Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Still Enduring Ineptitude of Squillaci & Mannone But At Least Arsène Ain't Sliding On Sir Alex's Banana Skins!

Hi folks,

Based on the experience of the past few summers, I must admit that I do my utmost to avoid all the silly-season witterings in the media, as the papers struggle to fill endless column inches with their unsubstantiated tosh. As an Arsenal fan, it's proved an incredibly frustrating business, waiting in vain for transfer news.

Thus when I received the piss-take text "will the last one please turn out the lights" from one of my Spurs pals a couple of weeks back, I didn't have a clue what specific gossip he was referring to, although I assumed it must be related to the tales of our wantaway midfield talent. Needless to say, when another Spurs mate mentioned a week or so later that it looked likely that Modric was on his way out of White Hart Lane, I copied and pasted the original text message, in order to send it straight back to my mate, while savouring the irony of the beautiful game's inimitable "what goes around, comes around" qualities.

However as hard as I struggle to prevent myself from getting caught up in this constant stream groundless twaddle, I will inevitably end up drawn in at some stage, as the latest Arsenal related rumours are invariably the opening topic of conversation whenever I bump into all my friends and colleagues, in the belief that I'm bound to be the font of all knowledge on the latest Arsenal news. Hence I must've had at least half a dozen people broaching me on the subject of Pep Guardiola's comments yesterday and as a result, unfortunately I couldn't resist checking out the details of what the Barca manager had said when I arrived home from work.

From my particularly badly informed point of view, it seems patently obvious to me that as it stands at the moment, there are only two possible outcomes to the ongoing saga of our wantaway skipper, neither of which will prove to the Gunners benefit. Either the story is going to run and run (again!), right up until the transfer deadline and we will be left losing our best player to the Catalan club, with the double whammy of knowing that the financial compensation is likely to be of little use to us because we'll have a big chunk of wonga in the bank, with no one to spend it on, as all the very best of the summer transfer business has long since been concluded.

Or if Barca fail to come up with an acceptable offer, we'll be stuck with a captain at our beloved club, who we all know doesn't really want to be there and much as like our previous failed campaign, no matter how much anyone tries to convince me that Fabregas is capable of getting his head down and getting on with the job for which he is being so handsomely paid, as far as I'm concerned we are never going to get the best out of a footballer who doesn't really want to be there.

Moreover, it doesn't matter how talented Cesc is, or that Fabregas performing at 50 per cent is still better than the vast majority of players, I don't see how anyone can possibly argue that it's going to be in our best interests to continue clinging on so desperately to a player, who as the skipper of the club, is bound to put a dampener on our team spirit, when all his colleagues know full well that he'd rather be plying his trade elsewhere.

Who knows, perhaps Barca are stringing out the negotiations, to spite us for pinching Cesc from them in the first place, by ensuring that the deal ends up being done too late for us to be able to make any significant use of the money. Or even more cynically, perhaps it would suit the suits at AFC to flog Fabregas at the very last minute, leaving them with a perfect excuse to sit on the money they receive because we've missed the boat on any major signings, thereby enabling them to laud our increasingly "sustainable business model" as a result of the additional interest being earned on the moolah. Or perhaps providing them with time for more of the sort of financial chicanery which would enable them to divert the funds into the development of even more profitable Club Level eateries for fleecing their target market of high-roller punters?

Many Gooners contend that they can't understand why Cesc wants to go and sit on the bench at Barca, but personally I've always appreciated his reasons for wanting to return "home" and from my point of view, it's always been a case of not if, but when our skipper would end up going back to Barca. Obviously I had hoped that he'd eventually make a triumphant return to Catalunya, as an all conquering champion, having first secured the Gunners a serious haul of silverware! But with Cesc having arrived at the Arsenal at such a tender age, I can empathize with his desire to return to his homeland, while still at his peak, to prove to the Spanish public (who haven't had the benefit of watching him week in, week out) that he's every bit as good as any of their other crop of current star turns.

And while Cesc might have felt some sort of debt to Arsène and wanted to reward his mentor for showing the faith in him that has enabled Fabregas to develop into such a major footballing force, by staying at the club for as long as it took for this crop of Wengerboys to develop into a winning outfit, sadly it's inevitable that Cesc's patience would run it's course at some point and that le Gaffer's eternal "this time next year" promises would eventually begin to ring somewhat hollow.

Unless Cesc's injury woes last season were completely moody (and quite frankly there were times last term when they didn't sound particularly plausible), it would appear that he already has the sort of ongoing niggles with his fitness, which are likely to make the man that much more aware of his fallibilty and the fact that he's only ever one hefty challenge away from being denied that many more seasons at the top.

With this in mind, it seems to me perfectly understandable that he's reflecting on the possibility of spending large parts of the season lazing on the Barca bench, in the Spanish sunshine, in an entire school of big fish, rather than having to shoulder the sort of burden of responsibility he carries as the Gunners club captain. With him being the fulcrum for all our best football, he's not only expected to turn out for every game, but we are also often looking to him to conjure up a result almost singlehandedly, while at the same time being the sort of "stop Fabregas and you stop the Arsenal" focus for the physical attentions of far more muscular and frenetic oppostion than he's likely to have to contend with on the Continent!

