Last night proved another harsh lesson for an Arsenal team. Losing at Chelsea in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final was no disgrace, but nor was the 3 – 1 scoreline a fair reflection of the efforts the youngsters put in. It’s a tall order for them to turn it around on Monday, but good luck to them in their efforts.
But that defending in the opening five minutes or so; ¡ay caramba!
The commentary team nudged toward controversy when they question Chelsea’s attitude toward youth. Such is the infrequency of youth players breaking into their first team, that I can’t shake the thought that their academy is nothing more than an FFP ploy.
What drives a youngster to join them, I wonder? Obviously the dream of making the grade, but is it just seen as being a good school on their CV? Knowing how hard it is to crack professional football anyway, is moving to Chelsea as a 16-year-old a good career move?
It certainly seems to carry a higher risk of failure than other clubs as far as breaking into the first team is concerned. Then again, what sixteen-year-old thinks that clinically when the big clubs come knocking? “Er, no, it’s OK, Mr Chelsea; I want to stay at Swindon, thanks all the same.” It’s not a conversation you can imagine happening very often.
I don’t blame the lads before you wonder. There’s a systematic problem in football surrounding the promotion of players through the ranks that the current academy set-up doesn’t solve. That’s how it seems to this outsider, anyway.
Reserve team football died a death which was appropriate enough for the stiffs. Is there a better process for youngsters to graduate? Seven subs for each match killed any prospect of the reserves or something similar returning.
Je Ne Regrette Rien…OK, Just a Little Bit
Meanwhile, the first team must come to terms with Thursday night’s deflating result quickly. We return to the scene of many a crime for the last time with Arsène as manager. I’m sure it’s a game he could do without, particularly since his bete noir will be there.
The antipathy between the pair is such that you can’t imagine an outbreak of peace, love, and understanding. Perhaps mindful of being on his uppers once he leaves Arsenal, Arsène is keen to avoid one last fine from the FA?
Channel 5’s documentary earlier this week was an interesting(ish) insight into the way professional football thinks. Paul Scholes bemoaned Arsenal’s lack of class, oblivious to the fact that his bitterness a decade later was a complete lack of class. It’s almost like the self-awareness gene is trained out of professional footballers.
There is no doubt feuding managers is the fodder the media thrives on; it’s good copy. And there’s no doubt that Ferguson’s tactical innovation – nobody, not even John Sitton – managed to use the word “f*ck” to such devastating effect, highlights the difference between Wenger and both United managers as people.
Mourinho’s PR speak contained a nugget of truth when he observed the first half-dozen years or so of Wenger’s reign spurred other managers on. As we became less relevant, there wasn’t so much an outbreak of peace as quiet antipathy taking over.
Or at least, the relationship became less pushy and shovey.
The debacle over handshakes shows the extent to which relations remained damaged and while United are planning some show of respect for Wenger behind the scenes, I’m sure he would prefer not to be facing Mourinho. Professional enmity is one thing but with the Portuguese, everything is personal. Barcelona; Wenger; he’s incapable of separating football from life.
Mind over Matter – I Don’t Mind…
I suppose one question we’ll have to wait and see is whether the United faithful will treat Wenger to one more afternoon of their second favourite song down the years. Mourinho seems such a perfect fit with the club, personality-wise. United made no genuine effort to stem the obnoxiousness of their own supporters. A note in the programme is the football equivalent of “he’s not the messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy”.
Don’t bother to mention double standards; I’m well aware of them. Messrs Pleat and Shilton will both attest to the long memories the North Bank and Clock End had when it came to their own indiscretions. Neither was forgotten during their footballing careers.
There’s definitely a pecking order when it comes to abuse from fans. Paedophilia is down there with the Dambusters; it’s not bottom of the barrel; it’s below the bottom and digging into the earth.
We shall see, I guess, whether Manchester United really have the class Paul Scholes claimed or if they are just another football club.