Manchester United v Chelsea: match report

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Jose Mourinho produced a tactical masterclass. His side were smarter, sharper and more ruthless than their opponents in every department and showed fans and critics alike what he can do when the big matches roll round. The game in question here, though, was Chelsea’s 3-1 destruction of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United almost 12 years ago. On that day Mourinho enhanced his reputation further as Chelsea marched towards a record-breaking triumph in the Premier League.

 

12 years is a lifetime in football and this time, Mourinho seems like he is rebuilding his once unquestionable reputation. The Portuguese managed his best Man United game yet as he got the better of rival Antonio Conte in a feisty encounter. Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera got the goals in what turned out to be a convincing 2-0 victory at Old Trafford and perhaps gives new life to their top four ambitions as well as the title race.

 

The Special One sprung surprises on Easter Sunday choosing to leave star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench and lining up in a 4-2-2 set-up with Rashford and Jese Lingard up front. Ander Herrera was tasked with marrying himself to Eden Hazard – flashbacks of the F.A. Cup tie where the Spaniard was given his marching orders after a late challenge on the Belgian may have had Man United fans worried. Not so this time as the tenacious midfielder stuck to his task diligently and frustrated the Chelsea talisman in an all-action man of the match performance.

 

Mourinho’s men flew out of the traps at Old Trafford with the pace and understanding between Rashford and Lingard causing problems for the Chelsea back three. The game was not even ten minutes old when Herrera stole possession – questionably as big shouts for handball appeared to be justified – before sliding an excellent ball in behind for Rashford to chance and calmly finish. A goal move unable to materialise, perhaps, if Ibrahimovic was spearheading the attack.

 

Diego Costa, often the subject of many subplots throughout Mourinho’s time at Chelsea, yet has seemed more measured under Conte, showed his unsavoury side yet again. The brutish Spanish striker found himself embroiled in battles with United’s defensive duo Marcus Rojo and Eric Bailly. His frustrations earned him a yellow card after a late challenge on Pogba.

 

Chelsea looked unusually unfocused, drawn into Manchester United’s clever mind games and acts of street-smarts. The focus was so much lacking that Gary Cahill was more attentive in hauling Lingard up from the ground during the build up to Herrera doubling United’s advantage.

 

It took Chelsea 45 minutes to muster their first effort on goal albeit a frustrated lash from Costa.

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Whatever Conte’s half time message was to his flat Chelsea side at the forefront of it must have been not to concede another goal early in the second half. However, some three minutes into the second period they found themselves further behind. Chelsea failed to clear their lines once more and Ashley Young, who was given the captain’s armband for the occasion, drove into the Chelsea penalty area before another failed clearance fell to Herrera. The Spaniard, the beneficiary of two slices of good fortune after his alleged handball in the first half for his assist for Rashford’s goal, arrowed his shot through a crowd of players which ricocheted off player’s in blue shirts on its way past Asmir Begovic in the Chelsea goal.

 

Before the hour mark Conte attempted to turn the tide in this giant game of chess. Cesc Fabregas came on to offer much needed creativity in place of Victor Moses, asked to operate out of the other full-back position after a pre-game injury to Marcos Alonso.

 

Mourinho countered with a tactical change of his own, sacrificing pace for control, as he brought on Michael Carrick for Lingard. The switch left Rashford isolated but that did not stop the young England centre forward from hustling and bustling his was up front and making life uncomfortable for the Chelsea defenders.

 

N’golo Kante failed to get his usual grip in midfield, partly due to the excellence of Mauroane Fellaini and Herrera in midfield scurrying around refusing to give the Chelsea key players a moments rest. Matteo Darmian found himself handcuffed to Pedro on the other side of the field refusing to let the former Barcelona wide man find space to operate in.

 

Mourinho’s side could have filled their boots in truth, Rashford smashed an effort into the side netting and Young spurned two excellent chances from the edge of the area to inflict more misery onto Conte’s men. England manager Gareth Southgate was in the stands and will have been impressed with what he saw from the Manchester United English trio – especially in a new tactical set-up.

 

Rashford was brought off with just two minutes of time remaining to a standing ovation and allowed Ibrahimovic to get on in a cameo appearance.

 

Conte pleaded with his side to push forward in the closing stages but by that point United had become water tight, refusing to give an inch.

