‘The Gaffer’ doesn’t de­serve this treat­ment

New Straits Times - - Sport -

IT is ex­cru­ci­at­ing to witness what is hap­pen­ing to Arse­nal and to Arsene Wenger, a man for whom I have so much re­spect that I still call him ‘The Gaffer’.

He was the man who told me my ca­reer at Arse­nal was fin­ished, in a soft but firm man­ner, and I re­main grate­ful for how he went about that. No­body wants to be told, “Now is the right time to go”. But I knew he was right.

As a player, I guess your body tells you that. I won­der how you know when you are a man­ager. I won­der if there is any­one at Arse­nal who will be telling him that now?

I am viewed in some places as an apol­o­gist for Arsene, but I have so much re­spect for him and what he has achieved.

I wish it hadn’t come to this. I went to the ground on Tues­day hop­ing the team would show they had the tools for the fight. They did not.

I was co-com­men­tat­ing for BT Sport and, while you can lose your­self in the match con­cen­trat­ing on your work, I found the af­ter-match ex­pe­ri­ence a solemn and sad one.

Peo­ple asked for pic­tures on their cam­era phones but ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion in­cluded the com­ment: “He has to go now.”

The Arse­nal sup­port­ers I en­coun­tered were an­gry and em­bar­rassed but there was re­spect for Arsene too, with peo­ple ask­ing: “How has it come to this?” I shook my head. I won­der that, too. Arsene is a great man and a great man­ager; a rev­o­lu­tion­ary and a man of many skills.

I defy any­one who shared the great mo­ments with him over his 21 years at Arse­nal to wish to see him hurt­ing like this.

See­ing him on the touch­line, it is like a watch that has stopped. When Lau­rent Ko­scielny was sent off, he didn’t come fly­ing out of his dug-out.

It was as if it hadn’t dawned on him. I am be­com­ing con­cerned for his health, it is painful to see. This club is his life.

I don’t want this great man — I have called him my foot­balling fa­ther — to be like a boxer on the ropes tak­ing more and more pun­ish­ment un­til badly hurt. No­body with Arse­nal in their heart will want that.

There is a qual­ity about him as a man that is un­usual in foot­ball. If you play for him, you are drawn to him.

But is he still at the high­est level? Is he still able to mix it with Jose Mour­inho, Pep Guardi­ola, Jur­gen Klopp and Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino?

They are bright, hun­gry, young man­agers. Arse­nal could fin­ish out­side the top four this sea­son, which might pro­vide the an­swer.

None of us are wor­thy to tap him on the shoul­der and con­vince him his time is up at Arse­nal. He has to see it for him­self.

I’m pretty cer­tain he does know it. But he wants to go out as a win­ner, as a cham­pion. Foot­ball is his best friend. Maybe win­ning the FA Cup and fin­ish­ing in the top four might achieve that.

He has been the great­est man­ager in Arse­nal’s his­tory and he de­serves to go with­out so much fury and re­crim­i­na­tion.

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