Wise up, Car­los, and let­the­hand­brake­off

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

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.

Dis­ci­pline

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.

Ir­ri­ta­tion

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.

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