Friday 20 December 2019

Respect your juniors

So the day has come.

The day that, at the time of appointment, Arsenal's manager is younger than me.

Mikel Arteta, 37, is six years my junior. Maybe I hoped that this outcome would, one day, be softened by a sympathetic tap on the shoulder, and a resigned appreciation that my time was up, but no, it's like something out of the Adam Sandler film, Flick, when life can be literally fast-forwarded by a magic remote control.

The first Arsenal manager I knew, Terry Neill, was 34 when he was appointed, 38 when I was aware he who actually was, but I was 4 then. When he was sacked, his replacement Don Howe seemed about 103 at the time, when I looked up to him and had all my desperate, flawed hopes in his ability to make a winning team out of prima donnas and has-beens. George Graham came in at 41, but it's impossible that I will ever be older than he was then, even though I am now 44 (just had to retype there, as I thought I was 43 for the last five minutes; age is clearly only bringing me increased incapability rather than an aura of authority and commanding of respect. Just ask the kids).

'George Knows' used to be a banner at Highbury, a precursor to 'Arsene Knows' (Bruce Rioch never got much of an opportunity to know, nor Unai Emery, who at 46 when he became Arsene's successor, seemed to suggest that my 40 year run in some kind of numbered state of self-respecting hero-worship would continue for a while yet).  George was hard-line, a disciplinarian, an achiever, clearing out the dead wood and bringing in the trophies. By contrast, I am laughed in the face when attempting to get the kids asleep by 9pm, and ignored daily in my (admittedly hypocritical) lights-off agenda. I am powerless to prevent their multiple nighttime returns from the bedroom asking for water/something to eat/comfort/a story/nine rounds of Black Jack. I lost the dressing room years ago, and there's no option to sell one of the troublemakers and bring in a more compliant version.

Prominent people during Arsene's era say that he didn't like confrontation, but that can't be true, can it? Can you manage an unbeaten team for a whole season while letting your players call you a bitch in front of everyone?  Can't see it. Even if Wenger is as awkward as I am in asking for the bill from the restaurant staff - wracked with worry over any offence that might be caused in signalling my intention to leave the premises shortly (the missus' does a disturbing impression of my apparently crazed facial features in these moments, when I subconsciously try to ward off the perceived hatred from the chosen waiter or waitress), his assured grasp of several languages, economics degree and, oh, career full of trophies, gives him a decisive edge over me in terms of achievement and adult-worthiness.

So Mikel, perhaps I should prepare to look down on you from my elder statesmen perch, call you a "silly boy" when you get it wrong, shake my head in disdain at the juvenile decisions you make. But I haven't reached that stage yet, and am not sure I ever will. When I was a player manager at 31 of a Sunday pub team, we had a team night out in Watford which ended with me being sick on the minibus back and being offered escorts home by two of my players who were aged 18 and 21. I don't know that I'll ever be that sort of man who exudes assurance and knowing. Even calling myself a man seems uncomfortable.

I'll support Mikel, aware of the fact he is younger than me, but knowing, in my heart, that the Arsenal manager will always will be a senior in life.         

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