Harry Potter and the Manager who Changed English Football

Jonny Singer takes an alternative look at Arsene Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal…

Between my fifth and six birthdays, two events took place that would shape not only my childhood, but also my teenage years and much of my adult life to this point.

On October 1 1996, Arsene Wenger began his 20 years as Arsenal manager, sparking the most successful period in the club’s history.

About nine months later, just as Wenger prepared for his first full season in charge, in which a young boy would become a regular in the West Stand at Highbury and watch Dennis Bergkamp make sport into poetry on the way to a double, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

Two decades on, and it seems fitting to examine the legacy of Wenger at Arsenal. Several brilliant articles have been written on it, notably Joe Bernstein in the Mail and Barney Ronay in the Guardian, while John Cross’ book on the Wenger years is a pretty complete analysis.

But none of them, as far as I can tell, have touched on the key aspect of the legacy debate – the Albus Dumbledore problem (more on that later). Continue reading

20 Years of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal

TFN editor Hugo Greenhalgh returns to reflect on Arsène  Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal and share a couple of personal memories…

“Ready or not, here I come…”

So sang Lauryn Hill on The Fugees’ “Ready or Not”, the U.K. Number 1 single on September 22 1996 – the day Arsène Wenger was unveiled as Arsenal manager. English football probably wasn’t ready for Wenger, whose methods and managerial style have had an unrivalled influence on the game over the past 20 years, in a career that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

A look at some of the other Premiership managers at the time of his arrival reveals much about the football landscape. Ron Atkinson, David Pleat, Jim Smith…many of Wenger’s rivals were of the old school and he came in as an unknown outsider. Not only did his nationality mark him out as different, his last job had been at Grampus Eight in Japan, a role he’d taken to challenge himself and to experience a change of culture.  Continue reading

Gabriel Paulista – Arsenal’s Silent Tornado from Brazil

The Samba Series returns as Arseblog columnist Tim Stillman profiles Arsenal’s latest Brazilian, Gabriel Paulista…

The career path of Gabriel Armando de Abreu has genuflected the man’s qualities as a defender. Understated, unfussy yet impressive. A quiet and humble family man, Gabriel has spent much of his career under the radar. His rise over the last two years has been stratospheric, but you would never guess from the rugged centre half’s almost expressionless demeanour. Somebody at Arsenal once told me that Wenger was finished with signing Brazilian players. He had had his fingers burned with the likes of André Santos and Denilson. Culturally, countless Brazilians have failed to come to terms with the rigorousness of European sporting culture.

In Brazil, if you’re two hours late, you’re early. This has led to many a Brazilian player on the wrong side of his manager for his time keeping where training is concerned. Shortly after the signing of Gabriel, Wenger told the press that natives of São Paulo, like Gabriel, tend to be more conscientious than their carioca cousins in Rio de Janeiro. It was a slightly disappointing generalisation on the manager’s part, not least when one considers that Santos, Julio Baptista and Denilson, three of his most acute Brazilian disappointments, are paulistas. But within that unintentional cultural stereotype, Wenger’s impression of Gabriel was clear.

For all of the famed stories of bleary eyed Brazilians showing up at training a few pounds overweight, wearing shades to conceal bloodshot eyes, there are a plethora of Brazilian players that have demonstrated great humility and professionalism. Continue reading

What’s the point of Champions League Qualification?

With clubs putting as much importance into qualifying for the next season’s Champions League as performing well in the current, Simon Smith asks what the point of the competition is…

Much has been made in recent weeks of the apparent unwillingness of Premier League clubs to participate in the dreaded Thursday football squad exhauster that is the Europa League. The earlier season push for Europe reached its absolute peak with victories over Arsenal for Southampton’s on New Year’s Day and Tottenham’s in the north London derby keeping the victors in the Champions League places on both occasions. But, with predictable familiarity, the enthusiasm for European football seems to have left both squads once the top prize became out of reach. Spurs and Saints have joined Liverpool on the list of suitors seeking to avoid the booby trap fifth place that consigns a team to the Europa League.

The size of the competition, endless travel to far off destinations in Turkey and Ukraine, and distraction of continually playing on Thursdays and Sundays are often touted as legitimate reasons for the Europa League being a poisoned chalice. One need only look at what Liverpool achieved – well, almost achieved – in their season bereft of midweek continentalism to see the damage it can cause, and so on. This is well covered ground.