 

The final whistle brought with it a rapturous ovation, it was perhaps the most complete United performance since the days of Ferguson, and certainly the best day so far in Mourinho’s time as Man United manager. The former Chelsea boss could not have asked for much more in a week where his side have a vital away goal in the Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht capped off by a monumental league victory over what many believe to be the champions elect. Mourinho was at his meticulous best – substituting captain Young fully knowing it would take the winger-turned-full-back more time to exit the field due to him passing on the armband.

 

United fans chanted Mourinho’s name in unison clearly buoyed the masterful display. The same fans which were often sickened by Mourinho bringing his Chelsea teams to Old Trafford and furthering his reputation as The Special One now get to experience perhaps what is come down long road ahead.

A historic night for Barcelona but PSG’s mental frailties rear their ugly head again

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Sergi Roberto struck with virtually the last kick of the game sending Barcelona through to the last eight of the Champions League. Facing an impossible task of being 4-0 down to Paris Saint-Germain after the first leg and then facing a 5-3 deficit with just 28 minutes remaining Barca needed more than a miracle.

 

However, while the world will marvel at Barcelona’s three goals in the final seven minutes of the match, what should not be ignored is PSG’s mental frailties. It was on a plate for the French powerhouse and it seemed for all the world they would shatter their mental block with manager Unai Emery on the touchline. The former Sevilla manager was seen as the secret weapon to guiding PSG through the tie after going toe-to-toe with Barcelona many times when in charge in Seville.

 

However, it was not to be. Yet another cross examination will be carried out by PSG’s hierarchy on how this collection of extraordinary talented individuals cannot band together and dig in when they are required to.

 

The collapse against Luis Enrique’s side evoked memories of their 2014 capitulation against Chelsea in the quarter-finals. After winning the first leg commandingly 3-1, with Javier Pastore scoring in injury time to ‘all but put the tie beyond Chelsea’, the Parisians collapsed in London as Demba Ba netted an 87th minute strike to send Jose Mourinho’s side through on away goals.

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In 2013 Paris faced Barcelona in what would soon become a European rivalry. After Blaise Matuidi struck deep in injury time in the Parc des Princes to give PSG a fighting chance when heading back to the Nou Camp the French outfit then shrunk in the spotlight again. After taking the lead through Pastore the Catalans struck back through Pedro. The scoreline will forever read 1-1 and that Barca advance via the away goals rule but the reality paints a different picture, PSG were in control of the game – on a night when Lionel Messi was relegated to the bench, still recovering from a thigh injury. But when the chances came PSG could not take them and inevitably succumbed to Barcelona’s will.

 

This time the autopsy will take on a different manner. No team had ever come back from a 4-0 first leg deficit to emerge victorious in a Champions League tie. Trailing 3-0 it seemed Barca would at least take the game into extra time, and then the Nou Camp fell silent as Edinson Cavani expertly lashed his shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegan putting Paris Saint-Germain firmly back in control and only needing to resist for 28 more minutes with Barca requiring a trio of strikes to get through – even the most die-hard Catalan must have thought it was over. To go from 4-0 to 4-3 with an hour still to play is a collapse in its own right, but to then leave Messi and company needing another 3 goals after Cavani made it 3-1 on the night – and still lose- is a catastrophe like no other.

 

Emery’s stay in Paris may be a short one after domestic dominance is now being challenged with PSG chasing the pack, rather than setting the insurmountable pace, in Ligue 1 and being dumped out of Europe’s elite club competition in the most extraordinary fashion.

 

Perhaps such a failure felt inevitable, Barcelona have rarely felt like the team of five or six years ago, yet all week the players and their manager maintained unwavering faith: “If they can score four we can score six” remarked Enrique with Neymar adding “It is practically impossible. But we cannot give up.” Barca did not give up – in the week Luis Enrique told the press and his players he would be stepping down at the end of the season the miraculous turnaround felt like the players did it for their departing manager.

 

PSG by comparison felt like a 3-1 defeat would be job done, even 4-1 or 5-1. After all they had the all-important away goal and all that mattered was getting through the tie. After realising they were in a game after Messi’s penalty made it 3-0 on the night and had social media exploding with ‘they couldn’t, could they?’ PSG fell complacent – even conceited – after their star striker netted what should have been the final nail in Barcelona’s Champions League coffin.

