The Grass Is Always Greener
When one takes a distance from the prescient views of football fans, the consensus of opinions can provide you with some interesting dichotomies. With Arsenal`s season limping to an anti climactic conclusion, thoughts are already turning towards the transfer market. I`ve discussed at length on many occasions for my distaste of the silly season, it seems to me to be the time when the sirens wail and the nutters come out of hibernation. Maybe it`s because I was raised on the match day experience that the peripheral activities don`t pique my interest nearly as much, the game doesn`t exist to me in anything close to as meaningful a way without the pungent whiff of fried onions and horse shit in my nostrils and the eerie married vibration of footsteps and chattering that permeates the walk to the ground. But reading the plaudits that have been deservedly pouring in for Roy Hodgson and Fulham this morning really got me thinking.
Whilst many Arsenal fans will spend the summer getting RSI as they type their wish lists out in lugubrious detail, I got to reflecting on the lessons of the season. If one was to conduct a crude straw poll of which opposition managers Arsenal fans have the most respect for, I would wager Hodgson, Moyes and O`Neill would be recurring names. Many will continue to make corollary links between transfer spending versus future projections of success, yet the congruous link between the managers most of us admire are plain to see. All three are excellent coaches. I think we as a fan base through the prism of over familiarity have lost sight of the fact that this is what we most admire about our own manager. We inhabit a microwave culture built in instant gratification, Championship Manager and music careers so short that any act allowed the privilege of releasing a second studio album usually uses that opportunity to release a greatest hits. Hardly the best breeding ground to recognise the more gradually realised arts of football management. But the ongoing success of the aforementioned has driven the point home for me more than ever. In my line of work, allied with trying economic conditions, phrases such as "talent management" and "developing internal resource" are mainstays of an average day.
All three of the aforementioned managers, along with our own manager, tend to approach the transfer market with studied cool- in the case of Moyes and Hodgson this is almost certainly borne out of necessity. But having to cut their cloth accordingly has brought their bigger qualities to the fore. Hodgson is a prime example, since taking over a Fulham side seemingly destined for a limp relegation in December 2007; the playing staff has not altered beyond recognition. He has approached the transfer market once or twice to make some astute and rather cheap signings- very few of which have caused major waves, Damien Duff being possibly the only really recognised addition. He has been spend thrift with low key acquisitions such as Brede Hangeland and Mark Schwarzer- but I would wager there weren`t many Fulham fans lining the streets in expectation when they were paraded in SW6. Hogdson`s great success has not been with his cheque book so much as his abilities on the training pitch, coaching previously derided or underwhelming players such as Zamora, Dempsey and Dickson Etuhu and moulding them into better players than they were prior to Hodgson`s tenure.
At this point, I am minded of a quote from Arsene Wenger which a lot of Arsenal fans appear to have missed. Many contend that Wenger is destined for a role "upstairs" at Arsenal in the near future. I personally could not see him filling such a perfunctory role in a million years. When asked on the Arsene`s XI DVD what his favourite thing about being a manager was, he replied with a smirk, "I love the grass." The likes of Hodgson, Moyes and O`Neill really earn their corn on much the same terms. Whilst I often dismiss Harry Redknapp as a purely cheque book manager, even I must admit hat the improvement in players such as Gareth Bale and Huerelho Gomes cannot be an apocryphal coincidence. It will have not escaped the attention of most that the likes of Alex Song, Nicklas Bendtner and even Cesc Fabregas (who lest we forget only turns 23 this weekend) have improved immeasurably this year, but I think the tendency is for us to dismiss that progression as entirely a by product of age. That isn`t strictly true, a great deal of hard work goes into these players, the efforts of the coaching staff genuflected back to them by the players themselves. Improvement does of course come with advanced years, but a player`s talent is like a seed, without attention and the nutrition of hard work, it doesn`t grow. So while it is undoubtedly important that we do enter the market this summer, let us look at the managers in the league who owe their longevity and widespread admiration to the work they do on the grass and hope that most of Arsenal`s desired improvements are sought after on the training pitch and not just the transfer market.LD.