Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday March 26 2008
As ever, when things are not going swimmingly, be it for a football team, a person or a political figure, the media will always attempt to create a storm. Any slightly negative story will be supplemented by a whirlwind of bullshit stories, the purpose of which are to sow a seed in your mind that reaps in doubt. It soon gets to a point where you cannot see the wood for the trees and distinguishing fabrication from fact can become a troublesome task, like untying some bastard knot in your MP3 player headphones. George Orwell it was who said, "The biggest struggle in life is seeing what`s on the end of your nose."
Usually, I would not give the tabloid press the time of day. But lately my bullshit-o-meter is going doolalley and I feel the need to recover a few truths. With Arsenal's current run of indifferent form, the mischief makers have been rolling in red and white muck all week. The target for their malleable affections appears to be Arsenal skipper William Gallas. With Pavlovian quiescence, people are beginning to ask questions of his leadership. It is not at all incorrect to do this. In times of strife, one looks to a leader and this is the type of pressure a captain has to surmount to undertake his duty effectively. But before judging Gallas, I feel it necessary to point a few things out. Firstly, the jury is still entirely out on his tantrum at St. Andrews. Personally, I don`t have much of a problem with it. Mitigating circumstances (Eduardo`s horrific injury, the grief of a good friend and team mate) may explain the manifestation of his disappointment. I don`t buy the line that Clichy needed an arm around his shoulder following the last minute penalty he so needlessly conceded. In fact, Gallas did not make any sort of gesture towards Clichy.
In any case, three weeks earlier, Gallas put an arm around Clichy following his error at Manchester City; the message obviously did not transmit. Not defending the penalty was madness and a sign that Gallas had completely lost his head. But the subsequent final whistle sit in did not trouble me greatly, for the last two seasons I had grown tired of having a media schooled captain, who larked around with his opposing number and smiled in defeat. The fact that we had a captain who damaged property and cried because we drew actually impressed me in a perverse way. Two seasons ago, following a meek defeat at Anfield, Henry picked up the ball, booted it into the away fans and stormed off the pitch. No questions were asked by a media all too fond of fawning over Henry. Diplomacy and effective press management does not make for good captaincy. Look at Steven Gerrard, this Sunday, one of his players was losing the plot and he was nowhere to be seen. (Gerrard has a habit of turning invisible against quality opponents). But Gerrard`s legendary media management means few questions have been asked. Similarly, Michael Owen has captained Newcastle throughout their miserable run of form and no questions have been asked of him either by an agenda driven media. (If Gallas had celebrated our victory in Milan by getting in a punch up in Faces, ask yourself what the media`s reaction would have been). The psychoanalytical media, armed with their copies of 'Civilisation and Its Discontents` did much collective chin scratching as to the psychological effects that Gallas` tantrum would have on his team. Well I was at the game and Gallas` sit in took place long after the players had trooped into the away dressing room, so his prone posture would not have even been visible to them but for a picture in the Sunday morning papers. Anyways, doubtless you`ll have your own interpretations of the incident and I can see the other side of the coin on this one; but I am more concerned that Gallas allowed Aliadiere space to open the scoring against Boro, or his misjudged header against Drogba on Sunday.
