Very few managers in the years of the Premiership have come under as much scrutiny as Arsene Wenger.
I have always liked Wenger. Even when he was giving out or moaning, he always had a bit more about him than many of the other top managers.
In his time at Arsenal he has won plenty. He delivered titles, cups, but most of all his teams entertained. They played the game with a bit of style and were easy on the eye. No route one, they passed the ball and scored some brilliant goals. Wenger to his credit gave youth their chance, sometimes under fierce criticism from his own supporters. But it was his way and he stood by his beliefs.
Last weekend he gave an interview with Sky’s Geoff Shreeves. He was pressed on many different issues about Arsenal this season and why they had run out of steam on the run-in. Like every other manager he bemoaned injuries to star players at vital times in the season and talked about the fixture congestion with having to play in the Champions League. Nothing new about any of that you might say, but it was when he was asked on his thoughts for Leicester City’s success the direction of the interview changed. He believed Leicester were an interesting case.
He talked about a theory that he had heard years previous where in order to reach the absolute utmost of your talent you need to suffer in life. He added that when you look at the careers of the Leicester players, not one of them walked the red carpet at 18 years of age to play Champions League. At one time or another, many of these players were rejected by one club or another.
In concluding on Leicester, he said Claudio Ranieri had found a great balance, hungry players who had a dream and they were ready to fight for that dream. Wenger also suggested that there was a lesson to be learned from the current session: while Leicester were not the best team for their passing or overall play, they had found a way. Their mental and battling qualities had brought them to the top.
Wenger’s thoughts say a lot about sport in general. While he questioned their ability to pass the ball, he never questioned their will to win. While he draws attention to the fact that many of the Leicester players might have been rejects or journey-men, they had, for one reason or another, bonded and their qualities, not only as players, but as men, had come to the top.
Very few managers, especially those under pressure in their own jobs, might have given such an insight into what they believed to be the reason behind Ranieri’s success this year. Leicester are now one win away from being crowned champions in a season where Chelsea, the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal have failed to reach the highs that everyone has come to expect.
Leicester are a team that only avoided relegation last season, and spent nothing in comparison to everyone else.
That a crowd of so-called rejects showed a bit of heart, hunger and no shortage of self-belief questions everything that we have come to believe about sport. We are told that teams can be prepared now to within an inch of perfection. Sport science gives us the opportunity to give players the best chance to be at their best every time they play. Huge amounts of money are invested into this idea. Soccer, rugby, hurling and Gaelic football have bought heavily into the idea, but yet one of the best managers of his generation practically pours cold water over that idea.
For the fourth year-in-a-row Dublin have lifted the Division One National Fooball League title. Dublin were always on top against Kerry and you always felt that if they wanted to move up a gear, they could do so at any time.
To be fair to Kerry they stayed with them for the hour, but with the sending off of Aidan O’Mahon,y their best chance seemed to have disappeared. Jim Gavin introduced a few fresh faces and they seemed to inject that bit of urgency that lifted the rest of the Dubs and they ran out easy winners.
While the National League started off with a bit of intensity and a couple of worthwhile games, it fizzled out like a summer shower. There seems to be this idea that in order to have any chance in winning the championship you cannot be seen to show your hand in the league. What escapes me is that the league is the best chance some teams may have to achieve success, yet some don’t bother their ass.
The spin doctors within the GAA tell us year after year of the importance of the league. Maybe next year they might send a reminder to some of the managers involved. The league needs to be revamped or changed in some way to give it more appeal and make it more enticing so teams will have a real go.
It’s not because Dublin won it again, but teams only seem to use it as preparation for the summer ahead and that just makes a joke of the league competition.