In Wenger We Trust.

Published: Monday, 15 February 2021
We’ve discussed this before. The question I’m asked most often is ‘of all the guests you've sat with - who have you enjoyed the company of most?’ 

My answer is always the same ‘the opinions I respect the most are from those who’ve spent time in the technical area’. These are the guys that understand, better than most, what comes with coaching. But I always add this - that I expect those that have tried and failed to act with a little more humility when they return to our screens. It’s obvious that they don’t have all the answers, otherwise they’d have been better at it. 

There are riders to that as well. It’s easy to find yourself in a good job at the wrong time. To be surrounded by players that aren’t good enough. To have an owner that isn’t empathetic. There are many different reasons why good people fail. Or are perceived to have failed. 

I once had a row with my boss at Sky who argued that we couldn’t keep ‘putting failures on screen’. I pointed out that we’d be a bit short of guests if we did that, because most had failed at one time or another. It’s different now of course. Anyone can pic a mic up and start offering an opinion. And those that shout the loudest tend not to have been anywhere near a technical area. I don’t listen too much to them. 

If you want names - Graeme Souness is always good company. Graeme is a great example of being in the right place at the wrong time. That’s why they say he failed as a coach at Liverpool. At that time he didn’t have a fiercer critic than me. It got so bad we didn’t talk for a couple of years, but normal relations were eventually resumed! 

I couldn’t understand what Graeme was trying to do. It was a club that I’d been around for a long time and it meant a lot to me. He was pulling the place apart. But he was right. Graeme wanted to modernise it. Right idea - wrong time. 

I also love listening to Glenn Hoddle. He’s got a brilliantly inquisitive mind. How right was he about playing three at the back - with two forwards up top. He played that formation when he was the England coach. Right job - wrong time. 

One I’d always wanted to spend time with was Arsene Wenger. Last weekend I finally did. What an absolute pleasure it was. What a mind. What knowledge. What a gentleman. And nobody’s fool. We’re lucky to have him involved in the game in a role that he can use to influence it. I also realised why I like listening to Glenn. He’s ‘mini-me’.  So much rubbed off on him during their time together at Monaco. 

To think that the new Brexit legislation would have stopped Wenger from taking the Arsenal job. What a nonsense all that is. Boris Johnson is lucky that Covid has deflected attention from that disaster, but eventually people will realise what we’ve done. Sorry. I was a strong remainer. 

I’ll never agree with Wenger about VAR mins you. It too has been a disaster. We now talk about refereeing decisions with far more frequency than we ever did. I hate it. It’s added nothing to our game. It’s lovely to hear people like Hassenhutll and Klopp coming round to my way of thinking on the subject. 

Take this weekend. Without it we’re not debating whether Maguire dived (of course he did) but the flag goes up for offside - which ‘Mossie’ missed in the bunker. 

Arsenal get a pen v Leeds when Saka goes over. Ok, it would’ve been soft, but we wouldn’t still be talking about it. VAR has served only to highlight how bad our refereeing is. It’s magnified errors. 

But Wenger did agree that we’ve got to have specialist VAR operators - not current working refs. I’ve argued since day 1 that we need regular operators in that role. Watching football on tv is different. You’ve got to know what to look for. X-refs should be doing that job, not the guys working in the middle the next day. It’s too much for them. 

Michael Oliver took charge of his 27th game since September this weekend. That includes four CL and two Nations League games, but not VAR bunker and 4th official work. It’s too much for the guys. 

And I repeat - we MUST be allowed to listen to conversations between the bunker and the match day ref. It happens in the Aussie A League. It MUST happen in the PL. That way we’d know the PGMOL were lying when they told us they were ‘checking to see if it was a pen and had it been given they’d have gone back to check for off-side’. Nonsense. ‘Mossie’ missed it. We’re talking about the Harry ‘Tom Daley’ Maguire incident here. There was no need to check to see if it was a pen. That’s why they don’t want us to hear those conversations. That’s why we MUST be allowed to. 

Wenger also told BeINSPORTS that we’re likely to see automated off-sides introduced at the 2022 WC - and offside with a twist. Right now a toe nail or an eye lash in front of the defender is deemed to be off-side. Wenger and FIFA are currently trialling his idea that anything level with the defender means you’re ON - even if the whole of your body is beyond the defender. 

On Ozil he said ‘he’s one of few that do things you don’t expect’. The same goes for Firmino. He said he backed the German because he was special. 

It was staggering to hear him say that for a decade after leaving Highbury, he knew that Arsenal couldn’t win the title - but worse than that - he’d have to sell a player at the end of every season or the club would go bust. Despite that - he kept finishing in the CL places whilst building a world class training facility and paying off the mortgage on The Emirates. And he kept winning the FA Cup as well. What an incredible achievement. How Arsenal would love a season like that now. 

He said that both Henry and Vieira told him they wanted to ‘continue their careers elsewhere’ because he was building a young team and both knew they couldn’t win the title again. Deals were done that suited Wenger, but he didn’t want to lose either of them. All the deals were done because they had to be - but the one he really didn’t want to lose was Fabregas. It’s fascinating stuff. Have a look for yourselves. 

A question to finish with. What’s wrong at Liverpool? Something smells bad.