The latest gem to trickle forth from the orifice marked "news" has surrounded Gallas` pre match team talk on Sunday. "Did he just do that for the cameras?" enquired one of Billy`s legendary predecessors Tony Adams. Quite why Tone chose to get involved I am not sure, he seems to have distanced himself from the club significantly since his retirement, which he is perfectly entitled to do, I don`t share many supporters` grudge with him for that. But as Portsmouth`s Assistant Manager, I`m not sure why he feels the need to get involved. Anyone who attends our games will tell you that Gallas performs a pre match team talk in the warm up in every single game he plays, without exception. It has become ritualistic in the warm up. It`s quite amusing how nobody commented on this when we were winning games at a canter and riding high in the table. Yet now we find ourselves in a purple patch, this habitual occurrence has all of a sudden assumed some kind of seminal importance in our downfall. Gallas` Churchilian pastiche has become some kind of hubris. It`s symptomatic of the fact that while we were winning, Gallas` leadership skills were not remarked upon at all. That`s fine, but now by extension, it`s apparently all his fault that we can`t win for toffee. There is a massive burden on Gallas, in pre-season; the talk was of Gilberto and Lehmann being Gallas` deputies to form the experienced backbone of the side. Come mid August, Bert and Mad Jens have become persona non grata in the starting XI, leaving Gallas as the sole bastion of responsibility. It`s a burden he has shouldered manfully this campaign, but it`s very difficult for one man to usurp the fortunes of an underperforming side. Forgive me if I am beginning to resemble an apologist, but I think for Gallas to solely endure the flack for a team low in morale and low on form is a tad harsh to say the least.
The quote above from Adams emanates from a story in the Daily Mirror. The story begins by implying that Wenger is furious with Gallas for publicly conceding the title in the wake of Sunday`s defeat (the story offers no such quote). Yet, in the concluding paragraph of this journalistic masterpiece, the story goes on to say that Wenger is furious with Gallas for appearing unconcerned by the reverse at Stamford Bridge, "why should we worry? It will be difficult now, but there are seven games to go and we have to keep going." But hang on, at the beginning of the article, you said he had conceded the……….oh forget it. Stories have subsequently emerged that the team have lost faith in Gallas` abilities as a leader. One of the seeds of their discontent had apparently been Gallas` comments surrounding Theo Walcott in the build up to the Milan game. (Didn`t seem to affect their performance that night, oh I see, obviously it had a delayed reaction on the psychology of the team). This one I find most amusing of all. I was in Italy when this story broke and couldn`t quite fathom what people were talking about when I got home. In the Italian press, Gallas was reported to have lauded Walcott`s talent, exclaiming that he will be world class in a few years time. The part of the story the English gutter snipes picked out was a comment about how Theo needed to improve his left foot. Like I said earlier, wood for the trees.
A rather cynical friend of mine (you know who you are) questioned whether these "everybody hates Billy" stories had in fact been leaked by Gilberto`s agent, given that all of a sudden Gilberto is all over the official website dismissing the stories. (At the club`s behest perhaps). Now, I am one of the most cynical people you could wish to meet, but I absolutely honestly, and accuse me of naivety if you will, do not believe Gilberto would do that. If there`s a more consummate professional going, I`d like to see him. Gilberto has pointedly refused to discuss his future when questioned, even if his imminent departure is football`s worst kept secret. I may well be laying myself open to heartbreak, but Gilberto is a character I trust implicitly. To me this just has all the hallmarks of press mischief making. For further proof, see the Daily Mail`s report that Gallas has no friends at Arsenal. As a few posters have already pointed out, his comments were actually made in L`Equipe about players in the England set up he is friends with, hence the mention of Theo Walcott. Gallas isn`t the media sheen leader some seem to want, but it matters little how the media portray him or even whether he is a nice guy. While I have found it necessary to untangle a few media fallacies, it matters little how Billy comes across in the press. Henry was articulate and charming, the kind of guy you`d probably like to see your daughter with. He was also a great, great player. But he was a lousy captain. I felt for him a bit because leadership isn`t something you can learn, it`s there or it isn`t. Wenger should never have picked him and I think the attempts to get him to stay at Arsenal at the time of his appointment informed that decision. The only place to judge that leadership is on the pitch, not in the newsroom or on the front pages. For my money Gallas has been an awe inspiring leader for us, he organises the back four with an authority we previously lacked. His form appears to have deserted him recently more than his leadership skills, there honestly isn`t another player in our squad I`d have over him as skipper. Your own opinion may be different, just try not to sling shit spewing from other people`s orifices when judging him.LD.
Date:Wednesday March 26 2008
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