Unai On Squad Focus, Anfield ’89 Legacy

Football snobbery is nothing new. Usually it surfaces during the transfer window when the club signs an unknown player or one whose status fails to meet expectations. We’re all guilty of it; there’s no use denying that nor adopting some faux moral superiority with claims you don’t. If you are a football fan, you suffer from snobbery at one time or plenty of others.

Who knew players are the same? According to Unai Emery, at the start of the season the squad suffered a collective ‘meh’ over the Europa League:

When we started playing in the first matches, some players preferred to play Premier League. Okay. I explained then to every player that we needed the focus on every competition.

I am going to decide when you are going to rest or not.

Unai Lays Down The Law

It’s not surprising ‘some players preferred’ the Premier League as opposed to travelling to Baku or Poltava. Even a half-full Estádio José Alvalade must hold little appeal to professionals. However, beggars can’t be choosers. We weren’t anywhere near qualifying for the Champions League during Arsène’s last season. This season we blew it. Spectacularly.

So, we’re left in the Europa League, which is our level. Unless we beat Chelsea, of course, and then we’re a Champions League team. That is also a bit ‘meh’; familiar foes frequently popped up in the group phase, making it duller than dishwater. UEFA try to cleanse it every now and then but it doesn’t work; we still hear talk of ‘European Sooper Dooper Leagues’.

Unai focussed the players’ minds though. His record was no guarantee of winning the Europa League, he told them. They surely thought otherwise. In the back of their minds, it lay, festering before emerging a little from the shadows where it lurked.

Let’s Go Baku To Anfield

The attempts to create a Super League by the elite clubs is reminscent of the Premier League’s formation. For some years before, scribes contemplated the prospect. So too the FA; they created a “Blueprint for Football”, a largely risible document which never stood any chance of success. The clubs and Football League colluded to make sure of that.

David Dein ploughed on with support from fellow ‘Big 5’ cohorts, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham in the mid-80s. ITV and Sky both seemed set for a joint adventure in live football, as the tawdry affair dragged football through the courts.

Any doubts the television industry had about the popularity of live football were surely soothed when thirty years ago today, Arsenal won the title with that momentous 2 – 0 victory at Anfield. Television is still seeking something to rival that balmy evening.

Martin Tyler can shout about Aguero until he’s blue in the face. Sky and the BBC can try to generate faux excitement as the top two facing respective home and away bankers at opposite ends of the country on the final day.

Neither match up to the drama of the top two in a ‘winner takes all’ meeting in the season’s last game. Nothing in the history of televised club football matched it before or since. It’s an almost impossible task to do so without fiddling the fixture list.

It’s the sort of event the clubs are trying to contrive with the Super League. I hope they fail; domestic football is football’s lifeblood and leeches already sucked a lot of that from the game. The likes of Agnelli are vampires who want to feast on the remains.

The question is whether UEFA has enough garlic to stave them off?

Oh Mickey, You’re So Fine…Oh.

The official site is in fine form remembering the events at Anfield, including an interview with Mickey Thomas who ‘fesses up that he supports Liverpool and Arsenal in their respective home games when the pair meet. It’s a split loyalty you can (sort of) understand but admitting to being a Tottenham fan? Yikes.

There’s also a retrospective Goal of the Season, for which you can make a strong case for David Rocastle being awarded first through fourth place. However, I think I’d go with Paul Davis’ header against Charlton on a battered and torn Highbury pitch is the one I’d plump for.

The state of the pitches in those days underlines how good that ’88/89 side was. George Graham’s teams suffer a reputation forged during the last couple of seasons he was in charge. It does that side and ’90/91 team a great disservice. Thomas nails it during his interview when he said:

I think if we played under Arsène Wenger people would see that actually, we could play a lot more than given credit for. We weren’t just good defensively but needed George Graham to allow us to play with more freedom for us to show what we were capable of going forward.

Michael Thomas On The ’88/89 Side

History is something of a cruel mistress when she wants to be.

’til Tomorrow.

7 thoughts on “Unai On Squad Focus, Anfield ’89 Legacy

  1. Interesting choice of cinematic imagery.
    Petr Cech– is he the Mr Orange of this Bakuwater drama? He does ‘take one for the team’.
    But which one?

    jw1

  2. Anfield ’89 will never be surpassed. Ever.

    I was really disappointed when Mickey Thomas was allowed to leave but now I’ve
    found out he was a Spurs fan , not so much.

    It’s true that both of George Graham’s title winning sides were good to watch & played
    attacking football, but that defence always seems to be the only thing non Arsenal
    fans can remember !

  3. That side was superb. Wenger never bettered it. He won more and differntly but it was a very different time.

    Ditto the 1971 team.

  4. As one who watches football solely on TV, it never ceases to amaze me over tremendous improvement in the quality of football pitches over the last few decades.
    I well recall the seasons when, in the depth of winter, the playing area at Stamford Bridge was covered in sand in order to mask the mud. Arsenal fared somewhat better although the goal mouths of all clubs soon became bare of grass. Not now.
    Which, reading today’s post Yogi, leads me on to the days of George Graham. He was a strong believer in building a team beginning with the goalie and then the back four. Some fans felt that this led to boring displays and “one -nil to the Arsenal was born”.
    Both Arsene Wenger and now Unai Emery favour the attacking game and for some time now our GA has suffered.
    A happy medium must surely be the answer.

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