the cur­tain went up for the early game. They beat Bournemouth com­fort­ably. In Bournemouth. Zlatan looked like the right mix of big star and big bruiser who can thrive in the Eng­lish game. And Pogba wait­ing in the wings seems poin­tedly like the sort of player Wenger will just never sign. Maybe Pogba will prove to be worth the money. Maybe he will fall just short. But for Arsenal fans he will always remind them of the Viera like pres­ence that they don’t have any­more.

Mour­inho, The Joker to Arsene’s noble Bat­man, did the busi­ness yes­ter­day. Two hours or so later Arsenal were being booed off at the Emir­ates by a sec­tion of their own crowd. The game with Liv­er­pool had ended 4–3. For a time when Arsenal were 4–1 down I actu­ally wor­ried about Arsene’s short term future for the first time. After all he has done for Arsenal he deserves the right to end his ten­ure on his own terms. On the other hand the argu­ment that he just can’t move with the times grows stronger every time he steps onto the dance floor and does his old man shuffle. He has grace but he isn’t going to win Strictly.

Jur­gen Klopp is another of the new breed of man­ager who jives around the floor while Wenger’s feet look like they are nailed to it. The Ger­man was up and down the line yes­ter­day like Michael Flat­ley after too many diet cokes on a night out. He was kick­ing every ball with his team, his fists were pump­ing and his glasses were fall­ing off. Klopp wears his heart on his sleeve and usu­ally that sleeve isn’t attached to an expens­ive suit.

Klopp wouldn’t fit every­where but he fits in Liv­er­pool where the people are more impressed by pas­sion than by Armani. They have been cry­ing out for a mes­siah with red blood and a beat­ing heart. Klopp has spent money reas­on­ably well and sens­ibly ( Mane already looks like good value) yet I think his team are still a work in pro­gress. Scor­ing four at the Emir­ates is impress­ive. There are pieces of the jig­saw which are still left to be filled though and this new Liv­er­pool must learn to man­age a game of foot­ball from a win­ning pos­i­tion. Their ancest­ors in red were mas­ters of that art. For now though they play excit­ing foot­ball and 4–3 prob­ably won’t be an unusual sco­reline for them this sea­son. And if they keep show­ing pro­gress the Anfied faith­ful will be very happy that their place isn’t being run by an old grey man.

Sum­mer is always a dif­fi­cult time for Arsenal fans and it doesn’t help that the team have only once opened the PL cam­paign with a win in seven sea­sons now. Arsene behaves in the trans­fer mar­ket as if he believes he is the fin­an­cial guard­ian of the club. In a world awash with money he is still hop­ing to find good value for his fam­ily. Every now and then he breaks out and buys an Ozil or a Sanc­hez but gen­er­ally every club in the world knows that Arsenal have a lot of money and that they need a centre half, a com­bat­ive mid­fielder and a world class striker. When they see poor Arsene com­ing into the store there are no bar­gains for him. They know what he needs and they know what he ought to pay. It’s not fair but it’s foot­ball.

If Arsene wants to win again he will have to accept that since the last time Arsenal were cham­pi­ons the world has kept turn­ing. You pay silly money because by and large that is the only money there is in the Premier League.

The sta­dium which Arsene helped the club build is won­der­ful but the people who pay so much to get into that sta­dium are well past the won­der years. They want to see myths and legends cre­ated through win­ning trophies an put­ting other great clubs to the sword. Arsenal this year are likely to play breath­tak­ing foot­ball against teams like Bournemouth and Hull but put together a league table of per­form­ances against the other top six clubs and they will fall short.

They call Arsene, The Pro­fessor, and the nick­name is sup­posed to refer to his aloof­ness. If you are tall and French I sup­pose being aloof is always going to be the first thing thrown at you. I was tall and Irish (still am) so I was Big Quin­nny. Big Wengy just does’t suit Arsene.

I think though that Arsene is the way he is because of his back­ground and how he was brought up. It’s not aloof­ness, it’s cau­tion. His fam­ily owned a small busi­ness selling car parts. When Arsene went to play foot­ball he was rel­at­ively old as foot­ballers go and he wasn’t escap­ing poverty to have his shot at the world. It went against his nature to put all his eggs into one bas­ket. He always thought that he would play some foot­ball and then come home and run the car parts shop again. So his foot­ball career went hand in hand with his edu­ca­tion.

He was the sens­ible kid that every mother who hands her boy over to a foot­ball club hopes she has reared. There were no Wenger wags and no shisha pipes. Wenger got him­self a degree in eco­nom­ics and the les­sons he learned back then both at home and in the Uni­ver­sity of Stras­bourg have had as much an influ­ence on him as any­thing he’s picked up in foot­ball. He is still a shop­keeper at heart. He’s just trapped in a world of day traders who drink too much caf­feine and think lunch is for wimps.

And Foot­ball doesn’t answer to the laws of eco­nom­ics any­more. Last year Arsenal sneaked into second place on the last day of the sea­son. Yet they earned more money from the Premier League than any­body else did because they were on tele­vi­sion more times. It’s a long, long time since Arsenal were cham­pi­ons but every year they charge their fans the highest ticket prices in the league. What happened to eco­nom­ics?

I wasn’t a great stu­dent but the one thing I remem­ber about eco­nom­ics is that the most basic les­sons were about sup­ply and demand. I hope Arsene starts to sup­ply what Arsenal fans demand and that he does it soon.

Or it is going to be very pain­ful to watch.

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On Sat­urday morn­ing in a hotel lobby in Brent­ford I ran into a famil­iar face. A good few years have passed since a skinny young lad from Cork called John Egan arrived over to see Sun­der­land with his Mam and Dad. He had his Dad’s name. It wasn’t too much of a gamble to take that he would have his ped­i­gree as a sports­man too.

I had a Dad who per­formed some great feats on the hurl­ing field and when the chance came for me to try my luck in Eng­land at a soc­cer club Billy Quinn let me spread my wings with a heart and a half. True greats never want to make their chil­dren live for them all over again. They just want to see them reach their poten­tial. So the son of an eight time All Ire­land legend came to Sun­der­land to be a foot­baller.

Young John has been haunted by bad luck and injur­ies over the last few years. He’s had a few loan spells and a run at Gilling­ham where the poten­tial really began to shine through. On Sat­urday he was mak­ing his home debut for Brent­ford, a good pro­gress­ive club where he will thrive. I’ve always kept an eye on his pro­gress over the years so it was a thrill to see the video printer report John Egan scor­ing two second half goals against Ipswich.

I’ve said it before he made the break­through and I’ll say it again. He will bring the same hon­our to the green jer­sey of Ire­land as his late Dad brought to the green and gold of Kerry. And if he has an ink­ling that meet­ing him near Sky Stu­dios on Sat­urday brought him good luck I’m avail­able most week­ends.

John was the sort of young player that Liam Rasher Touhy would have appre­ci­ated. When I was young, Rasher was the doy­enne of Irish soc­cer

for us young lads. A man of great wis­dom, wit, gen­er­os­ity and kind­ness he was the essence of an Irish foot­ball man. Long after I’d flown the Irish Youth Nest he admit­ted he once dropped me for a friendly inter­na­tional to annoy Arsenal who had earlier refused to release me for a World Youth Cup qual­i­fier. He could holda grudge with the best of them but let it be noted we qual­i­fied.

His pro­teges Brian Kerr and the late great Noel O’Reilly went on to have as much influ­ence as Liam had on our game. Irish foot­ball lost a true and loyal ser­vant on Sat­urday when Liam passed. We often say in Ire­land when a good man passed that his like won’t be seen again. In this case it is abso­lutely true.