 

The difference between the great and the very good were encapsulated in 185 pulsating minutes. Barcelona’s stars banned together as a true team refusing to give in – for PSG the questions once again musts be asked of leadership, selflessness and gut. It truly was a night of history for both teams, and for polarising reasons, one they shall both never forget.

 

Liverpool title chase a lost cause with a bad defence

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Saturday’s 3-2 home loss to Swansea saw Liverpool’s season in a microcosm. While breathtakingly entertaining, their weak backline became exposed. It’s the third time this season that The Reds have shipped three goals in a single game.

 

Jurgen Klopp’s side have already conceded 27 goals this season, more than five title winning sides conceded over a 38-game span. The average number of goals conceded by a title winning team is 32 and Liverpool are set to go over that number, probably by some distance.

 

Having based their recent title-tilts on attack over defence Klopp’s Liverpool is now facing the same problem as Brendan Rodgers’ did during their 2013/14 title charge. Liverpool conceded 50 goals that season while scoring an almighty 101. Winners City conceded 13 less while scoring an equally impressive 102 goals.

 

The Reds’ erratic defending has heaped pressure on their forwards. Starting as they meant to go on their opening day clash with Arsenal saw them roar into a 4-1 leading midway through the second half only to hang on for dear life as their defence capitulated allowing Arsenal to get the score back to 4-3 with just 15 minutes remaining. While many praised Liverpool for not buckling while The Gunners attempted to stage a great comeback the bigger issue at hand was that Liverpool could not go an entire season conceding at that level. Unfortunately, the issues that plagued them in August are still there in January.

 

Klopp has invested in his back line with the additions of centre-backs Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan as well as goalkeeper Loris Karius to provide competition for Simon Mignolet. While Matip shows signs he will develop into a very good centre half Estonian international Klavan remains a liability at the back. Klopp has turned to James Milner to help fix their problem at left-back with Alberto Moreno lacking positional sense. Neither Karius or Mignolet cuts a figure of a shot-stopper who can be the backbone of a title-winning side.

 

Only twice has a team lifted the Premier League when conceding at least 40 goals – Manchester United on both occasions. Liverpool have conceded at least 40 goals for six straight seasons and look odds on to make that reach seven.

 

Swashbuckling attack has never been an issue for Liverpool with them able to match the very best when going forward. Klopp has moulded an exciting array of firepower but what his side lacks when compared to front-runners Chelsea, and the great Manchester United sides of years gone by, is organisation at the back with solid defenders and a world class goalkeeper. For all their brilliance going forward the method simply is not sustainable.

 

Liverpool’s approach at times could often be labelled as chaotic – perhaps much like their brilliant German manager. Their attack so fast and furious the opposition can’t have a moment to breath, head-spinning speed and movement and in Saido Mane they have a forward with power as well as pace. Their chaos is a double-edged sword however, transferring to their backline where The Reds all too often scramble around making it painfully obvious that their organisation and communication is a huge weak spot.

 

For the next few transfer windows Klopp’s objective should be clear: get better defenders. Dejan Lovren has not recaptured his form which earned him a move to Liverpool from Southampton, James Milner, while having an outstanding season at full-back, is more there out of necessity due to Alberto Moreno’s ineffectiveness. Nathaniel Clyne has been solid in his right-back role and, along with Milner, is their most consistent performer in defence.

 

Klopp has certainly brought his “heavy metal” football to Anfield, his vision is starting to take shape to the joy of spectators but their lack of solid foundations at the back is what has always been, and continues to be, their undoing.

 

Can Bournemouth finish top ten?

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Bournemouth survived their maiden Premier League campaign by five points. Eddie Howe steered The Cherries to 16th place and did so having lost key players to devastating injuries. Record signing Tyrone Mings, striker Callum Wilson and winger Max Gradel all suffered season ending torn ACLs by September.

 

Last season was about survival for Bournemouth. They hit several icebergs on their voyage yet refused to be sank. Such icebergs included playing so openly against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs in back to back games – shipping ten goals in the process (a lot of seafaring analogies).

 

Howe’s side also dropped 14 points from winning positions with only Liverpool dropping more. Some very harsh lessons for the coastal outfit.

