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Should Ralph Have Been Sold?

I would like to preface this article by thanking Laureno Bisame Etame Mayer for his contribution to our success over recent times. Lauren was a solid, dependable right back, a bedrock of our unbeaten season and a refreshingly selfless player in an age of inflated egos and equally gargantuan wage packets. Ralph was the type of full back, indeed the type of player, every side needs. A reliable seven out of ten type, you always knew what you were going to get. His no nonsense approach, together with his infamous 'thousand yard stare' made him a favourite of mine. I always felt he should have been our regular penalty taker, he had a composure about him from the spot. The arch skill of waiting for the goalkeeper to move before selecting placement. Of course, he became famous for his daisy cutter past Kasey Keller in a tempestuous North London derby, but equally impressive were his conversions at White Hart Lane and his top corner effort in the 2005 Cup Final shoot out. Lauren has only missed one penalty in his entire career, including spot kicks in an African Nations Cup Final and vital qualifiers. Indeed, had he not retired from the international game (to concentrate on the Gunners no less) so early, Pierre Wome may have been spared the agony of missing a last minute kick which ultimately put the Ivory Coast into the World Cup.

I am also delighted that he chose a resurgent Pompey over West Ham. Portsmouth are a historically unglamorous club, but under the guidance of Harry Reknapp they are establishing themselves as a top eight side on a meteoric rise, and Harry has been shrewd as ever in the transfer market by accruing experienced players such as Campbell, Kanu, James and Cole to facilitate the continuing development of Taylor, O'Neil and Davis. The choice was typical of Lauren, substance over style. The question is, with many experienced and erstwhile pros such as Lauren having left our ranks over the years, will the decision to let him leave prove to be a perspicacious one?

Having lost Pires, Bergkamp, Campbell, Vieira, Edu, Cole and Cygan in the last eighteen months, with Freddie to follow in the summer, one might argue that we could do with Lauren's nous in a squad of fledglings. Who better to advise the fledglings Hoyte, Eboue and Gilbert in the rigours of right full back? My answer here, as I am sure Wenger's would be, is he prepared to take a role of this ilk? Afterall, he is still only thirty. Knowing Wenger to be the humanitarian he is, the other question is would he deserve this? After giving us such unstinting service, thrusting aside his national team for our cause, would it be fair to usher him into the background? I do not think so. With the rise of Eboue and the steadfast improvement from Hoyte, he could not be a guaranteed first choice and Wenger obviously believes he has sufficient cover in that position to let Lauren go and play first team football. When your assistant manager is Pat Rice, one is not inclined to worry over who will counsel the young right backs.

I felt back in the summer, that we may see Lauren deployed in a holding midfield role. This is where he began his Arsenal career and turned in some marked displays, in particular the 2001 F.A Cup Semi Final against Tottenham where he ran the show. His experience, calmness and above all, his fiesty tackling will have aided and abetted our lightweight midfield. However, with Diaby fully fit again and Denilson looking impressive, one has to question just how long you can stunt the development of young talent. Wenger has proved equally ruthless before, not allowing reputation or sentiment to dictate his policy. The second Vieira's performances began to dip, he was sold to make way for the impudent Fabregas. As Wrighty's legs faded, his Cup Final place was surrendered to Anelka and Wreh. Overmars' season of apathy resulted in a swift sale to Barcelona. Now it is worthwhile pointing out that Lauren's performances have not dipped tangibly in our eyes. However, having undergone serious knee surgery, which nearly cost Lauren his career, would he come back the same player? 29 is a horrible time to fall victim to such an injury, (which was once again obtained by a year or so of playing through the pain barrier for the cause) and his pace, not to mention propensity towards the tackle, may have been greatly compromised.

Wenger will have observed Lauren closely on the training ground, and if he feels Lauren cannot be the same player, he is in a much better position to make that call than you or I. It is sometimes difficult for us as football fans, to imagine that the players we eulogise about are human and capable of fallability. We do not want to believe that Vieira's heart was not in it anymore, that Ian Wright was too old for the top level, that Dennis Bergkamp's limbs were creaking, that Pires could not command a first team place any longer, so we refuse to believe it. But these are the facts, and the manager must not allow teary eyed sentiment to cloud his better judgement. I also refer you to his decisions to take Lehmann and Henry out of the firing line, Wenger may seem to be the friend of the players', but he has a ruthless side that is exercised much more subtly than Mourinho's press whining about how crap his youth team is or Ferguson's 'get out and stay out' approaches. In the long term, we have Emmanuel Eboue who has all the potential to be the best right back in the world (afterall, Gary Neville's getting on a bit) and Hoyte is turning into an able deputy. Is it really worth compromising Eboue's development?

