From to B M Tel Aviv bombs Brighton belles
REMEMBER when Arsene Wenger walked into Highbury in 1996? Angular, debonair, and utterly unheralded, it seemed the Gunners had lost the plot.
Arsene Who? screamed the papers, and they weren’t alone. “At first, I thought ‘What does this Frenchman know about football?” recalled former Arsenal skipper Tony Adams in his biography.
“He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher. He’s not going to be as good as George Graham. Does he even speak English properly?”
Two years and one scintillating double later, of course, Adams and the rest of us had been made to look rather foolish.
It is a tale that must ring pretty familiar to Oscar Garcia Junyent, the new manager of Brighton & Hove Albion.
A little over 12 months ago, the former Barcelona midfielder was shoved before the Israeli Press and greeted by a sea of scepticism and mistrust.
Did two years coaching kids at the Nou Camp really equip him to end Maccabi Tel Aviv’s ten-year wait for a title? Could a man with no management experience ever expect to win the respect of Israel’s most famous club?
As if he wasn’t sweating enough, a power failure – a regular occurrence in the Israeli capital – then knocked out the lights and air conditioning.
But, when the bulbs flickered back to life, Jordi Cruyff, Tel Aviv’s director of football and a long-time friend of Garcia, came to the rescue.
“Let me tell you,” he said.“Oscar has a vast knowledge of the game and we are lucky to have him. I think that a year from now we’ll all be sitting here with a broad smile on our faces.”
Cruyff’s prediction was spot on. Garcia – known simply as Oscar – romped to the Israeli title in his first season, then quit citing personal reasons even before the Champagne had gone flat. N Poyet at the A prove his cre
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“It was a really tough time,” he says from Brighton’s Falmer training base, where the only threat on the skyline comes from the grey clouds rolling in off the South Downs.
“Here in Europe we are not used to these things. For seven days, you did not think about football at all.
“Did I feel in danger? Only twice – the first day and the last day. On the first day you are seeing things on the news, hearing the first rockets.You don’t know how bad things are going to get so you are nervous.
“And the last day, when a bus was bombed and exploded in the city. That made you realise that you aren’t always protected.
“It was hard, but it helped that many of the players were local. I saw that the Israeli players were calm and, in addition, I saw people still going to cafés and walking around the city. For them it was normal, so I felt OK.
“But apart from that week, the whole time was very special. Tel Aviv is an amazing city with amazing people and for the rest of the time I was very happy there.”
Now Oscar is hoping to build a similar affinity with the folk of Brighton after being talked into the job by the Seagulls’ Spanish contingent – Andrea Orlandi, David Lopez, Inigo Calderon and fullback Bruno.
“I spoke to all the Spanish players here and I knew before I arrived that it was a great club and a very nice place,” he says.
“They all said very good things about the club and the ambitions to improve. And these first weeks I have been very impressed with everything I have seen.
“When I talk about Brighton, I explain to my friends that it is a big club – maybe not so famous outside of Eng- land but a club who wants to get bigger. That is the main reason I am here.”
So what can Brighton fans expect? One is more slick football from a man who learned at the hand of Johan Cruyff and Bobby Robson.
“I was a player who wanted to learn about everything,” he says.“I watched the coaches, the staff, the managers. Now I am trying to do something like them.
“Every manager has his way and I am trying to change the team. I have watched the team a lot on DVD and the main thing is to score more goals.
“The team had many chances last season and did not take them. That is one thing I am trying to improve, but I can’t tell you the others or everyone will know.” They’ll also get loyalty. “Club Brugge offered me a lot of money to leave Maccabi,” he explains. “Three or four times more than I earned, and it would have taken care of my family for life. But I turned it down. The project at Maccabi and the fans were more important.”
And new signings? Scant so far, but Oscar is delighted with the capture of MK Dons defender Adam Chicksen and, in particular, playmaker Kemy Agustien from Swansea.
“Kemy is not yet ready to play 90 minutes but he will help us a lot,” he added. “He wants the ball all the time, uses it very well. He has played in the Premier League.
“I want eleven leaders on the pitch, not just one or two. And then I want another seven leaders on the bench. I want my team to be strong and Kemy is a leader.”
Just before Oscar left that first Press Conference in Tel Aviv, Cruyff spoke up. “Oscar is one of the most exciting coaches in the world,” he said. “And within five or ten years we’ll be proud to say he started here.”
So with that in mind, is Brighton simply another stepping stone.
“I never think long term,” he insists. “Right now I am manager of Brighton and we are in the Championship. At this moment, my only ambition is to do my best for them.”
CALM AND COLLECTED: Oscar is a different character to predecessor Gus Poyet
: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice in 1996 and Kemy Agustien in action for Swansea PEDIGREE: Oscar Garcia playing for Barcelona