 

Their first year of being a Magikarp in a sea full of Gyarados saw them survive in an impressive manner. Now the question is: Can they push up the table? Can they in fact achieve a top ten finish in just their second season in the Premier League?

 

The proposal does not sound as preposterous when their season as a whole is put under the microscope. Bournemouth finished on 42 points, just eight behind Chelsea who finished tenth. Had Bournemouth collected those 14 aforementioned points they dropped from winning positions they would have placed an astonishing ninth. In context – if they manage to secure three more wins in the 2016/17 season they will crack the 50 point barrier and be well in the running for a top ten finish.

 

To do that, Howe will have to bring more joy to the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth triumphed just five times at home last season with eight losses including 1-0 defeats to now Championship sides Aston Villa and Newcastle United.

 

Howe is presented to many of us as England’s great new managerial hope. At just 38 years old and successfully managing in the Premier League many tip him for greatness. With such hype comes forgetfulness – we forget that he is still a very young manager with a lot to learn especially at such a high level. Howe’s arrow is pointing upwards but one area of improvement – as well as Bournemouth holding onto leads – is their need to turn games around after conceding the first goal. The Cherries collected a lowly four points when they were breached first.

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during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Leicester City at Vitality Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.

Howe will have much better personnel available to him when the season ambushes us in just over two weeks with Mings, Wilson and Gradel all available as well as the addition of exciting winger Jordan Ibe from Liverpool and engine room Lewis Cook from Leeds. That brings Bournemouth’s total of English players to 13 – for that reason alone we should all root for them to succeed.

 

The way to turning draws into wins and losses into draws is down to goals. Bournemouth lost six games by one goal last term. The firepower will be much improved with Ibe and Gradel supplying the ammunition for Wilson, Joshua King and January signing Benik Afobe to put away. The strikers will also have to come up with the goods as between the three of them they only managed to find the net 15 times combined. Afobe started well but soon tapered off as supply dried up and he failed to take the precious chances which fell to him.

 

Howe’s men found the net 45 times a very acceptable rate for a team looking to survive but if Bournemouth want to crack the top ten they will need more – but they are in pole position to score more with the added fire power.

 

While their number of goals scored must increase the number of goals they concede must decrease – by a lot. Only relegated Aston Villa conceded more than the 67 goals The Cherries shipped. Their central defensive partnership should be a pairing of Mings and the very capable Nathan Ake whom they have acquired on loan from Chelsea. Last season saw them lose five games by more than two goals including their October thrashings by Man City and Spurs.

 

To concede around 15 less goals would be a big ask but not an impossible one with the gain in experience and a reinforced defensive options.

 

Looking ahead to their season in 2016/17 Bournemouth open the season in difficult fashion. Starting at home to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United before travelling to West Ham’s new home hoping to crash their house warming party. They end August with a tricky trip to Crystal Palace.

 

Once the early season rust is out of the way October presents some very winnable fixtures for Howe’s squad with away days at Watford and Middlesbrough sandwiching a home clash with Hull City. Teams gunning for the top ten will need to collect at least six points from nine – a very achievable target for such a talented club.

 

December may be a month to batten down the hatches as a turbulent December lays in wait for the plucky underdogs. Bournemouth square off again champions Leicester, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, Liverpool and Southampton – who are undergoing their annual permanent trip to Merseyside. Bournemouth may consider themselves fortunate to collect one win from those games but have shown in the past that they can beat the big boys securing back to back December wins over Chelsea and Manchester United – albeit a very stale Chelsea and Man United.

The closing fixtures are much kinder to Bournemouth and present them with ample opportunity to push into the top ten. They face just two sides who finished in the top six last season – Spurs and Leicester both away – with very winnable games against promoted sides Burnley and Middlesbrough both having to visit the south coast.

 

The order is tall for Bournemouth to obtain a top ten finish but since Leicester ushered in an era of anything being possible the notion that the underdogs could rise into the top half of the table is not in the realms of fantasy. Like Leicester, Bournemouth have made a habit of defying the odds.

Koeman would usher in a new era of success for Everton

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during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary’s Stadium on May 15, 2016 in Southampton, England.

The Premier League has undergone quite the transformation over the past 12 months. New managers for Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have been brought in to compete with the most unlikely champions in Leicester City.