The other factor people seem not to be considering is the contractual element. Ralph's contract expires in June and we may not be in a position to renew his terms if we do not have assurances about his long term fitness. I believe he may have been offered a one year deal, but did not want to take it. For the player, it makes much more sense to take a two and a half year deal where he can get first team football, and still at a high level, than take a year at Arsenal where he may find himself out of favour anyway. It would have been wrong for Wenger to stand in his way, and it would have been equally unsagacious for Lauren to take that route. All in all, as sad as it is to see him depart, this is a move that suits all parties. As fans, it is acceptable for us to be sentimental, but the management must not succumb to such folly. One of Wenger's great maxims is that he alway looks forward, not back. He is driven by the future. I feel most fans are a little melancholy to see the 'invincibles' dismantled so quickly. But ultimately, it is not prudent to deny the wave of the future, nor is it just to deny the wishes of a player. Cheers Ralph, all the best. LD.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday January 19 2007

Time: 1:43PM

Your Comments

Nice work Tim, good to see the club do what was best for the player. I'm sure the truth is somewhere between your last two paragraphs and they have rewarded a good servant by letting him go and secure his future.
FatOldDave
Great article. He was definitely a favorite of mine, personally I would have liked to see him stay. But I would like to thank him for all the great desire and 150% committment he always showed. Favourite moments: 1. Old trafford bust up, that stare is a Killer. 2. Penalty against spuds. 3. FA Cup goal against Chelsea at theirs.
Harry671
A great player. Wish him the best for his Pompey future.
getintoem
Excellent stuff LD. I share the same opinion and with Wenger being ever so studious about players and their physical capabilities - I have no doubt he knows what he is doing. Did the same with a certain Vieira. I hate pieces like the one Myles Palmer did. As far as staff who can pass on experience to the youngsters, I believe that both Mr. Keown and perhaps Mr. Bould will be able to offer some advice. Also, this move could bolster the chances of Gilbert having a go at Hoyte's and Eboue's status. There is another rumour though, saying that Lauren and several other African-born players had fake birth certificates made when they were younger i.e. meaning they were older than what it says in their passports. Just wonder, if that was true, Wenger would probably know and it would be a reason more to release him.
G4L
Myles Palmer has always been a pretentious, self righteous twunt. Best ignored.
Little Dutch
Great article LD. Sad to see him go, but as you say there's no room for sentimentality if you're a top flight manager. My only problem with it is (and I posted this somewhere earlier) Pompey are only 5 points behind us at the moment and all it'll take is a few dodgy games for us and Lauren to give them more stability at the back (especially playing alongside Sol) and they could nick our Champs League place. Good luck to him anyway, I'll miss him.
scooch
Looks like the Spuds have a buy into the next round of the WAFFA Cup. Feyenoord have been thrown out. If that was us they'd be accusing us of corruption.
Little Dutch
very sad to see him leave, the dismantaling of the invincibles has happend at an unbelievable rate and it seems strange just lehmann ljungberg and henry remain, when you see the likes of scholes, giggs, neville and the like still in the united team comanding first team places, hopefully the team we are building at the moment can become as good as the invincibles and last longer than them also at that level, heres to the future !!
hazzagooner
really wonder why they got thrown out ? as for lauren, i am not sure if it is the right move, i know he wants games, and i would of thought he would of brought us a bit of steel in that position, still wenger knows and all that , so i have faith in our manager, he hasn't been wrong too many times.
PUREGOLD
yes, what an achievement for the spuds! It is the Coca Cola League of Europe and they get a bye. Misery loves company.
G4L
Feyenoord were thrown out for having intelligent supporters. Much alike their (now) former opponents.
G4L
spurs will have to play another team ... will play the team who finished behind feyenoord in the group stages .... either way it will b as good as a buy .... but sure they will manage a way to F*&^ it up lmao
Achilles
i'm suprised he didn't go to a big club in spain, he can still easily play at a top club, and he could have gone to liverpool, he is anyday better than lucas o'neil. anyways good luck to him and hope he and pompey can finish fourth and above liverpool..
luckys_10
No, Hoyte is too crap of a back up. Now we don't have any good back up left or right back
thenry009
hoyte is improving alot.
hazzagooner
Great article LD. presented both sides of the picture nicely. I agree, as I see a lot of gooners here do, that is the best move for both parties. I think Eboue is a fantastic talent and brings more offensively than Lauren did, though his defensive skills need improvement. Having said that, Lauren has been absolutely magnificent for us, and its sad to see him go. i wish him well. and scooch, i dont think we should be that concerned abt pompey - sure they're good, but a UEFA cup place would be an achievement for them. We should be aiming higher and worrying abt ManU and Chelski.
prits
i dont care ***** plyer
Adilsking
i think hoyte has improved, but also agree we need a better player as back up, personally i am not convinced with Eboue, i think he dives and tries to cheat officials and i don't like that.
PUREGOLD
 

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