A tough day for a blog. The cover-up over Hillsborough was known about but the depth and extent of it was incredible, statements of ambulance drivers being altered underlining the depravity of The Establishment. As well as re-opening inquests in the light of the extent of the cover-up, new criminal charges must be brought against those responsible for the deaths that day. For me the greater shock came in the fact that blood/alcohol tests were made on children, as well as the possibility that 41 people might have come home from that match, might have needlessly died. All of the deaths were needless, senseless, the result of a callous disregard for safety from those who were responsible for it.
The truth has been revealed; now Justice.
I remember finding out the extent of the tragedy in the toilets at Highbury that day, as half-time approached against Newcastle. A Danish supporter overhearing the news fragmenting through – and entirely misunderstanding, which in the circumstances was unsurprising – offered the opinion that English fans were animals. Quickly realising the mistake judging by the shock and disgust at his comments, he made a swift exit with his views of the baser instincts of English supporters reinforced by the anger his words brought and demolished at once by the sadness in the reactions he had witnessed, as he later admitted.
And what was the FAs reaction to the report? Steven Gerrard was disappointed with his red card for England against Ukraine.
The irony of the “I’m happy with this“. A typical response, more honest that MacKenzie’s apology; ignore the problem, it will go away. The Donkeys moved from the armed forces and re-created their fiefdoms in English football.
So to Arsenal, contracts once more coming to the fore. This time it is the manager with Ivan Gazidis talking to Daily Telegraph reporter, Jeremy Wilson, about Arsène and the future. It is a divisive subject; the trophy drought on the one hand precludes debate as much as the one-eyed loyalty on the other. Acronyms fly around in disparagement, a psychologist would probably have a field day with the human desire to belong, if they ever got beyond the childish nature of the abuse that follows. The abusers are always the first to complain about being abused; a psychological minefield.
Gazidis reviewed the manager’s performance, turning a favoured statistical measure onto his critics: spend defining performance. As you would expect, Ivan saw Wenger as overachieving,
We can get into extensive debate about individual decisions – and like all clubs we are not perfect – but the ultimate arbiter of whether you are spending your money efficiently is where did you finish in the Premier League versus your overall spending. When you look at what Arsene has done, within the overall constraints, he has outperformed our spending every single year he has been manager. It is extraordinary.
I am not sure extraordinary is a word I would have used in the context of his budgetary strictures. Where I would have used that word is in his squad building abilities, in the vision he had for the club, in the model which was built for all age groups. The realisation of that philosophy has been extraordinary, the choice of staff to implement the theories in a practical manner often under-appreciated.
Ultimately though, it is the performance of the first team on which the manager is judged. In the eyes of Gazidis – and presumably he is speaking for the owner in this context – the club is in the right position to achieve success,
We’re not dominated by fear. Arsène never succumbs. We try to do more than win, we try to win with style. I know we haven’t won trophies in recent years. There’s no one here that doesn’t feel the pain of not being able to do that. We’re very optimistic about this season. We’re absolutely trying to win silverware and we’re trying desperately hard to do it this year.
I cannot believe that anyone does not understand the club has ambitions but too often this is dismissed. Anyone connected with the club who does not believe that the club can challenge for trophies should not be there. However, the definition of success is becoming broader than simply silverware with the moneys that can be received from the Champions League; fourth is the new League Cup, third the FA version.
It is this narrowing of vision that is causing some of the dissension toward the manager. Fans of a certain age still view the two cups as trophies but the ascendancy of the Premier League has diminished their relevance. The Europa League does not have the prestige of the Uefa Cup. If the FA wants their premium competition to regain its sheen, then Champions League qualification is going to be a pre-requisite. I doubt that many clubs would object to that and the ‘big’ clubs might start to habitually field strong teams against all-comers.
So should the club be talking to the manager about a new deal? On balance, I would suggest yes. The squad is moving towards challenging for silverware once more and with the uncertainty over finances for another couple of seasons until new commercial deals are struck, there needs to be stability on the playing side. Ideally, it would be a short-term deal to allow Steve Bould to show interest and aptitude to take the step up to the senior role, perhaps the manager retaining responsibility for the junior levels in a Director of Football role in four / five years time?
As it is, I see no outstanding candidates around at this moment who can successfully operate within these financial constraints. There will be those who succeed, of course, but there will be those who fail as well. Change for changes sake is not a guarantee of success.