What I want to know is, why don’t we see the same sort of thing in the Champions League? I mean what has the top level of elite European Club football ever done for the Premier League clubs? Besides the televisual and marketing exposure, commercial opportunities, additional revenue and pulling power when attracting players in the transfer market, is there an actual footballing reason for being in the competition? Continue reading

The Premier Election: the General Election Re-imagined

General-Election-2015

Jonny Singer reimagines the 2015 General Election in footballing parlance…

Football and elections go together like lamb and mustard. It’s not really how things are meant to be, but occasionally someone decides the two should be combined.

Who can forget that Arsenal, never relegated from the top flight, have also never been promoted, but were in fact elected to the Premier League (loads of people, actually, but not, it transpires, Spurs fans)? Who can forget that Tony Blair basically won his general elections because he pretended to like football (again, lots of people, because it’s not really true, but you know, it’s a nice thought)?

Anyway, it seems that now is one of those times where football and elections should, once again, cross paths. In just a week we’ll have a new government, almost certainly a Premier League winner, and two FA Cup finalists. If that doesn’t represent an opportunity for tenuous, disarmingly accurate and occasionally witty connections between sport and politics, what does?

So, here are the parties for the Premier Election (the best politics in the world™):

SNP – Celtic: 

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 17.18.47

Popular in Scotland, but ignored in England, despite occasional interest when first team minister Nicola ‘Deila’ Sturgeon tries something different. Obsessed with staying in Europe but have very little control over that. With no real rivals north of the border they try and get involved down south, but it’s not going to happen.

Continue reading

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: A battle with insignificance

Making his TFN debut, Harry Wallace looks at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s struggle for the limelight at Arsenal…

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career has been oddly inconsequential. He was uncapped when he was called up to the England squad for a major tournament. But this was Euro 2012, when Roy Hodgson had been hurriedly planted in the manager job. Everyone around the country, press and fans alike, swiftly agreed that this tournament was a free hit. There hadn’t been enough time to amass a plan, let alone a squad to fit it.

In the Euros Oxlade-Chamberlain would start the first game against France and make two late substitute appearances in the other group games, before being an unused sub against Italy. On his debut he was lively the few times he had the ball, as many young fresh-faced players are. However he was restrained by one of Hodgson’s now stigmatized formations against France, looking to protect in only his third game in charge. It was also partially due to Rooney’s suspension, and Oxlade-Chamberlain could count himself unlucky not to feature ahead of a slumping Ashley Young in later matches. But the whole tournament lacked the pressure or scrutiny that has formed such a bemoaned companion for England. Certainly it was no comparison to Wayne Rooney’s dazzling Euro 2004, or even Raheem Sterling repeatedly scaring Italian defenders in Manaus. The Ox’s official arrival on the international scene was barely even a sideshow.

A year later, England traveled to the hallowed Maracana to face Brazil. Following a characteristically tepid England first-half performance, Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Glen Johnson. He then scored a goal that was a god send to narrative-seeking writers covering the game, a stunning drive in the same stadium that his Father had played in 29 years prior. It was a magnificent moment, or at least as great as it possibly could have been. After all, it was merely an exhibition game that not many would quickly recall now. Continue reading

The Race for the Champions League: A Re-imagining

TFN debutant Will Magee re-imagines the top four and the race for the Champions League…

Do you like football? Any football at all? Then the chances are you’ve read several astoundingly reprocessed ‘top-four race’ pieces in the last few weeks. These articles are the reanimated undead of the Premier League season, the phantoms that plague the minds of hungover sport writers, the ghosts at the top-flight feast; they appear every year at exactly the same time to remind us that our lives are, essentially, hauntingly repetitive – and that Arsenal will most likely finish fourth.

The prediction for this year goes like this: Chelsea in first, Manchester City in second, two of Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool in the lesser Champions League spots. It’s really no more complicated than that. A maverick journalist will throw Tottenham into the mix every once in a while in an attempt to break the cycle, but do so with the poignant knowledge that this is totally, utterly futile – a puny act of rebellion in an uncaring existential void. Likewise, somebody will always root for a rank outsider, the last hope of escaping his or her recurring top-four nightmare. This never comes off, and said somebody is quickly institutionalised.

Still, at the risk of my own mental wellbeing, I fancy making an attempt at exorcising the eerie persistence of the ‘top-four race’ article and re-imagine the entire thing. Despite our numbing collective awareness that it will never be so, what clubs would we actually like to see finish in those coveted Premier League places? And in what precise order? Let’s settle down, hold onto our minds, disregard those creepy voices telling us to do terrible violence against the ones we love – and bloody well find out. Continue reading