Friday, April 18, 2008

London coach crash claims two victims

Football news.
Two top coaches in the English capital crashed this week and are recovering from their injuries.

The first victim was a French national, Monsieur Arsene Wenger, whose vehicle 'Arsenal' (named after him), took the wrong turning from off a successful road to a league and European double, smashing into Liverpool in the Champions League, before being hit again by Manchester United in the Premier League.

Arsenal have for my money played the sexiest football around this season, but once more were outwitted by cannier clubs when it counted, teams who exploited the Gunners' perennial inexperience and lack of grit when under pressure.

A wonder goal such as that conjured up at Anfield by the irrepressible Theo Walcott and lethal Emmanuel Adebayor deserved to win any game, but only seconds later, Arsenal were outmuscled and shocked by an English-style counter and Liverpool scored via a questionable penalty.

United exploited their home advantage and experience to dismiss the Gunners from the title race the following Sunday, sending Wenger into new depths of madness, as he bleated about referees having a conspiracy against his club.

The gleaming new Emirates Stadium is thanks largely to that man, who has transformed London's top club into regular European contenders for the first spell in their long history. But Wenger, for all his tactical and inspirational genius, shames himself by his frequently one-sided post-match rants.

It ill-behoves a coach of his talent to claim refs are out to get his team, when replays prove the Gunners benefit from at least as many 50-50 calls as anyone else. Equally, can there be anything more ridiculous than the comical 'I didn't see it' defence he trots out whenever the press needles him on such calls in Arsenal's favour?

The second victim is Chelsea's Avram Grant, who under withering pressure from success-bloated 'fans', reported player dissatisfaction and above all the tabloids, 'lost it' with the press on Thursday evening.

Grant answered in almost monosyllables alone to the press after his team won 1-0 at Goodison Park against Everton. It was terrific entertainment and I say Bravo, Avram! Managers should repay the contempt the press lob at them.

Memories are extremely short at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho was too combustible a personality for people to work with for much longer, and was fired because the results were poor at the start of the season.

Grant has done a fine job in taking over from such a legend and keeping Chelsea in contention for both the league title and Champions League. Anti-semitism has reared its ugly head this season amid the Chelsea-haters, but the Israeli coach may yet have the last laugh.

Another coach trying to keep the wheels on the road is Rafael Benitez at Liverpool. It seems crazy that the two American owners, who have fallen out incidentally, were gunning to replace the Spaniard with the untested Jurgen Klinsmann.

Benitez works miracles in the Champions League and like, Wenger, revitalised a big club which seemed to be running out of steam.

All three of the above managers, whose clubs are in the top four in the league and all reached the Champions League quarter-finals, have had their names mentioned in the UK press this week as possible summer axings.

That any of Benitez, Grant and Wenger should be facing dismissal is ridiculous, but also a telling comment on the insatiable and utterly unrealistic demands of the new breed of soccer investor-operators, who have no feel or real understanding for the game.

Only Sir Alex, high in his Old Trafford castle after 22 years of fortification, seems safe.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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