Not for the first time we have to ask a classic question of the manager of Arsenal. However, this time we cannot anticipate, almost word for word, the answer from the man with the furrowed brow and the haunted expression.
“What’s it all about Arsène?” has, after all, always brought an unswerving response.
It was about the building of teams imbued with the highest football values. They were scouted not only for the talent that had perhaps not been properly appraised by rivals – Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas, to mention just a few of his most stunning signings – but their ability to adapt to the ethos of a team that not so long ago were near perfect representatives of a beautiful game.
Of course the game has changed, the market has sharpened out of all recognition, along with the influence of agents relentless in pursuit of the main chance, but sufficiently, we have to ask, for Wenger to see Luis Suarez, of all people, as the redeemer of Arsenal’s lost years?
The word from the Emirates is insistent. Wenger, empowered with £70m or so to compete with the new strength of Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City and the residual power of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and David Moyes at Manchester United, sees Suarez as the glittering prize to fill the vacuum left by Robin van Persie.
So what happened to the ethos of Arsenal? What happened to all those values of character and patient team-building that were offered up as the great compensation for eight years without a sniff of a major trophy? What happened to the business plan founded on football sanity?
It appears to have been wrapped up in some haste and thrown at the feet of an undoubtedly brilliant football player who unfortunately also happens to be a racial abuser, a biter of opponents and an unabashed cheat.
Nor can his superb natural gifts provide instant momentum in return for a bid which seems likely to rise above its current level of £40m. There is the matter of the six matches still to be served of his suspension for chewing into Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.
There is also the uncomfortable but unavoidable fact that Suarez has rewarded Liverpool, the management, fellow players and, not least the crowd, for nearly two years of excruciating come-what-may support with a display of disloyalty that might raise a frown below decks in a sinking ship.
This is not to say that Liverpool will capsize in Suarez’s impending absence. Unquestionably they will miss his extraordinary, explosive skills, but in Brendan Rodgers they have a young coach of impressive vision who has just experienced an ultimate crash course in the hazards of saying one thing – “no one is bigger than the club” – and then contradicting himself in almost every reaction to the conduct of an apparently shameless recidivist.
Wenger’s dramatic change of emphasis has provoked at least one strange projection of a new Arsenal dream team. Odd, this is, in that the inclusion of the hugely problematic Suarez alongside the shop-soiled Wayne Rooney suggests nightmare quite as much as fantasy.
Over a decade ago Wenger, having watched the prodigious teenager shatter his superb team with a goal of mesmerising power at Goodison Park, said that Rooney was the most impressive young English player he had ever seen. He was filled with invention, a natural sense of where to be on the field and a withering capacity to hurt the opposition. Wenger then spoke with the passion, and the idealism, of a man who had made his name for recognising the potential of striking but still unformed talent. It is a poignant reminder of how his football world once revolved.
Now the old visionary and once reluctant cheque-wielder appears committed to a policy that would, back then, have scandalised his best intentions. He will, we are told, take Rooney 18 months after such a hard judge as Sir Alex Ferguson concluded that he had to move for someone who could guarantee him performance, someone like Van Persie. There is a huge irony, here, and also a sad commentary on the options open to the man who seemed to represent all that was best, and most inspired, in the shaping of a football club that could not only win but hugely enhance the quality of the game.
If Suarez, especially, shows up at the Emirates he will no doubt provoke huge excitement. Players of his innate ability always do. As he proved at Liverpool and Ajax before that, he has the ability to lift any team. Not the least sadness of his most recent outrage against Ivanovic was that it was almost immediately followed by a goal of genius, and instinctive sense of how to deliver a killing blow.
Arsenal, everyone knows, are in huge need of that quality and for a little while at least it may be that Suarez will deliver it without complication. He has done it before. When he arrived from Ajax, where he was voted Player of the Year before gaining the less welcome title of “The Cannibal” after his first biting offence, he illuminated Anfield not only with a sublime and aggressive touch but also a passion for competition. He hated to be substituted, he relished the new challenge he faced.
Arsenal may be relishing such a prospect, but for how long? What’s it all about Arsène? The worry has to be that it is, if you forgive the expression, pure desperation.
Cannibal's crimes: Suarez scandals
Feb 2007 Sent off on his Uruguay debut against Colombia after receiving a second booking.
Nov 2007 Suspended following dressing-room altercation with team-mate while at Ajax.
July 2010 Dismissed for handball against Ghana in World Cup quarter-final (right) before celebrating Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent miss from penalty spot.
Nov 2010 Handed seven-game ban after biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder.
Oct 2011 Racially abuses Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during league match at Anfield. Fined £40,000 and banned for eight games in December by the Football Association.
Dec 2011 Makes offensive gesture towards Fulham supporters, resulting in a one-match ban.
Feb 2012 Refuses to shake Evra’s hand in return match at Old Trafford.
Oct 2012 Celebrates goal at Everton with diving motion in front of home dugout. Admits exaggerating dive in match with Stoke.
Jan 2013 Handles ball in act of scoring during Cup tie at Mansfield.
Mar 2013 Strikes Chile defender Gonzalo Jara in World Cup qualifier.
Apr 2013 Suspended for 10 matches by the Football Association after biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield.
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