‘He’s the Robert Mu­gabe of Ar­se­nal’

Wenger un­der pres­sure as Gun­ners start slip­ping – again

CityPress - - Sport - PETER AUF DER HEYDE sports@city­press.co.za

The other mem­bers who made it to the Cosafa ex­ec­u­tive were Gen­eral Pe­dro Neto of An­gola; Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Zam­bia pres­i­dent An­drew Ka­manga; Sameer Sobha of Mau­ri­tius; Al­berto Si­manga of Mozam­bique; and one of the old horses, Wal­ter Nyami­landu-Manda of Malawi.

Nyami­landu-Manda is one of only three sur­viv­ing pres­i­dents from the old Cosafa guard. The oth­ers are Adam “Bomber” Mthethwa of Swazi­land and Sale­mane Phafane of Le­sotho.

Ah­mad (57) be­came the sixth CAF pres­i­dent since 1957 – af­ter Ab­de­laziz Salem (Egypt), Mo­hamed Ab­de­laziz Mostafa (Egypt), Ab­del Halim Mo­hamed (Su­dan), Yd­nekatchew Tessema (Ethiopia) and Hay­a­tou – and the first from south­ern Africa.

Chiyangwa, who has been cred­ited as be­ing the main ar­chi­tect be­hind Hay­a­tou’s down­fall, this week told City Press: “The time has come for all the spoils to be dis­trib­uted equally across Africa. We could not keep on vot­ing in this dic­ta­tor to con­tinue marginal­is­ing our re­gion. A lot of changes will hap­pen, but the new CAF ex­ec­u­tive will meet for the first time in a week, so it will be quite pre­sump­tu­ous for me to talk about the ex­pected take-off just yet.”

The out­spo­ken Mbidi, who has been in the foot­ball busi­ness for a long time – he has played, ref­er­eed, coached and served as a club chair – said: “The first step must be to ... im­prove the lot of our play­ers. They are the main char­ac­ters. For far too long, African foot­ball has been about in­di­vid­ual ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“Un­less we im­prove our play­ers’ lot, we will con­tinue to play sec­ond fid­dle to Europe and even Asia. We need to de­velop strong, well-spon­sored leagues on the con­ti­nent to pre­vent our play­ers from mov­ing to other parts of the world.” The prob­lem with foot­ball coaches is that they are not wine, so the no­tion that they get bet­ter with age – as does a bot­tle of good wine – does not hold the same sway.

Ar­se­nal coach Arsène Wenger is 67 – well past the re­tire­ment age in most pro­fes­sions.

But hav­ing been with the Gun­ners since 1996, the French­man has be­come some­thing of an in­sti­tu­tion at the club, and in­sti­tu­tions sel­dom just move aside and make room for some­thing new. In more cases than not, they have to be pushed aside.

And that’s ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing as fans have pub­licly started to call for Wenger to leave at the end of the sea­son, with ban­ners and plac­ards pro­claim­ing All Good Things Must Come to an End – Wenger Out be­ing dis­played at re­cent games.

Fans even went so far as to crowd­fund a plane that flew over the Hawthorns dur­ing their 3-1 de­feat last week­end against West Brom with a ban­ner fly­ing be­hind it that said: “No New Con­tract #WengerOut”.

Long-time sup­porter Dave Mur­ray summed up what many fans are think­ing: “The writ­ing is in the air and on the wall, and it is in ban­ners. The only per­son who can’t see it is Wenger him­self.

“Rather than get the re­spect­ful and emo­tional send-off he de­serves af­ter 21 years of ex­cel­lent ser­vice, Wenger risks tak­ing his re­la­tion­ship with the Wenger Out brigade to a new low,” Mur­ray said.

Another fan was filmed out­side the Emi­rates and brought an African an­gle to the on­go­ing Wenger de­ba­cle.

“I used to live in Zim­babwe and I’ve watched Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe ruin the coun­try. Wenger is do­ing the same. He’s the Mu­gabe of Ar­se­nal.”

But it is not only the fans who have ques­tioned Wenger’s re­luc­tance to leave the club. Ear­lier this week, former Chelsea and Eng­land striker Chris Sut­ton, who is now a tele­vi­sion pun­dit, said Wenger was like the “un­cle who doesn’t want to leave the party”.

How­ever, the man­ager has re­ceived some back­ing, with former Ar­se­nal goal­keeper Jens Lehmann, who had two stints at the club un­der Wenger, say­ing that the fans were be­ing dis­re­spect­ful to the man­ager.

He might have a point be­cause there has been plenty of suc­cess in the past.

Among the Premier League clubs, only Ar­se­nal can look back at a run of 20 con­sec­u­tive Cham­pi­ons League ap­pear­ances, and no other coach has won the FA Cup more of­ten than Wenger has – six times.

And that, of course, is not his only suc­cess.

He has won the Premier League ti­tle three times and the Com­mu­nity Shield six times. His cham­pi­onship-win­ning team of 2003/04, which went un­beaten through­out the sea­son, is still con­sid­ered one of the best sides in English foot­ball his­tory.

En route to the ti­tle, they beat Not­ting­ham For­est’s record of 42 games with­out de­feat. Be­tween May 2003 and Oc­to­ber 2004, they were un­de­feated for an as­ton­ish­ing 49 matches.

With all th­ese ac­co­lades, why are fans call­ing time-out on Wenger’s long – and clearly – suc­cess­ful ca­reer?

Un­de­ni­ably, the Holy Grail in Euro­pean club foot­ball is the Cham­pi­ons League. The Premier League ti­tle comes a close sec­ond in Eng­land. It is here that Wenger has failed to de­liver, at least in Ar­se­nal’s re­cent his­tory.

The last Premier League ti­tle dates back to 2004. In 2006, the club made it to the fi­nal of the Cham­pi­ons League, but they lost to Barcelona.

Af­ter win­ning the league in 2004, they fin­ished sec­ond in 2005, but, since then, they have not re­ally put in a con­sis­tent chal­lenge to lift another ti­tle.

What makes the sit­u­a­tion worse for the fans is that the Gun­ners of­ten start the sea­son like a house on fire, but their ti­tle chal­lenge would fiz­zle out as the sea­son en­ters the new year.

The same seems to be hap­pen­ing this time around. They have lost four of the nine Premier League matches they have played this year. This has seen them slip down to sixth in the league, and they are in dan­ger of fail­ing to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time since the 1997/98 sea­son.

To add in­sult to in­jury, they suf­fered an em­bar­rass­ing de­feat in the last 16 round of the Cham­pi­ons League by be­ing beaten 5-1 by Bay­ern Mu­nich home and away for a 10-2 ag­gre­gate de­feat.

That not­with­stand­ing, the Amer­i­can club own­ers have of­fered Wenger a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion, and me­dia re­ports through­out Eng­land sug­gest that he has taken up the of­fer.

How­ever, nei­ther Wenger nor the club have con­firmed (or de­nied) the re­ports.

This means that, should he be at the club next sea­son, he will be fac­ing protests from the word go.

It could well be that the only way to bring fans back onto Wenger’s side would be for him to bring them the league ti­tle – a suc­cess they have craved since 2004.

PHOTO: NIGEL FRENCH / EMPICS SPORT

LOST HIS TOUCH? charges Ar­se­nal's man­ager Arsène Wenger has been walk­ing the tightrope for some time due to bad per­for­mances by his

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