The nearly-signed XI is one of the great games football managers like to play. Not just Arsene, but others before him. Sometimes you rue missed opportunities – Shilton and Alonso – while breathing a sigh of relief when deals don’t happen – Cottee and Kalou.
Terry Neill was a great one for the ‘nearly signed’ tale. We nearly signed Johan Neeskens just before he joined NASL. Glenn Hoddle in 1983 as well; think Sol Campbell but more seismic. Not the jewel in the crown, but the crown itself as far as the Swamp Dwellers were concerned.
The Hoddle link came in the same summer Charlie Nicholas signed for the club; QPR sniffed about as well but how much genuine interest from the player, well, who knows? It’s a big leap from the back pages to reality; there is little difference between then and now, beyond the sheer overwhelming volume of stories made up now. Sorry, printed.
Anyway, 1983 was a vintage year for the nearly-signed tale. Neill reminded us that he tried to sign Maradona all those years ago – Diego’s now a close personal friend – although not many people called him a “lovable nutter” during the summer. Coked up, with the infamous photo of a bag of Columbian marching powder on an aeroplane table during the World Cup. He didn’t care; he was out of it.
You have to admire Neill’s gift of the gab that he even got Arsenal into the same room as these players. Platini was another one where Terry got involved; ‘It’s a huge job here at Arsenal but we’ve got a fine array of talent. There’s big John Hawley and big Ray Hankin. Let’s see you launch a ball or ten up to them.’
Platini or Maradona at Arsenal. Worth a moment’s reverie about what might have been.
That Was Then This Is Now
It’s back to reality now and the international week is well and truly under way. Danny Welbeck is looking to return to Arsenal PDQ and decided injury was the best way to achieve that aim. He’s still with England but training “behind the scenes”. Will Gareth Southgate take the hint?
Now he’s ditched the waistcoat, the questions are being asked of him. The England players are fed up with the reduced commercial income – only £150,000 per year each, apparently – so they are ditching their agents. But they need a star and for one to rise above the tide of gormlessness, Southgate must adapt.
With a spiffy new contract, he’s going to find knives very sharp if he’s the first manager to get England relegated with uninspired tactics. He doesn’t even need the relegated bit; England are teetering on Route One, which won’t sit well with the denizens of Fleet Street. Or wherever they are based these days.
No matter what the tactics in vogue in the Premier League, England teams always revert to type. Even with foreign coaches who are supposedly more sophisticated tactically.
Eriksson aside, it’s a variant of the long ball forward which becomes prevalent. The Swede descended into that a little but it’s a vicious circle. Coaches bemoan the lack of English talent but when they reach the England team, the tactics revert to type.
‘Twas ever thus.
The Kitman Speaks
Away from that, Adidas’ CEO said Arsenal were wearing the wrong shirt on Sunday. You’re telling us; it’s a hideous design for an away kit although I’m sure someone, somewhere loves it. Let’s see if Adidas come up with something better although their farcical use of templates this summer with Leicester raised awkward questions.
I don’t know why I expect differently. Back in the day, most of their kits were templates. They market them under the ‘Essentials’ tag these days but if you bought a red Adidas shirt back in the day, it was essentially the Bayern Munich kit minus the Germans’ badge. Blue was France, or put some white sleeves on the red for a Wales design. Yellow with blue was Sweden while orange and black signalled a Dundee United top.
Mind you, Adidas weren’t asking you to shell out £70 for a top back in those days. Not even the equivalent of that, either. Nonetheless, it shows that frankly there’s nothing new in modern football.