Arsene Wenger: For the Ned Stark of Islington, the winter has arrived

Wenger

“We are fully aware of the attention currently focused on the club and understand the debate. We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart.”

Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick released a statement after a horrid month for the Gunners. Someone had to speak. Someone, other than Arsene Wenger, had to say something.

Cue,  the Arsenal media management team.

Read the above statement again. The conclusion is crystal: Arsenal’s media management is worse than their first XI’s game management. No quality, no substance, no style; just dry words wrapped in corporate bullshit.

In some way it depicts the rot that runs through the club. It sheds light on the poor governance that’s led to the decade-long stagnation. The fans are angry. The players unsettled. The manager weary. And the club comes out with a ‘we-know-what-we-are-doing’ press release.

It’s absurd. It’s hilarious. It’s a new low. But hitting new lows is the ‘in’ thing for this Arsenal. If anyone thought 8-2 was bad, try wrapping your head around 10-2. Yes, that’s the new banter number for the Gunners.

Teams lose all the time. In sport, you lose more than you win but what sets teams apart is the way they lose. Arsenal aren’t just losing. Arsenal have lost faith. Arsenal have lost substance. Over the last decade, Arsenal have struggled. Arsenal have struggled bad. But Arsenal never grovelled.

Arsene Wenger is adamant about ‘the good shape’ of the club. Financially, Arsenal are stout. Debts under control, stadium liability paid off, money in the bank — the Gunners are one of the most stable corporate set-ups in European football.

Sportingly though, they are on their knees. They lack a blueprint for sporting success and that impotence has created an unrest amongst the fans. Player rifts have raised their ugly heads and Arsene Wenger isn’t in charge of the dressing room anymore.

Once upon a time, he was. He never was tactically brilliant but his vision, innovation and man management skills catapulted Arsenal into the top tier. His arrival ushered a new era in the Premier League. His teams created history and his ideology changed the way football was played in England.

20 years on, he forgot to change himself.

Now, he’s the Ned Stark of Islington – a man stuck in an infinite loop of his own ideals, morals and the code of honour. Great qualities to admire but we all know how it ended for the Warden of the North.

However, the Professor’s delusion isn’t the biggest problem at the Emirates. It’s the set of self-serving Greyjoys he has fostered at the London Colney.

.Alexis

Over the last month, experts and social media have waxed lyrical about Alexis Sanchez’s fighting spirit, his winning mentality. People writing Arsenal’s obituary have gone on about how a ‘loser’ club doesn’t deserve the Chilean. May be they don’t. But after the second leg against Bayern Munich, neither does he deserve to wear the crest on his chest.

Alexis is a great player but his smirk that night left fans around the world in shock. You want to leave, fair enough but why ridicule those who made you a superstar? The Catalans didn’t care about him because they had Lionel Messi. Alexis was Arsenal’s Messi. Alexis is a winner but he wants to win alone. A real ‘winner’ never whines and gives up on his troops, no matter how inferior they are. He digs deeper, takes control and fights harder to elevate the ones around him to the next level.

The Theon of the team, Mesut Ozil, has the ‘Fabregas’ flu. He goes bowling the night before the game but is never fit enough to play. He’s taken advantage of Wenger and hid behind his trust. And now with the club on stranger tides, even £ 280,000 per week isn’t enough.

The less you talk about rest, the better. They aren’t Arsenal quality. They have the skills but they haven’t got the shoulders to carry legacy of the heavy cannon.

Hence, it’s not November pain or flimsy February  anymore, Arsenal are in free fall. The season’s gone bust. Even the ‘top four’ trophy is eluding their grasp. For the first time the furrows on Le Professor’s forehead are deeper and are crying out for help. Sadly, the Tomas Rosickys aren’t on the bench anymore.

Can Arsenal survive this? Of course. They are too big a brand to fold and have deep pockets.

Can Arsene Wenger survive this? He might. A new contract is on the table but signing it might destroy him forever because for Arsene, the winter isn’t coming anymore, the winter has well and truly arrived.

Lionel Messi and Argentina – a story of distrust and convenience

MessiQuitter, escapist, loser, timid, traitor — in the last few days, all these adjectives have been used to describe Lionel Messi.

While the Argentine fans have spewed venom out of sheer anger, the rivals have hurled well-timed cheap shots at the greatest footballer in the world.

For years, Messi has bore the blame of being aloof to his national cause. Every time Argentina lost, his devotion to the national team was questioned. However, when the Argentine captain announced his retirement in the cramped press corner of the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, it suddenly hit home that the best player in the world won’t feature in the blue and whites any more.

While the entire world was shocked at his emotional farewell, those who follow Argentine football knew it was coming.

Messi gave in because he couldn’t take it anymore. He gave up because he was tired of proving his worth to a bunch of disapproving fans.

The question wasn’t ‘why’, the real question was – ‘what took him so long?’

There was no love left between Messi and Argentina. It was a relationship that developed out of convenience with distrust lurking on the edges. It never had the resolute support, the mutual respect or the soothing care that’s necessary to build a successful bond.

It had to fail. It did.

It was a match made in heaven but neither could make it work. It always felt like a marriage where the father of the bride paid his debts off to the groom’s family by offering them his daughter.

Argentina never trusted Messi but demanded him to deliver. He was their favourite whipping boy but he was their captain, their savior. He shouldered the responsibility of being the best player in the team. He also was ‘the outsider.’

Now, he’s gone and rightly so.

Messi never owed a thing to Argentina.

He was forced to leave the country at the age of 13 when his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, gave up on him. He was a frail kid and the Rosario-based club couldn’t afford his growth hormone treatment.

Barcelona could.

Since then, Messi has been paying for it.

He’s been labelled as a foreigner by his own country but what most don’t know that even at La Masia he was treated as a foreigner. The Catalans didn’t accept him as a fellow mate at first but his skills won them over.

But those skills were not enough for the La Albiceleste.

They needed more from him — a World Cup, a couple of Copa Americas. They wanted him to dominate Brazil. They wanted him to be their next ‘Diego’.

They demanded. Messi tried. Messi failed. Messi tried harder. Messi failed again. And again. And again.

He got them to the cusp of glory once, twice…four times but could never take them over the line. He couldn’t because he tried his hardest on those days.

May be, he tried his hardest to be ‘Diego’ on those days.

Diego was loved because he fought wars wearing the national colours. Messi couldn’t become Diego because he was fending off attacks from his own countrymen.

Even the great Diego ridiculed his Golden Ball win at the World Cup. Recently, he called him a failed leader.

Finally, it became too heavy to bear, even for a five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Is this the end though? Or will he reconsider his decision?

May be not now but come 2018, the appeals would grow stronger. The ones who asked him to ‘stay in Spain’ and called him ‘the outsider’ would have to go down on their knees and beg for his mercy.

Diego already has.

They say, a missed penalty on the biggest nights scars you for life. Roberto Baggio didn’t recover. But the missed penalty at the Copa final might have liberated Messi.

It was a sign that both Argentina and Messi need to move on and start fresh — empty-handed and full-hearted.

Who said all ‘happily ever afters’ need a happy ending?