There are, it seems, more certainties in life than death and taxes. Pre-season training and Jose Mourinho’s barbs about Arsène Wenger join that list.
Those players whose summer didn’t involve an international tournament returned to London Colney yesterday, with the obligatory photos accompanying their endeavours. It might just be me but the absence of Santi Cazorla seemed to have the smile quota down by about, oh, 100%, as none of those running with or without a ball could manage anything more than a grimace.
Was the work too hard for them or just a sinking realisation among the English contingent that they weren’t even considered good enough for the shower of…whatever, which stank out France whilst masquerading as the England squad? Messrs Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chambers and Gibbs should ask Theo Walcott about the benefits of missing out on international tournaments; he’s a past master at it.
It seemed rather more low-key than years gone by. You know, the days of running up and down terraces with the sun beating down on their heads, or trips to the seaside for boot camps which always involved a manager or coach running through the dunes, seemingly lost in their thoughts. There was always a photo of a jester or two, having a piggy back, letting the fans know that the players were happy to be back, bristling with enthusiasm.
Not the current Arsenal squad, if yesterdays snaps are anything to go by. Even Arsène and the coaching staff couldn’t raise a smile. This is business, gentlemen; let’s go to work.
Which is what Jose Mourinho did almost immediately. The Portuguese Sourpuss listed 55 players that he had promoted to the first team or given a début to. They were all under-21; something he was proud of. It’s a list that included the likes of Lenny Pidgeley, Joca, Lassana Diarra, John Obi Mikel, Arjen Robben, Mario Balotelli, Raphael Varane…
At this point, imagine a stylus scratching across vinyl, bringing the listening to a crushing halt; it’s that kind of blog moment.
The latter were stretching the criteria to its limits. Wenger could quite reasonably include similar players such as, oh, World Cup winner Thierry Henry in a similar list. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, too. We had as many flops as well, haven’t we Francis?
Not that Arsène is a paragon of virtue in this sense either. Wenger, like most managers, wants to promote from academies but the reality is that successes are few and far between. Arguably, whilst the primary role of these youth factories is to find stars for the first team, at the bigger clubs they are also molding players for a professional career elsewhere.
Mourinho though, has to dispel the image that he buys titles, even though it’s true. It’s true of most managers, just the scale of the spending which made the title-winning squad changes. United are reportedly in pole position to sign Paul Pogba, a deal which would see their summer spending crash through the £150m barrier. It underlines the extent of their decline under Moyes and Van Gaal.
It’s also a warning to Arsenal. Along with City and Chelsea, their vapid title challenge last season isn’t going to be repeated. Arsène has one signing so far with more chatter about Lacazette in the last twenty-four hours, including the emergence of a €40m release clause which was previously unrecorded. It must have been hiding behind the sofa, terrified to come out, knowing what havoc it would wreak.
Alvaro Morata jumped up high enough in Madrid, screaming, “Over here! Over here! Look at me! Look at me!”, only to find the £57m price tag tied to his ankles weighing him down and dragging him off into oblivion. Or the Real Madrid bench as it’s known in footballing parlance.
Crucially, Arsenal need to be ready for a quick start. With the changes being rung around the top Premier League clubs, one or more may stutter as the campaign begins and we need to be ready to capitalise on that, building some momentum before the big clashes in the autumn. We can’t afford a sluggish start like last season; it has to be dynamic. I’m not sure we do dynamism at the Emirates all that well.
But it’s the obsession that Misery Guts has with Wenger that is disturbing, to the extent that were Alfred Hitchcock alive, his next movie would the sequel to the film made five years ago about the feud. It’s going to be a long season listening to his whining about ten years and no title, about his barely disguised contempt for managers who are motivated by winning yet have better job security.
Arsène may not like the attention but it’s useful to him. The more bile and spite he gets, the higher the sympathy among his own supporters climbs. We saw that at the Emirates last season. And all Mourinho is likely to succeed in doing is making the Arsenal board more likely to give Wenger three more years and greater job security along with it. In all likelihood, that would see him outlast the Miserable One at Old Trafford, just to wind him up a little bit more.