Keane disgusted by abuse Wenger receives from Arsenal fans
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