Arsenal gained a fantastic result in Turkey in midweek. Irrespective of how poor Fenerbahce were, they still had to make them look poor and, after the Villa result which damaged everyone’s belief at Arsenal, the knives were out for Arsène Wenger and headlines written ready for another bad result. They went unpublished as Arsène came up with some answers.
But he will have to come up with some more right answers in the next few days. He knows he needs players as Arsenal are massively short. Money has to be spent, especially on the striker situation, and I hope they don’t panic like they did two years ago when he bought five players and the only one who worked out any good was Mikel Arteta.
I do sympathise. I had a similar situation at a lower level with QPR. We had won the Championship in early May but couldn’t sign anybody as the owners were trying to sell the club and didn’t want to spend on players. It was not until Tony Fernandes bought the club in mid-August, after we had lost our first match 4-0 at home, that we could get players in. We ended up racing to sign the half-dozen players we desperately needed.
Several of our No 1 targets were on board and almost signed only for us to miss out, like Arsène with Gonzalo Higuain. On the final day alone we missed out on Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy and Sébastien Bassong. Tony loved Parker but he joined Harry Redknapp at Spurs, so it was ironic when he turned down QPR again, but this time with Harry as manager, to join Fulham this week.
It left us scrambling around a bit. The last day was horrendous. We had people stuck in traffic trying to get their medicals done, the office girls frantically faxing forms as the minutes ticked down to the closing of the window, four players in different executive boxes on the same evening, with me and a new chief executive in Phil Beard going to and fro. It didn’t help that contracts are so complicated these days and, after the Ali Faurlin affair, we had to ensure everything was done by the book.
In the end one of the players I signed was a fourth- or fifth-choice, but we needed bodies to get us to January. Looking back, it didn’t really work out. None of the players has been a big success for the club – some have moved on already – while I lost my job before we could strengthen again in the January. Through no fault of our own we had left it too late.
The transfer window is a crazy time for a manager – I don’t miss it. This week Amy came with me to London and we had a lovely meal with my other daughter Natalie. I could never have done that in August before. I do appreciate not having the phone ringing every five minute with an agent telling me his player is the best thing since sliced bread. Amy and I were even able to go back on the sleeper to Cornwall. All the football world was running around while we were relaxing as the miles rolled by.
So I don’t envy any of the managers desperately trying to strengthen this week, it really helps so much to have your squad in place early, as Norwich and Swansea proved the year they went up with us, and as Manchester City have this year.
Tottenham are another club who have done a lot of early business, though they have not quite finished. Daniel Levy is a smart operator and by spending the Gareth Bale money before he gets it in he has done deals before being faced with a price hike.
Your first win is always the sweetest
There is only one week gone but already those managers who have not got that first victory will be sweating a bit. I can’t tell you how much pressure it takes off you when you get those first three points. It is such an unrelenting league if you don’t get it in the first couple of matches you begin to wonder if you ever will.
Arsenal have got a tough match at Fulham – I can remember them being bullied there and losing a couple of years ago – but the midweek win has eased the pressure and they have so many good players Arsène knows if the win doesn’t come this week it will soon. Sides outside the very top bracket will be more nervous. Hull, Cardiff, Swansea, Sunderland, Stoke, Palace, even Newcastle and West Bromwich, will all be desperate to get up and running. I do feel a little bit concerned about West Brom. With Nicolas Anelka looking as if he’ll call it a day after the death of his agent I don’t see where the goals will come from. Steve Clarke will hope Scott Sinclair will give them the bit of impetus they need to get the season up and running, but I don’t fancy them at Everton today.
I had my worst start at Plymouth Argyle. I had arrived in the summer after winning promotion with Huddersfield the previous year and we’d brought several players in. Optimism was high and we were favourites to go up. Then we lost the first six matches of the season, including both legs of a League Cup tie.
We were bottom of the league and I realised I had to make drastic changes. Among them I promoted Mickey Evans, who’d been on the bench, to play in attack and my coach, Kevin Blackwell, came out of retirement to play in goal. In the next match Evans scored twice in a 5-0 win at Bury. It was just what we needed. We were held at home in the next match, but then won five on the trot to go from bottom to fourth, while Evans scored six in six. Later in the season we had another bad run but finished strongly to come fourth before going up in the play-offs.
I didn’t question myself in that first few weeks, I’d been successful elsewhere so I believed in my methods, but I did look back at other times when my team had lost games to see what turned things around then – maybe we’d done something different in training. The key thing was we’d been playing well, but not converted chances at one end while giving away silly goals at the other, so I always believed we could turn it around.
Fans and the local media will question the manager in those circumstances but the chairman was very supportive, which is what you need. It is likely the three promoted clubs, who have been used to winning, will have periods this season when they lose several games on the trot, they might go six, seven, eight without winning, that is when they will need a patient owner.
I’m back at Argyle today, William and I are going to their game with Rochdale. I’m taking in a shirt from the play-off final from that 1995-96 promotion season, signed by myself and all the players. I found it while clearing up my office and we’ve no room to display it at home. It seems a shame to just stuff it in a box so I’m going to give it to the club.
Mourinho makes his point – without a fine
I see Jose Mourinho has already started getting the decisions from referees. Watching him and Paul Lambert on the touchline during the Chelsea v Villa game I thought, “That’s another thing I don’t miss, the stress of being pitchside as a game goes on, reliant on the decisions of players and officials.”
I don’t miss getting fined either, as Crystal Palace’s Ian Holloway was this week. There are certain things you can’t say to the media and one of them is to question the referee’s integrity. The art is to get your point over – in Ian’s case the belief that the big clubs get borderline decisions – without getting fined. Jose’s very good at that.