Saturday, 17 May 2014

Wenger Could Be Gone Whatever The Outcome Today.

The last great dynasty in the Premier League era is that of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. The nine years since a trophy is immaterial - the Frenchman has kept the Gunners part of the Champions League furniture, while recent winners such as Liverpool and Man United have tumbled from their top four perches. Arsenal have kept solid and stable, and let's not forget that one great 'Invincibles' season.

Wenger will go down as one of the all-time greats when he retires, so why the criticism? Those nine barren years have been marked by seemingly constant rumours of him resigning/being sacked/retiring completely, and Arsenal fans are missing that feeling of seeing their captains lifting a trophy in triumph. They look down the road and see Chelsea's revolving door policy of hiring and firing the world's best coaches. The Blues may be lacking in patience, but they are not lacking in trophies. Who could blame Arsenal fans for wanting to see if the grass is greener?

Should Arsenal see Hull off in this evening's FA Cup final, it may yet be the perfect time for Wenger to step down. His mainly happy time in London could end on a high note, and his legacy could be framed in the best possible way. Sir Alex Ferguson knew the value of bowing out a the top, and while Mesut Ozil hasn't had the 'Van Persie effect' they had hoped, the £40m spent was evidence of Wenger himself getting frustrated with the lack of quantifiable success.

Wenger will also be wary of the future. Even in the glow of victory, the pressure would be on Arsenal to kick on next season. To prove that the cup win wasn't a fluke. To prove that they can properly challenge for the Premier League, in a way that Liverpool did this season. He may yet put his feet up and reflect on a job at least partially well done.

Should the Tigers spring the season's latest shock and snatch the trophy themselves, it is difficult to see Wenger staying on. He is right to delay the signing of a proposed new deal. Options will be kept open on both sides.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Why Tim Sherwood Is The Main Winner Of Spurs' Season.

As Tim Sherwood gave his thoughts over ITV's coverage of last night's Europa League final, you heard the satisfied tone of someone who wouldn't change a thing about the last six months. A man who knew what he was getting himself into, knew he would be sacked before the year was out, and knew he would actually be more employable at the end of the line.

How many managers at Championship level, which is where Sherwood will inevitably end up, can say they have managed in European competition? Very few. He is already right at the top of many wish-lists I'm sure. Before Spurs handed him a permanent contract, many chairmen would be a bit wary of the unknown if considering Sherwood for their club. Whether this is accurate or not, he now gives the impression of carefree attacking throwback football, which always attempts to outscore the opposition. Remember that opening bout against Southampton where he selected four attacking midfielders, two strikers, and came back with three points? That's what most top brass will think of when Tim's CV drops onto their desk.

Spurs fans will tell you that Sherwood lacked a real style of play, that he basically put his best players on the field and prayed for a bit of inspiration or magic. Fortunately for him, Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen provided that magic. But even that supposed reliance on Adebayor makes Sherwood look good, as he was the one who brought the Togo man out from the cold, after Andre Villas-Boas' ill-fated tenure. AVB also got much less out of Eriksen than Sherwood did. There is a place for Sherwood in the managerial jungle, and his time as 'supply teacher' at White Hart Lane has done more for him than six months at a lower league side.

Sherwood is a man who thrives on attention, and in Spurs' car-crash of a season, he walks away unscathed, with an un-bettered win percentage, and a lot of sympathy. He was never going to get them into the top four, and to be honest, given time, Villas-Boas would have proved a better long-term bet. Both are now history though, and arguably better off.

Giggs Will Learn From The Best In Van Gaal

It is perhaps fortunate for Manchester United as a club that Ryan Giggs did not sweep all before him in his four games in charge. Three home games against relegation strugglers, in addition to an away trip to an admittedly fine Southampton side with nothing to play for, are not the criteria by which to judge a potential United boss, in the same way that David Moyes' winless away record against the top four should have been used to judge his own suitability.

After the 4-0 win against Norwich in his debut game, the calls for Giggs to be given the top job were growing. The big bad Scotch grump had been chased out of town and now was the time for a real (Welsh) Manc to show the true spirit and winning mentality of Old Trafford's Theatre Of Dreams. The subsequent home slip-up to Sunderland was as close to a blessing in disguise as a defeat can possibly be. It confirmed, to those who needed reminding, that Man United remained a football club, like any other, who simply needed a proven manager with a track record of winning that the supporters could get behind; not the flimsy fairytale of an unproven legend.

The aformentioned proven manager looks like being Louis van Gaal. Unlike David Moyes, a man who threw a fit of insecurity in completely re-shaping the club's backroom staff (as if he needed to prove to everyone that the Everton 'way' could really be replicated at the very top level), the Dutchman is attempting to harness what remains of the Fergie legacy by holding discussions with Giggs regarding the assistant manager's job. It is Darwin's Theory Of Evolution, not Revolution, and van Gaal will treat what Sir Alex left behind with care.

His appointment of Giggs will also be a shrewd political manouvere, as it will neutralise any threat (small as it is) that the Welshman will pose for the managerial position in the future. Not only that, but to be assistant manager at a club like Man United is a more prestigous position than most top jobs elsewhere. Just ask Carlos Queiroz, who walked straight into the Real Madrid job via Sir Alex's right hand. Giggs' time spent learning from such a decorated man as the former Barcelona coach van Gaal, will prove vital to his future managerial career, wherever that may be.

We can only breathe a sigh of relief that United didn't go down the Sherwood route, as no matter how amusing last season's fall from grace was, it is a shame to see a good legacy be ripped up. Careful rebuilding is required, and after Holland's Euro campaign, van Gaal will get to work on his toughest job yet.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Local Author Remembers Racing Legend Senna.

Belfast-born writer Richard Craig, author of ‘Ayrton Senna – The Messiah Of Motor Racing’, has offered his tributes to the late Brazilian Formula One driver. This month marks twenty years since Senna and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives at Imola in separate tragic accidents.

While Craig acknowledged Senna is always going to be talked about more than Ratzenberger, he called the equal respect shown to both drivers “heart-warming.”

Craig said, “At the end of the day, status should not come into it. They were both men of the same age killed doing the same job.”

Craig, 30, attended Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, before studying Law at Queens University Belfast and then a Creative Writing Masters in London. Here he began work on his Senna book.

“I was very lucky in that I didn’t decide to do it, as such. What happened was that I went to see the ‘Senna’ film with my girlfriend but, instead of being enraptured by it, found myself being slightly irked at the way Senna was portrayed.

“I decided, like all good keyboard warriors, to let the world know of my opinions via my blog. Incredibly, Darton Longman and Todd (the publisher) found what I’d written and offered me a book deal. I didn’t need asked twice!”

Craig’s impressive amount of research – he was only 11 at the time of Senna’s death – allowed him to shed light on the racer’s off-track character. Senna’s ruthless pursuit of championship points was balanced by the spiritual and loving persona that his family knew:

“He loved his family. He was a loyal friend to the few that were allowed into his circle of trust. He gave a lot to charity and he actually had a pretty keen sense of humour under all those layers of self-imposed reserve.”

Craig’s most memorable Senna moment actually came in August 1983, a couple of months after his own birth, from Senna’s days in Formula Three, at Oulton Park.

“He was in second place right behind Martin Brundle when he decided to try and overtake, from miles back, when there was simply no room. His car ended up on top of Brundle’s - but the first thing Senna did was to peer over the side of his car to see if his rival was still in one piece!”

Sadly for Senna, his sudden demise will always be remembered most, and Imola 1994 will always lead to solemn reflection, both for his own friends and family, and those of Ratsenberger.