To be honest, when one considers the matter from this point of view, quite frankly it's to the kid's credit that he has stuck it for this long. In his shoes, I'm certain the vast majority of us would've long since grabbed the opportunity of a much cushier career choice, by forcing the club into a corner where they'd have no choice but to flog him.

However at this stage, from a more selfish Gooner viewpoint, myself I can see absolutely no advantage in prolonging the inevitable a moment longer than absolutely necessary. If Cesc has made up his mind that he wants to be elsewhere, I want him to go and go now! How can you possibly have a club captain who's not committed to the Arsenal's cause? What sort of message does that send out to the rest of the squad? The more desperately we try to cling on and keep him, the more embarrassing the saga becomes, with the Gunners looking like the sad sap, jilted boyfriend, who refuses to accept reality to the point where his ex is left with no choice but to take out a restraining order. Worse still, the longer it drags on, the more signals Wenger sends out to the rest of the squad concerning Cesc's indispensability and the harder we will struggle to cope in his absence.

It's the old cliché about no one player being bigger than the club and as much as it might pain him, I'm afraid the time has come for Arsène to prove this point, by finally unlocking the manacles and allowing his love-child to fly the coop. Personally I'd prefer to retain my fond memories of Fabregas as one of the best players I've ever enjoyed watching play in an Arsenal shirt. I really don't want to start yet another season, scrutinizing our skipper's every move, looking for the slightest signs that might reinforce my inevitable feelings of resentment.

Sure we might struggle to cope when Cesc takes his leave (especially if Samir Nasri does likewise!), especially in those games where we're praying for someone to produce the inspiration necessary to unpick the lock of the massed ranks of an opposition defence. Yet in my most humble opinion, above all else, the one thing I demand in return for the massive financial sacrifices required, in order to continue supporting my team in the face of increasingly extortionate ticket prices, is to be able to retain the belief (doubtless naive nowadays!) that the XI players wearing red & white want to be there as much as I do.

I would be just as devastated as every other Gooner, were we to lose both Fabregas and Nasri, our two most talented midfielders. But even in the event that the worst came to the worst and it proved to be the sort of massive step backwards this summer that ends up denying us silverware until such time as we can regain the lost ground, believe me, we will get over it!

The end of the world will feel no less nigh than it did for those of us who endured an absolute eternity in the dour doldrums of midfield mediocrity, after we lost Liam Brady (I still bear a grudge against the Eyeties!). Nevertheless, there is nothing that's guaranteed to piss me off more than to turn up in my own typically loyal fashion, week in, week out, come rain or shine, with the gnawing, soul-destroying certainty that I'm hollering out my adulation of certain Arsenal stars who'd prefer to be performing for one of our competitors. Contrast this the opposite end of sincerity spectrum and the "nachas" (pride) of Carl Jenkinson's old man, seeing his lad turn out for the team he's supported all his life. Whether or not Jenkinson turns out to be a Lee Dixon in the making, or a complete minger, I know which example makes me feel good about being a Gooner!

Meanwhile for the deluded few who were hoping in vain for the day when the new Financial Fair Play regulations might serve to benefit the Gunners' much lauded "sustainable business model", by leveling-off the obscene excesses of an uneven playing field, sadly it would appear that we've witnessed evidence of the sort of farce that many expected as inevitable, from those sugar-daddy owned outfits who need to conjure up means of circumnavigating the new restrictions. Only in the mad, mad world of football would it be possible for Manchester City to flog a sponsorship deal for umpteen millions, for a stadium that doesn't even belong to them! I imagine this must be one of the first of many such convenient arrangements to finagle an acceptable correlation of income over expenditure, which doesn't have the slightest relation to reality.

Although as anyone who watched Dispatches on Channel 4 the other night will have seen, the beautiful game has long since lost any pretensions of bearing the feintest relation to real business economics, with the unseemly sight of a Bangkok (Man Utd) bar owner sheep-trading Championship clubs, with a variation on ex-England captain, Brian Robson's customary Man of the Match role. Still it was highly amusing seeing how enthusiatic the Thai businessman (a modern day euphemism for "blaggard") was to bring the name of Man Utd's beknighted manager into disrepute. I'm sure I wasn't alone in chuckling along with his every reference to his "BFF" and the club's subsequent efforts to absolve themselves with their official statement.

For all Arsène's omnipotent faults, we can at least take comfort in the probability that unlike Ol' Red Nose, I would assume that le Professeur has more sense than to end up being beholden to this sort of entrepreneurial slieveen, to the point of being obliged to loan out half of the Arsenal's youth team, as a consequence of the sort of embarrassingly inebriated Bangkok shenanigans, where one can imagine this bunch of Red Devil revellers partaking of tradtional Thai attractions that involve astonishing feats of dexterity with ping-pong balls and the unpeeling of bananas. Perhaps I'm guilty of an over-active imagination, but if the Man Utd knight's Thai pal went to the trouble of confiscating everyone's mobile phones, you've got to believe there was something worth photographing? Oh to have been a fly on the wall in Sir Alex's realm that night.

Roll on 13th August, till then....
Keep the faith
Bernard

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