McLintock's memo to Arsenal - you need more than Henry's artistry

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The Independent Football

On either side of the achievement for which the former captain is best remembered - the 1971 Double - there was his realisation that the Arsenal side he had joined in a "poisonous" dressing-room was not half as good as the Leicester City one he had left; and, similarly, that reluctantly leaving Highbury nine years later to join homely Queen's Park Rangers was a step up. There was defeat in the FA Cup by Peterborough United, and in the League Cup final by Swindon Town; and the day that the visit of old foes Leeds United for a League game drew an attendance of 4,554.

Despite those difficult times and his affection for both Leic-ester and QPR, when McLintock says "we", he is referring to Arsenal. As in: "We've got a lovely, skilful, artistic, technical side, but for me they just lack a bit of firepower and strength, another player like Alan Smith or John Radford with good skill but a bit of power, who can head the ball and would be an extra balance to Thierry Henry, who I always feel is everywhere except in the box. I don't know how Arsenal score so many goals, because whenever they get to the byline, they have to cut the ball back to outside the 18-yard box before they can line up a shot. Yet two years ago we scored all these wonderful, creative goals. I think teams are starting to drop deep against Arsenal, and when our wingers cut inside, the final pass goes through the middle where all the defenders are."

He tries to drop the "we" when acting as senior pundit on Sky Sports, where he survived a minor controversy last year after describing the managerial chopping and changing at Tottenham as being like Ten Little Niggers. In that role he was a satisfied witness to the Arsenal reserves' comfortable victory at Sunderland in midweek, which suggested that the worldwide recruitment of young players will eventually pay dividends.

"Quincy [Owusu-Abeyie] looks quite good. I don't know if he knows what he's doing sometimes, but he's certainly got pace and tricks. Like Peter Marinello who we had, he sometimes doesn't get his head up at the right time. I like [Francesc] Fabregas a lot, I think [Philippe] Senderos will become a very good player, but I think him and [Kolo] Touré are a little bit young to play together.

"I just wish we had someone apart from Henry that wanted to run behind people. We've got a lot of good players, but I don't think the balance is right."

Not quite right to win the Champions' League yet, despite the possibility of defeating Sparta Prague on Wednesday to achieve the club's best start yet in that competition. "I'll be surprised if we go far in the European Cup, but if we finish second in the Premiership I'll be very, very happy and that will be a tremendous season under the circumstances."

One of the oddities of football life for someone so revered at a particular club is that in only slightly different circumstances, "we" could just as easily have been Arsenal's abhorred rivals Tottenham. Determined, because of a financial dispute, to leave the fine Leicester side that led the top division with five games to play in 1963, McLintock hoped for a move to Spurs as the replacement for Danny Blanchflower. Tottenham chose Alan Mullery instead, and after illegal approaches from Liverpool's Bill Shankly and Leeds United's Don Revie, club and player succumbed to the persistence of Arsenal's Billy Wright, once the golden boy of English football but struggling in his first managerial job.

It took McLintock - an attacking wing-half in those days - just one chaotic match to ask himself: "What have I done?" Wright was finally sacked in 1966 after two successive seasons in the bottom half of the table and two successive home gates of under 10,000, but McLintock was as shocked as anyone when talk of Revie or Alf Ramsey taking over was followed by the appointment of Bertie Mee, the Arsenal physio.

Somehow it worked, for Mee's genius lay in appointing two brilliant assistants, first Dave Sexton then Don Howe, and letting them get on with the coaching. Success in Europe - the Fairs' Cup in 1970 - became the turning point, accelerating the players' belief in themselves, which led to the League and FA Cup double the following season.

The relationship between stiff little old-school manager and passionate Gorbals captain was often difficult, and ended with McLintock heading off to Loftus Road to prove Mee's decision premature by playing for four years and coming within one point of another League title while Arsenal floundered.

Management at Leicester and Brentford was less successful, as was the belief that it was possible to be some sort of ethical football agent. McLintock made the mistake of advising players to knuckle down and fight for their place instead of demanding a transfer, not realising there was no money for an agent in that: "So they'd drive away in their lovely cars and I'd drive away in my second-hand Granada."

Two rather more impressive motors currently sit in the driveway of his detached house in Winchmore Hill, north London, testimony to a successful security business that has the contract for David Beckham's Football Academy and the new Arsenal stadium. For all his occasional tribulations, Francis McLintock always did know how to keep things tight at the back.

*'True Grit' by Frank McLintock (Headline, £18.99)

CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE: The British challenge


LIVERPOOL V ANDERLECHT Djibril Cissé (left) looks like a man for Europe, his pace capable of undoing the tightest of marking even if, like all other Liverpool strikers, he remains more profligate than Rafael Benitez would like. A superb volley from a corner won the away game with Anderlecht, who have lost all three group matches without scoring and fear a six-game whitewash like last season's.

Danger rival: Bart Goor


REAL BETIS v CHELSEA The perfectionist in Jose Mourinho was unhappy that his team allowed the Spaniards three early chances at Stamford Bridge before routing them 4-0 to go ahead of Liverpool on goal difference at the top of the table. Betis, with Joaquin either out wide or just behind Ricardo Oliveira, could still cause some uncomfortable moments if Chelsea allow any complacency to creep in.

Danger rival: Joaquin


ARTMEDIA V RANGERS The Scottish champions' failure to break down the Slovakian defence in a goalless draw at Ibrox could prove costly now that Porto (3pts) are back in contention for a qualifying place after beating the group leaders Internazionale (6pts). Rangers (4pts) need a win to head off both Artmedia (4pts) and Porto going into their two tough remaining games, in Portugal and at home to Inter.

Danger rival: Juraj Halenar


ARSENAL V SPARTA PRAGUE A fourth straight win in the group would put Arsenal through, and it should hardly be too much to ask against opposition struggling to score in a moderate Czech league, currently on their third manager in 12 months, and missing Karel Poborsky after a row with the latest incumbent. Thierry Henry, who returned to break his club's scoring record in Prague, will be rubbing his gloved hands.

Danger rival: Luka Zelenka


LILLE V MANCHESTER UNITED Losing Paul Scholes (sent off), Ryan Giggs (fractured cheekbone) and two points (in a 0-0 draw) added up to a costly evening for United when Lille visited Old Trafford. United remain top but, in a tight, low-scoring group, only three points ahead of the French side, who are bottom. A win is needed here. Time for Wayne Rooney to make his mark.

Danger rival: Jean Makoun

Steve Tongue