Football: Parlour games strictly limited

Arsenal midfielder drinks at the right time as he dreams of a career to remember. By Norman Fox
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The Independent Online
RAY PARLOUR reckons that Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger (who always gives the impression of having just finished a thesis on something a lot more serious than the merits of a flat back four) is a "great guy, with a great sense of humour".

Well, he would. After all, Wenger has kept him in the team in spite of all Highbury's foreign imports. But Parlour adds that it is Wenger who has also kept him in the reckoning for England, with whom he is training again this week.

The summer has been lonely for Arsenal's once unruly midfield player. Omitted from Glenn Hoddle's World Cup squad, he just watched the games on television "getting involved, but not getting involved, if you see what I mean". In the past when he and Tony Adams used to drink without thought of tomorrow, he would have used Hoddle's rejection as an excuse for excess. This year, mainly, he says, because of Wenger's quiet influence, he simply kept fit and optimistic.

Parlour admits that at times being a senior Arsenal player without an international cap is a solitary state. "Sometimes when there's a lot of international games on, I go into training and there's only about three of us left and about nine coaches. You feel a bit left out, but all you can do is play well for Arsenal and get recognised by England."

Although 25, and realistically talking of only winning a regular England place if some of the established men are injured, he says he is still desperately keen not to get to 45 "and look back on a career of `maybe I could have done this or I could have done that'." Maybe a lot of people would be delighted to look back and remember being part of an Arsenal double-winning season, never mind not going to the World Cup? "Yes, you can't ask for much more than that. We all know it's going to be hard this season to follow that, but last season was good for me. When a lot of new players came in it was difficult to know where I stood. It was important to play well enough to make it hard for the new manager to leave me out."

Parlour was impressed that Wenger was prepared to ignore old reputations. "Almost as soon as he came in he gave me a new contract - that gave me confidence. Then he kept me in the side. He changed the diets of the players, especially what we eat a couple of days before a game. We know now that we should concentrate on protein. We all feel that much fittter. Over the last two or three months of last season we could see other teams getting tired. We were still on fire. When you win the double, you have to believe that these things matter."

Parlour says that although Wenger insists on a form of training discipline that is dictated by the stopwatch - "no way in the past would we stop a five-a-side game when it was 1-1 just because time was up" - he's really quite a funny guy. This season Parlour wants to get more involved in goalscoring, but is being asked by Wenger to play a little deeper, which means helping out players who have come back from the World Cup feeling jaded.

Hoddle believes that the World Cup effort will begin to catch up with them in November. That, says Parlour, is another incentive for him to take advantage of his pre-season training, from which they were excused. And has he taken the pledge? "No, I think it's unbelievable what Tony's done to help himself over the last two years. I still have a drink, but at the right time, that's the difference. I've become a bit more of a connoisseur - I drink wine," he said, exaggerating his Romford accent. He would not say whether that was part of Wenger's dietary recommendation.