Football: Haan's hard opinion

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The Independent Online
ARIE HAAN, of Seventies' Total Football fame and nowadays coach of Standard Liege, has a pretty poor opinion of British football, believing it to be excessively physical to the detriment of skill. It remains to be seen whether that view will change substantially after tonight's European Cup-Winners' Cup second round, first leg at Highbury. Those who suffered Arsenal's ineptitude last Saturday would not bet on it.

Indeed, Haan has gone as far as to warn George Graham's team against physical intimidation. 'Arsenal should know my players are used to it now and they're not afraid. In the last round Cardiff couldn't play football so they elbowed and kicked my players.

'I think British clubs all play the same style. The English way isn't my favourite. I prefer to watch French and German football.'

How ironic then that Graham's abiding memory of Haan when they were rivals as players in European competition - at Arsenal and Ajax respectively - is of a hard man: 'A good player but a hard player.' Graham, naturally, is less concerned with Haan's abhorrence of the British game than he is with his own disdain for Arsenal's recent goalscoring performances. Three goals in five games is no more likely to put the wind up Standard than Arsenal's aggression, real or imagined.

Belgian sides are tough nuts to crack, never tougher than in this competition: they have reached the final in three of the last six seasons. Standard are no exception, 'a very talented team' said Graham, and in Marc Wilmots (22 goals in 25 games last season) possess a goalscorer who is capable of of putting Messrs Wright, Merson and Campbell to shame.

Sounding distinctly like a man prepared for the worst, Graham said of his goal-shy attack: 'It doesn't have to change tomorrow. There are two games and there's no reason why we can't beat them away.'