Lady Nina shares on offer, Arshavin aint Havin, and praise to Gazidis!

First off, credit where credit is due. Let’s all big it up for chief executive officer Ivan “He’s Got No Hair But We Don’t Care” Gazidis and stadium manager John “Mine’s A Pint” Beattie. Guys, exactly the right decision on admitting flags to The Home Of Football. Well played. You listened. You acted. Let’s hope it’s the start of a more mature relationship between the club and us, the supporters.
Traditionally Arsenal has treated us fans with a sort of benign contempt. It’s assumed that we’re generally well-meaning but that we don’t know a lot and haven’t got much of value to add to the party (other than our cash and our voices of course). More often than not Arsenal has done the right thing, but involvement and consultation of its most committed “customers” hasn’t been high on the agenda of the people that matter. That needs to change. I hope as Ivan Gazidis gets to know the key players amongst the fans –  the fanzines, the websites and blogs, Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, Arsenal Football Supporters’ Club, REDaction – he’ll realise that we’re worth listening to. We won’t always agree. Sometimes the fans will have it wrong. Sometimes it will be the management and/or the board who need to re-consider. Dialogue is critical though, especially in these difficult times.
As a matter of urgency, I hope Ivan is working on plans to allow long-standing Gold members to spread the payment for the next term’s season tickets. In the longer term the Arsenal Fans’ Forum needs to be taken more seriously than it has been thus far and a regular dialogue needs to be established with all the supporters’ groups on a far higher level than it has been thus far. Here’s a thought – how about an annual all-day supporters’ conference with all the top people at the club in attendance. A full day would give the chance to proper dig down into the issues. It wouldn’t cost a fortune and would provide an annual focus for the club’s work with supporters.
One of the critical “stakeholders” in the club is of course the shareholders. Charlie Sale the Daily Mail sports gossip columnist has Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith signalling that her 15.9% stake in the club is “in play” for the right offer. Oh dear. Just what we needed. Not. The hard question that has to be asked of her is, “Do you really need a windfall of £50-£75 million?” The answer to that question is of course, no. If Sale is right (who knows?) then this move won’t do anything for the stability that Arsenal, like any club, needs to thrive. If Lady Nina does sell up, she needs to think very carefully. Posterity is watching.
That said, hard questions need to be asked of the board and Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings too. I know those good people at Arsenal Supporters’ Trust are on the case.
Word also reaches me from sources I trust that Ivan Gazidis is surprised at the level of control and authority that Arsčne Wenger exercises over all aspects of the club’s management and administration. I’m not especially shocked by this. I’m sure one of the reasons Le Boss has resisted the persistent overtures of the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, the Fédération Française de Football, Milan and the Japan Football Association is the level of control he has over on-field affairs. Certainly at club level no other top outfit here or elsewhere in Europe would let him have his head as we do.
I’ve always thought however that we’re behind the curve in this country to our detriment. Most big clubs on the continent have a general manager, usually with a background in the game, who conducts transfer negotiations both in and out of the club and manages the clubs academy and youth schemes, usually with a club academy director. The first team manager is just that, in charge of the first-team.
The tradition here has been one of an all-powerful manager, going right back to the days when managers were called “secretary-manager”. That’s not to say that the first-team manager can’t and shouldn’t have an influence over other areas. Our first great manager, Herbert Chapman, did far more for us than just build a winning team that dominated the 1930s up to the Second World War. He had a vision that took the club to the next level, transforming Highbury into a cutting-edge football arena and even persuading London Transport to re-name Gillespie Road Underground Station as “Arsenal”. This, literally, put us on the map along with our performances on the field and the building of the West and East Stands.
I do think though that Ivan Gazidis needs to be given his head on the administrative and business side. If Gazidis and Wenger can develop a harmonious working relationship it can only be to the benefit of all concerned. From all that I know and see, Gazidis has the “right stuff” to help us through the stormy economic waters we find ourselves in (along with everybody else on Planet Football) and generally improve the quality of the club’s management and supporter relations, as well as extracting maximum income from sources such as sponsorship.
I’m also informed that our new Russian pocket battleship Andrey Arshavin isn’t too thrilled privately about being asked to play out on the wing. His favoured position is what the Italians call, with typical precision and elegance,  mezzo avanti, or “half-forward”. What we call “playing in the hole” or “second striker”.  Arsčne has had a lot of success with moving players into positions they’ve never or seldom played. Thierry Henry leaps to mind. He hadn’t played up front since his youth-teams days at AS Monaco. That worked out rather well. Freddie Ljungberg spent most of his time on the wing too, despite his preferred position being second striker, where he usually played for Sweden. Lauren became an excellent right-back.
