James Lawton: Chimes of appreciation herald coming of Adebayor as heir apparent to King Henry
Adebayor gives Arsenal an attacking shape they have lacked for years
Saturday 17 February 2007
Thierry Henry may have been Monsieur Urbanity once again when introducing his gifted young team-mates to the Queen at Buckingham Palace this week. However, in hard football terms the sense that he reigns supreme in a separate and potentially charmed kingdom at the Emirates Stadium was somehow diminished.
Subtly, of course, because in his 30th year he is still the master of the exquisite, still capable of scoring goals beyond the imagination of anyone else in English football with the possible exception, on his best days, of Wayne Rooney.
But then maybe what some see as overweening arrogance, as in his gratuitous insult to the Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland last weekend, is less secure than at any point since he first emerged as the grande artiste of the Gunners.
Perhaps the gangling young Emmanuel Adebayor - such a vital figure this week in shaking off the muscle with which Bolton Wanderers have long intimidated his team-mates, including on several disastrous occasions Henry - has provided an option for manager Arsène Wenger that not only hugely enhances his chances of challenging Manchester United and Chelsea in next season's Premiership but also gives him his best case scenario: a beautifully burgeoning team over which he again has genuine authority.
Wenger's basic strength is that he is no longer threatened by the kind of distraction provided by Henry before last spring's Champions League final in Paris.
There were times when Arsenal's prospects seemed to be utterly entwined in the decision Henry was to make about his future. Would he stay, would he go? It was the torment insinuating itself into what might have been the club's greatest day at the Stade de France, certainly if Henry's head had been more obviously in the right place.
Now his departure would be a sadness more than a disaster. Wenger, as he proved to be when Patrick Vieira played his version of Hamlet, when Dennis Bergkamp disappeared over the horizon and Nicolas Anelka first began to pursue his pot of fool's gold, is covered.
Adebayor is not Henry, and never will be. But it is not for nothing that, after his first prolonged exposure in the first team this season, Arsenal fans are already singing his name, to the tune of the Westminster Chimes, no less. Still coltishly leggy on the approach of his 23rd birthday, he has been compared to his boyhood idol, Nwankwo Kanu, but if in some ways he will always be less than Henry he is already a whole lot more than the Nigerian.
He is not as quick or as powerful, not yet anyway, as Chelsea's Didier Drogba but he has a quality that has never been demonstrated by Henry, even at his most sublime and fecund. Instinctively, he knows how to lead the line. He gives Arsenal an attacking shape up front they have lacked for several years and, with the progress of Cesc Fabregas and Denilson promising so much in the creative department, he looks the best bet for regular exploitation of a stream of chances.
He managed two goals at Bolton, along with a miss that dismayed to the point of disbelief those bold enough at the betting window to believe that Arsenal had the quality and enough regathered assurance to win in 90 minutes, and this was another indicator that he is the kind of forward capable of causing damage in almost any circumstances.
Adebayor laid down his first significant marker on such dependability when he scored, quite brilliantly, the winning goal at Old Trafford last September and when Wenger was bold enough to order Henry into what was described as a month's complete rest before Christmas there is not much doubt that the man from Togo was the main reason why he felt so empowered.
Wenger was plainly thrilled by this week's win and there were no prizes for guessing why. Bolton's bullying tendency was not so much resisted as bypassed in a first half of thrilling touch and movement and though Sam Allardyce's team, predictably enough, dredged up some serious pressure towards the end, along with the trademarked long throw-ins, the reality was that they should have been long buried.
It would have been a fate which would have not too sorely troubled many of the neutrals reflecting on the abuse Allardyce was seen yelling at the excellent referee, Chris Foy, shortly after the official had yellow-carded Bolton's Ivan Campo for arguably the most cynically premeditated dive since Arsenal's own Robert Pires went down against Portsmouth a few seasons ago.
If Wenger has been criticised for failing to mount a serious Premiership challenge, and the FA Cup would be an increasingly familiar prize of compensation, it cannot be denied that a season which was promising grievous disappointment is now filled with well grounded hopes for the future. Despite physical evidence which was beginning to suggest he was operating under immense strain, Wenger proved true to his best instincts. He has a young squad filled with a uniform ability to play the ball and several potential superstars, not least the Brazilian Denilson.
Most impressive of all, Wenger has freed himself from the suspicion that he was beginning to cede Thierry Henry too much influence, too much of the idea that he was more important than the rest of the team.
At the Reebok Stadium, a place for them filled with demons, Arsenal proved that with or without the great man they have a vibrant life of their own. For his part in this discovery, Emmanuel Adebayor at the very least deserves a few bars of Westminster Chimes. Soon enough, it could be a full blown hymn.
McClaren's PR package and statistical obsession serve only to illustrate lack of leadership
Just when you thought the England head coach, Steve McClaren, had exhausted every non sequitur in pursuit of distraction from the realities of his team's plight, he fires off a set of DVDs, and personal statistics, to each member of the team which failed so abysmally against Spain last week.
The purpose, God help us, is to keep the players "angry". Angry at their own failures, he says.
Angry? England players do not need anger inducement. They need guidance, they need to be given a way of playing and operating that begins to make sense. They need the authority of a coach who lays down his demands, produces a pattern and has the authority to act when it is broken.
They do not need a series of discussions about where they have gone wrong. They need leadership.
McClaren tells us that his assistant Steve Round is good at IT and statistics. You could go to a thousand offices around the country and find men and women who are not just good but utterly brilliant in front of a computer and in compiling numbers. But this isn't England's need. It is football men who can tell Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard why they so regularly fail in the colours of their country.
What can statistics tell a player about his performance against Spain? That he should run more, or run less, that he should pass more accurately. It is a nonsense. Footballers, however talented, are some of the most insecure individuals on earth. They need proper leadership and guidance, not to be bombarded by numerical gibberish.
Does a ProStat sheet provide enlightenment to the detail that a player ran into the box 10 times? Does it point out that on at least five occasions he should not have been running into the box because there was very little chance of the ball arriving at roughly the same time. Football is not about statistics, or stoking angst, it is about a clear vision of what you are trying to do. It is about hard work in the only relevant place, the football field.
England do not need to recreate the valour of the Crusades when they travel to Israel next month. They have to beat Israel, difficult, feisty opponents, especially at home, but surely not some ultimate challenge for stars of the league which is allegedly the best in the world. The problem is that in three of their last four games, England have been without a hint of coherence or serious organisation. This is not going to be resolved by looking at DVDs or poring over statistics.
What is needed is some basic football work, reflecting knowledge and real direction. The rest is candyfloss. England have gorged themselves on the stuff for far too long now. It is near enough tasteless and lacks substance or any nutritional value.
McClaren's latest public relations initiative can only add to the hunger. For what precisely? Something to bite on. Something real.
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