Keane dis­gusted by abuse Wenger re­ceives from Ar­se­nal fans

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - JOHN FAL­LON

CHANGED times around North Lon­don ahead of to­day’s derby and for­mer Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur striker Rob­bie Keane is pre­dict­ing a con­tin­ual switch of power to the detri­ment of Ar­se­nal. Keane had his mo­ments against the Gun­ners dur­ing his nine-year stay at White Hart Lane, earn­ing a draw in the last-ever derby at High­bury in 2006 for ex­am­ple, but they were fleet­ing.

The real mea­sure­ment of the overhaul can be ob­served to­day should Spurs win to en­sure their cam­paign con­cludes by fin­ish­ing above their ri­vals in the Premier League ta­ble for the first time in 22 years.

That Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s side could con­firm the wa­ter­shed mo­ment with four games of the sea­son re­main­ing in­di­cates the sea-change won’t be mo­men­tary like some of the false dawns Keane sam­pled dur­ing the last decade.

Un­like their neigh­bours, for ex­am­ple, Tot­ten­ham have tied their main­stays down on long-term con­tracts. One by one, the likes of Harry Kane, Delle Alli and Jan Ver­tonghen have been into Po­chet­tino’s of­fice this sea­son com­mit­ting their fu­tures to the cause. The hes­i­tancy of Alexis Sanchez and Me­sut Ozil to do like­wise at the Emi­rates may be in­flu­enced by the un­cer­tainty over their own boss be­ing there be­yond the sum­mer.

Keane has watched the con­trast­ing for­tunes from afar with great in­ter­est. Al­though he sees the dy­namic be­ing main­tained only one way, the for­mer Spurs cap­tain bris­tles at the vil­i­fi­ca­tion of Arsene Wenger, the French­man who mas­ter­minded Ar­se­nal’s dom­i­nance of the his­tor­i­cal duel. In con­trast, to­day’s derby has the po­ten­tial to crown a messy demise for Ar­se­nal and Wenger.

“It is sad to see all the ‘Wenger Out’ signs in the stands”, rea­sons Keane. “I think the abuse he is get­ting from his own fans is dis­gust­ing to be hon­est, con­sid­er­ing the job he’s done. I can’t get my head around it. Maybe Spurs doing so well is why there is so much talk about Wenger. I am speak­ing as an ex-Tot­ten­ham player but for­get about that.

“From a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, as a foot­ball per­son, the job he has done over the years has been ab­so­lutely ex­cep­tional. He has com­pletely turned Ar­se­nal around and al­ways qual­i­fied them for the Cham­pi­ons League.

“This derby against Ar­se­nal is mas­sive for Tot­ten­ham be­cause the fans want the brag­ging rights in the area. A lot of sup­port­ers from the two clubs work fairly close to­gether and they’ll want to do the job at home. I was play­ing when Ar­se­nal won the league at White Hart Lane (in 2004) and it was very tough. That was the best Ar­se­nal team for a long time but things are dif­fer­ent now. Tot­ten­ham are go­ing in the right direc­tion.”

Pre­vi­ous at­tempts by Spurs to flour­ish into gen­uine con­tenders, es­pe­cially dur­ing Keane’s long spell there, were usu­ally thwarted by the loss of key per­son­nel. While Michael Car­rick and Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov were lured to Manch­ester United, and Keane him­self jumped ship for a brief and ill-fated stint at Liver­pool, the rush to de­part from a win­ning unit ap­pears to have sub­sided. By beat­ing lead­ers Chelsea in the league in Jan­uary and push­ing them close in the FA Cup semi-fi­nal last week, Spurs have demon­strated they are edg­ing closer to be­com­ing the fin­ished ar­ti­cle.

“Tot­ten­ham are prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing team to watch in the Premier League,” ex­plained Keane, who scored 91 goals in 238 out­ings for Spurs.

“They were def­i­nitely the bet­ter side in the FA Cup tie as they had Chelsea camped in their half for most of the game. I thought they were very un­for­tu­nate to lose that one.

“Tot­ten­ham have got­ten away from be­ing tagged as a sell­ing club. If Real Madrid or Barcelona come in for some­one, like they did for Gareth Bale, that rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent sce­nario but, as an English team, they could say, ‘well, we’re as big as any team in Eng­land now’.

“The fu­ture is cer­tainly bright for them in terms of the new sta­dium be­ing built and a train­ing ground I’ve not seen bet­tered any­where else. Ev­ery­thing is in place — all that’s miss­ing is the tro­phy which the fans des­per­ately want after many years with­out one.”

Mean­while, an­other for­mer col­league of Keane’s at White Hart Lane, Chris Hughton, is de­vel­op­ing into Ire­land man­age­rial ma­te­rial, ac­cord­ing to the for­mer in­ter­na­tional skip­per.

Ire­land boss Martin O’Neill will see out his cur­rent con­tract till next year’s World Cup but whether he then opts for one last tilt in a Premier League hot-seat en­ter­ing his late six­ties re­mains to be seen.

Hughton has club am­bi­tions to achieve too, hav­ing re­cently guided Brighton & Hove Albion to pro­mo­tion, yet his im­pres­sive CV makes him a vi­able can­di­date to man­age the coun­try he played for when the va­cancy arises in the fu­ture. “Chris and I have al­ways stayed in con­tact and I was de­lighted to see him get Brighton pro­moted to the Premier League,” said Keane of Hughton, who was as­sis­tant man­ager at both Tot­ten­ham and Ire­land.

“I don’t think any­one thought Brighton would lead the Cham­pi­onship this sea­son but the job he has done, with the play­ers he has brought in and through their style, is tremen­dous. The way Chris goes about things, he’s an ab­so­lute gen­tle­man, but make no mis­take when he’s in the dressing room and things are not go­ing right, he’ll tell you. I think that’s im­por­tant as a man­ager.

“If Martin (O’Neill) ever de­cides to step down, and look­ing at the can­di­dates out there, then cer­tainly Chris is up there as one of the top con­tenders.”

One player in the Ir­ish camp Keane is de­lighted to see dis­play a grow­ing ma­tu­rity is James McCarthy, al­beit in­jury has robbed the Ever­ton mid­fielder of much game-time in the cur­rent World Cup cam­paign.

Hav­ing been crit­i­cal of McCarthy in 2011 for pulling out of a squad, Keane was heart­ened to see him defy Ron­ald Koe­man’s in­struc­tions by declar­ing him­self fit for last month’s qual­i­fier against Wales. “It wasn’t fair on James be­cause he wanted to play for his coun­try and was stuck in the mid­dle,” he said. “Un­for­tu­nately, he got in­jured in the warm-up, which can hap­pen, but he is an es­tab­lished player and can make his own de­ci­sions.”

Tot­ten­ham v Ar­se­nal, Sky Sports 1, 4.30

Ex-Ire­land and Tot­ten­ham cap­tain Rob­bie Keane

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