I’m also told that our Andrey is a bit miffed that the “big car” he was promised turned out to be a Citroën (courtesy of our sponsorship deal with them no doubt). He is apparently also still waiting for the “big house” he was promised. I confess to being a little conflicted over this. With a basic salary that’s likely to be not far south of £3.5 million a year (and possibly north of that number) with all the additional sponsorship and endorsement bells and whistles available to Russia’s super-star footballer my impulse is to say, “Find your own digs and wheels. The rest of us have to on a microscopic fraction of your salary, mate.” On the other hand most top clubs have one or more multi-lingual staff whose entire working time is devoted to smoothing the way for players – helping them find homes, cars, schools, sorting out phones, gas, electricity, water, Council Tax, bank accounts, etc.
I can see the sense of this. When I lived in Ecuador in the mid 1980s I was most grateful for a local mentor to guide me through the bureaucracy of registering as a foreign resident, sorting out bank accounts, getting digs and so on, especially as I was still learning the language at the time. It might appear to be wiping the players’ rear ends for them, but do we really want them distracted from the task at hand? We invest a lot of money in them in salaries and transfer fees. Having a couple of people on the pay-roll who can smooth the way, especially with players who arrive with little or no English makes sense I think. I don’t know what the arrangements are at Arsenal but I do think somebody should have a quiet word, preferably in Russian, with Andrey to make sure all is well. We don’t want the grit in life’s ointment to be distracting him from the job of bringing home the silverware. His English isn’t bad at all, certainly better than my Russian, but it’s always easier to communicate in your native language.
I shall pass rapidly over the performance of my native Wales in the World Cup qualifiers against Finland in Cardiff at the weekend. Oh dear. Aaron Ramsey got just over half an hour as a substitute. Wales were already one-nil down by that stage, conceding another close to the final whistle and just about nailing the coffin lid shut on our chances of going to South Africa next summer.
Emmanuel Adebayor had better luck for Togo, scoring their winner at “home” to Cameroon. The match was played on neutral territory at the Ohene Dyan Stadium in Accra, Ghana after Mali players and supporters were attacked in Lomé after an African Cup of Nations qualifier last year. In the Amsterdam ArenA, Robin van Persie scored the Netherlands’ second goal right on half time, before coming off with 25 minutes to go. Emmanuel Eboué and Kolo Touré both played the full ninety minutes in the Ivory Coast’s five-nil win over Malawi in Abidjan yesterday evening. Philippe Senderos started for Switzerland in their two-nil win against Moldova in Chi?in?u. Johan Djourou got on as a substitute right at the end. Lukasz Fabianski didn’t feature at all in Poland’s three-two loss to Northern Ireland in Belfast. A fact he’ll be happy about I should think given the result, although he’ll be disappointed about not even making the bench.
Nicklas Bendtner was taken off after half an hour in Denmark’s three-nil away win against Malta in Ta’Qali. Carlos Vela was serving the second match of a two game suspension for Mexico’s two-nil win over Costa Rica in the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. He will be available for selection for Mexico’s game away to Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday. William Gallas and Bacary Sagna played the whole game for France in their one-nil win away to Lithuania in Vilnius. Samir Nasri played the last quarter of an hour as a substitute. Gaël Clichy was an unused substitute on the bench.  France also has a crucial must-win return game home to Lithuania on Wednesday in Paris. Abou Diaby is also in the French squad but didn’t feature on Saturday.  In Moscow, Andrey Arshavin played the entire match for Russia in a two-nil home win against Azerbaijan.
In an Under 21 friendly away to Norway on Friday night in Arctic conditions Kieran Gibbs got his reward for some excellent performances for us recently, playing the whole second half for England Under 21s in a five-nil hammering of the locals in Sandefjord.
Let’s hope all the boys return home safe and sound from their travels after this Wednesday’s matches. I’d guess that Carlos Vela won’t feature against Citeh next week as he won’t be back from Central America until Friday after a long transatlantic flight. I can only hope my native Wales puts up a better performance home to Germany in Cardiff on Wednesday!
Keep the faith!

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