Wise up, Carlos, and letthehandbrakeoff
NEIL Warnock says he would quit Cardiff City rather than plough through a blizzard of criticism, like Arsene Wenger. Carlos Carvalhal, it is safe to assume, does not share such principles. So far, there remains a vestige of respect for the man who oh-so-nearly brought Premier League football to Hillsborough in 2016. Displeasure is voiced in grumbles, rather than howls.
But, with each dour draw and passionless performance, the volume increases. And, with each passing week, the Portuguese looks more like a Championship Wenger.
Tolerated, but no longer loved. Trusted in the boardroom, not on the terraces. Who, through ignorance or arrogance, refuses to address supporters’ concerns.
What angers Gooners is not losing matches. It is the burning frustration that glaring deficiencies are not even acknowledged, let alone rectified.
Pundits, punters, the old lady next door – everyone can see that Arsenal have lacked resolve and resilience for the best part of a decade. That, for all the pretty patterns and rapier counters, the Gunners are softer than a six-pack of Andrex.
Supporters crave the signing of a Gunnery Sergeant Hartman to dole out discipline and brook no backchat. Yet every summer brings a new influx of pint-sized technicians. Wenger, meanwhile, sticks his head in the sand.
Carvalhal has different issues but the same basic problem. His Wednesday side are obdurate, all right. Only six Championship sides have conceded fewer.
They can battle. They can scrap. What they cannot do – and have rarely done since 2016 – is entertain.
For all the talent at Wednesday’s disposal, attacks are pedestrian and predictable. Matches attritional. Bar the injured Fernando Forestieri, nobody has the pace or wizardry to unlock a door.
Carvalhal does not have 100 per cent control over recruitment, so he cannot be held entirely culpable for the patent lack of speed or invention.
He does, however, control tactics and ethos. And that is the root cause of every Owls fan’s frustration.
Take, for instance, Carvalhal’s comments after the grim 0-0 stalemate at Reading. “We put out a team that was good and competent,” he said. “Our plan was to try to block Reading’s game in the first half and, in the second half, try to win the match. We did what we had to do. We blocked Reading’s dynamic and the game was very tactical.” Block Reading’s game? This is a side with a £20m strike force and ex-Premier League players all over the park. Fans don’t want to see their team running like gazelles or curled up like hedgehogs. They want to see them tearing into opponents like hungry dogs. Very much like the team across the city, in fact. Without being antagonistic, Sheffield United are everything the Owls aren’t right now. Bold, attacking, willing to yield to no opponent, no matter how mighty. Man-for-man, their players are no match for Wednesday’s but their approach mitigates all weakness. In their case, fortune has favoured the brave. Even when it didn’t, in the 5-4 defeat at home to Fulham, their supporters left Bramall Lane happy.
That kind of all-guns-blazing abandon is what every Hillsborough regular demands – and it is nothing to do with personnel. Yet Carvalhal persists with talk of tactics and dynamics. Direct questions about stodgy football are met with irritation, denial and coaching gobbledegook. Like Wenger, he retains much goodwill among supporters. But, like Wenger, he is squandering it by refusing to listen, to change the system, to do something that demonstrates he understands the frustration. Unlike Wenger, the point of no return has not been passed. But the tipping point is approaching and, unless he takes the handbrake off, Carvalhal will find himself wedged miserably between owners unwilling to end his torment and fans who want him out.