James Lawton: Arsene Wenger ire won't halt looming day of reckoning for prolonged failure at Arsenal
Who but Wenger could imagine a writ running so long unconditioned by the need to win? Sir Alex Ferguson? Jose Mourinho?
There is no kindly way of putting it because Arsène Wenger has been among the greatest and most passionate of football men and you simply cannot patronise such a figure.
You cannot assail with your workday version of life's realities a man who won so gloriously and so often reminded us that as long as the game was played his way, with his values, it would always be uplifting and worthwhile.
You cannot find any easy cover while suggesting it is time for him to find his own route to the door because what you are saying is that something he had, uniquely, has gone beyond recall.
There was such an implication in a question once put to the late Seve Ballesteros, when the sublime golfer seemed as if he might just be the last man on earth not to know that his days of supreme inspiration had passed, and irretrievably so, and his reaction was as thunderous as you might imagine.
Seve's eyes were wide with indignation when he said, "Are you saying I can no longer play?"
No one has had the nerve to make the proposition quite so baldly to Wenger, in his case a genius for fashioning football teams of beautiful style and fluency, in the near seven years since his highest ambition was denied him in the Stade de France in Paris when his finest creation, Thierry Henry, failed to pull the trigger on Barcelona in the 2006 European Cup final.
Yet his decline has been relentless since that night of cruel anti-climax and yesterday we saw the effect more starkly than ever before.
We saw a man on the edge of an abyss which has never been so graphically drawn as in the shadow of the arrival of Bayern Munich for a Champions League tie tonight which many of the game's most trenchant observers fear will be a crushing confirmation that Wenger has indeed been relegated to the byways of both the English and the European game.
He happened to complain most bitterly about the wrong and "harmful" story that he was about to sign a two-year extension to his Arsenal contract.
Some thought this odd when you trawled through all the criticism and doubts that have come in such crashing waves with the pratfalls against Bradford City and Blackburn Rovers and the growing fear that an unblemished record of Champions League qualification has never been under graver threat. But then the more you thought about it, the easier it was to understand why this might provoke the clearest evidence of a growing anger in him because, after all, what would public knowledge of such a development put most at risk?
It would be the painful, if increasingly sceptical, belief that Wenger, like every great football man before him, would sooner or later have to face the consequences of not only prolonged failure to reproduce the success of the past but also the dwindling of serious hope that it might ever happen again.
It would say, officially, that Wenger's years of discontent, of the eroding sense that he retained the ability to re-seed his team with players of the highest talent and competitive character would be allowed to stretch into an indefinite future – one indeed that could not be imagined in any other centre of serious football ambition.
Who but Wenger could imagine a writ running so long and so unconditioned by the need, sooner or later, to win? Ferguson? Mourinho? Guardiola? It is unthinkable anywhere outside of the Emirates Stadium and the shaky premise that a business plan in which uniquely high demands on the pockets of the supporters might promise, apart from jam for the shareholders, some possible but hardly assured renewed involvement at the highest levels of domestic and European competition.
Wenger dresses himself in the faded clothes of an old confidence. He proclaims his trust in the quality of his team. He also says he believes in their "spirit and the mental strength" despite the weekend defeat at home by Blackburn in the FA Cup and being chased out of the League Cup by Bradford. Such things happen, he says, in the life of any club but are they not supposed to be shocking interludes obscured soon enough by the prospect of new achievements?
It is a forlorn declaration at a time when such a man of the football world as Graeme Souness makes a withering comparison between the aura of his old European Cup-winning Liverpool – "a team of men" which looked and played like a team of men, he writes – and the often feeble motivation of today's Arsenal.
Souness has never suffered a shortfall of conviction – and never less so when running Liverpool's midfield with a blood-chilling combination of invention and the hardest physical commitment. His dismissal of Arsenal's chances tonight could hardly be more brutal.
"You have to mark them [Bayern] down as having a real chance of winning the competition and I think they will brush Arsenal aside," Souness declares.
Such professional assessment is guaranteed to suck a little more oxygen from the belief that Wenger still has the means to reverse his plight. Certainly there is little to be gleaned in the way of optimism when you consider the current stance of the man who once sent his team out to play with the untouchable belief that he held all the answers.
His body language during the defeat by Blackburn was the latest statement of a man inhabited by an agony of doubt.
Yesterday it was never harder to believe that there will not be many more such examples. Especially difficult was not to shudder at the grown-up potential of a team like Bayern Munich.
Is there a 'roid role' in grim Pistorius story?
The story from Pretoria has been so filled with unremitting horror that it was only the smallest relief to admirers of the superb athletic achievements of Oscar Pistorius that the tragedy might have happened in any walk of life.
Now that extremely small solace is complicated by reports that supplies of anabolic steroids were found in his home.
"Roid rage" has produced many shocking results, of course, and one bleak memory is a young American high-school football player and farmer's son of immense promise who took his own life after walking into a barn with his father's shotgun.
The role of steroids in the Pistorius case has yet to be established but their mere existence on the crime scene is yet another reminder of the distortions wrought by performance-enhancing drugs.
Around about the time of the high-school suicide in the Eighties, a group of undergraduate athletes in Los Angeles were polled about how they would react to a choice between a guaranteed Olympic medal and the likelihood of health problems in later life. A majority said they would take the medal. Let's hope that was an old and widely abandoned aberration.
Few holds barred by Rafa's 'normal' challenge
It is hard to know who had the more peculiar reaction to David Luiz's appalling shoulder charge on young Jake Reeves – Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez or Brentford's Uwe Rösler.
Rösler said that Luiz's arrival in the Brentford dressing room to apologise to the opponent whose jaw he might so easily have broken was a "fantastic gesture".
Benitez said that Luiz's tackle was "normal" – especially in a Cup game.
All of which makes you wonder what now represents abnormal behaviour in the seething exchanges of professional football. Hopefully, we might be able to draw the line on chainsaws and wrecking balls.
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