Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Seeking solace in Arsene to ease semi-final fears...but maybe he really doesn't know anymore - July 9th

Summer 1998, and Arsenal had just won the Premier League and FA Cup 'Double' in Arsene Wenger's first full season as manager. The 'Arsene Knows' faith hadn't been created yet, nor the banners draped inside the stadium, but beyond success on the pitch, Wenger's ability to wind up Alex Ferguson, and get George Graham's committed drunkards doing aerobics, spoke of a man who could influence the masses for many years to come. So when Wenger predicted at the beginning of the 98 World Cup that France, hosts but yet to lift the game's biggest prize, would win it, it should have come as no surprise a few weeks later when France won it.

Only now, twenty years on, the followers of Arsene Knows must look to a higher being. In truth, murmurings and whispers of doubt, and half-heated singing, had first crept in to the sacred House of The Emirates not long after the place of worship had been moved down the road to get more people in. By then, all Arsene knew was that the demoralising costs of the new premises meant they had chuff all chance of competing with the both the established order and wealthy new rivals, spawned by injections of oil cash.

Eventually, the scale of lapsed Arsene Knowers was sadly evident in the empty seats around the new stadium, as people grew weary of constant Champions League qualification in a climate of austerity, and three FA Cup wins out of five seasons when the stadium debt was finally paid off. The Church of the Poisoned Mind attempted a coup of Arsene Knows with banners flown from helicopters, and radio and 'Fan TV' rants, all the while dismissing the existence of Boy George and 'his like'.

Even when his desk, chair and personal belongings were being removed around him, Arsene found a dignified end, his last home match full to capacity again, like friendly old faces turning up on an episode of This Is Your Life to applaud him, but all wearing the same t-shirt.

Back in 98, Arsene's protégé, Glenn Hoddle, who played for him at AS Monaco and then became a manager because of him ("he saw something in me when I was 29-30 that I probably didn't see in myself", Hoddle claims, although others suggest that Arsene had merely observed how much the afterlife thing was starting to affect the playmaker, and recognised his need for a distraction), led England to their valiant second round exit to Argentina (Yes!), and next week will be in the commentary box alongside Clive 'Frankly who cares Barry Davies said it 11 years before me' Tyldesley, as England play Croatia in the final four.

While Hoddle may look to the 'heavens' for the result that most English people crave, I still turn to Arsene, even in a time far removed from his messianic standing of two decades before when he correctly backed his homeland to be world champions. For all the mockery and the tarnishing of his reputation these last few years, his understanding of football cannot be questioned, so in search of reassurance, I explored the web to find his view on the remaining candidates this year: simply, I wanted him to tell me that England couldn't win it.

I quickly find a tv clip of him on BEIS Sports in Russia, where he is working as a pundit. This footage is from last Monday, July 2nd, the day before England v Colombia.

"I've said many times before that since 1954, just after the second War, no country under forty million people has won the World Cup" he said, which in terms of those still in, rules out Belgium and Croatia, if this sturdy tradition continues.

"Nobody mentions England - but England is dangerous. So I would say Brazil, France or England".

So going on the basis that Brazil have now been knocked out, this leaves two obvious challengers - France and England. Not the reassurance I was looking for.

Perhaps his identity of three possible champions, rather than the emphatic one of 98 would, to some, be symbolic of Arsene's compromised judgement now. When pressed on tv to name just one, his answer of "France" is only, he indicates, from "my heart".

Again, the naysayers would argue, the power of the heart over the head, was the major reason for Arsene's undoing in the latter years of his Emirates reign. Either way, I'm looking at a Tottenham Hotspur playing lifting the World Cup aloft in seven days - Hugo Lloris or Harry Kane. I just hope - in the absence of reassurance - that a second goalie captain in three World Cups will be clutching it above his head.          

                                   

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