What a difference a day makes. Dinah Washington had a point because this time tomorrow, we’ll be contemplating the trip to Everton and its implications for fourth place. There is an interesting piece in this morning’s Guardian on Roberto Martinez, highlighting why the Spaniard is among the names mentioned as a possible Arsenal manager in the future. In the meantime, we can contemplate our navels with the sounds of this week’s playlist in the background; Spark is here or over there, in the right sidebar.
Whatever your views on whether Arsène should continue as Arsenal manager, it is hard to deny that his press conferences contain some of the most thought-provoking observations in the game. Of course he protects the club’s view on most, if not all, issues and that can be contentious enough in itself. Little wonder he retains the backing of a substantial number of the scribes on the dailies or Sunday brigade. They might like to create a crisis but when they are faced with the sallow complexion and unintelligible garblings of Moyes or the Pouting One’s surliness, Wenger’s erudite performances must be a welcome relief.
Of course sometimes less is more and some of his comments at yesterday’s press conference are disturbing. Arsenal, it seems, is in the grip of a panic over male pattern baldness. You could have understood fears about using such supplements over the past few seasons and fingers would have immediately pointed at Chamakh’s ludicrous Mohican which fooled nobody. But which of the current squad is concerned about following the Moroccan’s suit? Is Nacho’s thatch less than Real? Do Olivier’s luscious locks hide a darker secret? Probably not, the media would have been all of that in a flash. If they have a problem in that area, might I suggest that rather than following the path of Rooney’s Rug, they invest in a pair of clippers and ask Steve Bould to give them a Grade Zero cut. I suspect the issue is more to do with finding out which player has been secretly scoffing their children’s supply of strawberry flavoured vitamin sweets.
Injuries inevitably turn the attention to Aaron Ramsey with Arsène admitting that the player was in the ‘red zone’ at Upton Park with the manager struggling to find time to rest the player because of the form the midfielder was enjoying at the time. I have sympathy with Wenger in one sense, Arsenal were struggling for form having lost to Napoli and City whilst taking a point apiece from Everton and Chelsea’s visits to The Emirates. They desperately needed a win to get back on track and Wenger had to choose his best team. The short-termism of football meant that he paid a longer term price; Ramsey, along with Walcott, was Arsenal’s Go To Guy, the one who was most likely to dig them out of a hole and there have been plenty of them since. It is disturbing that Wenger felt unable to rest him when necessary, when it was required; an indication of the pressure he felt under with a seven-point lead at the top of the table cut to a solitary point.
There will be obvious criticism of Arsène for ignoring the evidence in front of him about Ramsey’s fitness, the recriminations will be nothing new as one of the causes of Jack Wilshere’s absence a couple of years back was playing when in the ‘red’. Pointedly though, Wenger felt unable to rest Ramsey because there was no-one else to take over the role of saviour. None of the rest of the squad had the manager’s confidence that they could take the mantle from the Welshman and that offers an insight into the mental strength of the squad, perhaps explaining in part why they have crumbled at the rest of the top four on their travels?
The unfinished medical review was not the only dangerous territory Wenger strayed into. Asked his views on Barcelona’s transfer ban, Arsène gave his own views, well aware that the claims levelled at the Catalans have been slung at Arsenal before, most notably by his bête noire, Michel Platini. The immediate case of Cesc was put forward as a comparison, conveniently omitting that the player was 16 when he signed left Barcelona, a fabled note left on Laporta’s desk from his predecessor advising that Fabregas was “the one who got away“. One player does not compare to the ten transgressions that brought about the punishment on Barcelona this week. As paranoia took hold in the Catalan capital, the club obsessing over the mole’s identity and how much influence Real Madrid enjoyed at Fifa’s top table, the reality is that at the moment, they cannot sign players for the next two windows.
Rules surrounding scouting players have long been held in contempt. In England, for example, it used to be held that young players had to live within 90 minutes of the club they were signed to. Arsenal could fly someone in from Paris but Barnsley, no, out of the question. Fifa’s amendment to that, preventing players from moving countries unless the parents moved for professional reasons, was bound to be compromised. I’m just surprised that they only managed to find ten breaches of the rules. Arsène was absolutely right to point out the contrary nature of this. Club’s have always helped parents find a job if their talented offspring could be persuaded that their future lay in another part of the country or world. Very few parents would not be tempted to make the sacrifice if it meant that Johnny, Juan or Jean could ‘live the dream’. Or as Wenger put it,
The rule is quite simple, you cannot move the players before the age of 16 unless their parents move for professional reasons, so that of course creates a bit of a debate – do the parents move for professional reasons or not?
“I think the rules need to be changed, because there is more competition now to get the young players, and you will always be in a debate as to why did the parents move? There is more money in the game, so the parents will be tempted to give their young boys a chance to have a great career. What is not right is that the children move under the age of 16 without their parents. That is absolutely not right.
Do they have to change the rules so you allow children to move with their parents if the club takes care of the parents? Maybe we have to go that way because it happens.”
Concerns and emotive terms such as ‘child slavery’ cloud debate; there is no doubt an illegal and immoral element further down the scale with a problem to be addressed by football and legal authorities. Is constricting clubs the right answer? Perhaps it is a case where no player under sixteen can move country unless it is part of a claim for political asylum. Restrictions internally seem unworkable, dropped by most of the major leagues where they existed. Perhaps it is better for football to admit, as Wenger has done, that Barcelona are not the only sinners in this area. Maybe permitting the clubs to look after the families is part of the solution to solving the morally abhorrent aspects of the issue.
I am fairly certain, Barcelona’s appeal will be wholly or partially successful, the process likely to be drawn out beyond the summer to allow them to conduct business and miss out on one transfer window, January is always relatively quiet anyway. Whether this will trigger a wider debate about the whole system of transfers remains to be seen. FIFPro are certainly pushing for this to end in its current form; will that lead to a more practical outlook from the governing bodies if it happens? I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.