 

Everton look set to be the next team to join the revolution and have targeted Southampton manager Ronald Koeman as the man to lead them into a new age. The majority shareholder for Everton Farhad Moshiri is reportedly offering the Dutchman an annual salary of around £6m with a transfer war chest of £100m to kick start the Toffees’ revolution.

 

Should Koeman take the job he will no doubt be under enormous pressure to deliver but with the management he has shown in his two years in England so far he will no doubt be the prime candidate to succeed.

 

Much like Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham, Koeman is seeing his stock skyrocket after back to back impressive seasons and leading Southampton to their highest ever Premier League finish in sixth. The 53-year-old is now in his managerial prime to undertake a huge project – perhaps it is just a stepping stone but Everton are planning to strike when his stock is at it’s highest.

 

One of the key reasons former manager Roberto Martinez now finds himself on the unemployment line was his inability to coach defending. A stark contrast to the prime candidate for the job this time. Koeman’s Southampton conceded only 33 goals in 2014/15 season with only champions Chelsea, under the defensive mastermind Jose Mourinho, conceded less (32). In the same season Everton under Martinez shipped 50 goals.

 

While Martinez often brought swashbuckling attacking play to the blue half of Merseyside his imbalanced approach often ruffled the feathers of Everton supporters. Koeman by contrast presents a much more balanced mantra. In fact Southampton matched Everton for league goals scored last season while also conceding 14 less than The Toffees. And in 2014/15 Koeman’s Saints side netted 54 times in contrast to the 48 the supposed attacking Martinez’s team scored.

 

The statistics are on Koeman’s side but what else is on his side is his strong man management style. Martinez often presented the picture of a nice man but not a strong personality which may dry up and wilt like an malnourished sunflower if the heat got too intense for him. The 53-year-old was a well respected player playing for some of the world’s biggest clubs and has developed his management style into one which is now equally as respected as his playing career was. Having dealt with some of the biggest clubs in the countries he’s worked in: Benfica, Ajax, Valencia to name a few the former Barcelona player has experience in dealing with huge egos and big personalities. Perhaps something Martinez could not cope with as he tried to man manage the likes of Romelu Lukaku.

 

Koeman is a straight talker with the press and hard on his players but loves them at the same time. Martinez could often cut the figure of a parent making excuses for their naughty child while Koeman will make his squad accountable for their actions – a trait all winning managers must and do have.

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during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Southampton at Britannia Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.

Should the former Feyenoord head coach take up the reins at Everton he may well be faced with another revolving door situation in terms of personnel. A joking tweet sent in the pre season of 2014 with nothing but cones laid out on the field was a tongue in cheek reaction perhaps to the mass exodus that had occurred at St. Mary’s Stadium. Yet even with £100m to spend he may have to yet again stable the ship should key members of the squad uproot and leave.

 

Lukaku, John Stones and Ross Barkley are the three key players linked with moves away from Goodison Park. With other important members such as Seamus Coleman, Gerard Deulofeu and James McCarthy also being linked with moves away from the club.

 

Part of the thinking in Everton wanting Koeman has to be his ability to keep a squad competitive despite losing key players. The hope will be that this is the last summer Everton will be pressured to sell key players with this new era being ushered in. Over Koeman’s time at Southampton so far he has been has seen eight of his key players leave and has just kept making astute signings and blending them together expertly.

 

Southampton made around £90m from the sales of: Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Calum Chambers, Ricky Lambert and Dejan Lovren in the summer of 2014. Many clubs often squander the vast amounts of money they get from transfers – Tottenham wasted a lot of the £85m they received for Gareth Bale and Liverpool’s use of the fee they received for Luis Suarez is still very questionable.

 

Koeman is an astute businessman as well as a sound tactician and good man manager. No doubt a potential raid on his current employers would be on the cards if he swapped red and white for blue. With so many big changes to the playing squad almost certain to happen perhaps Koeman’s first task will be to simply stabilise Everton for one season before kicking in the turbo.

 

Martinez took Everton as far as he could get them. Attacking football and two domestic cup semi-finals showed what he can do. However with such a huge financial injection coming The Toffees’ way it seems the time is now for a change and to break the glass ceiling which is winning silverware that so far has eluded them. While Koeman is yet to taste any silverware of his own in England he has a chance to wave in a era littered with finals and cups – perhaps Premier League contenders in four or five years. A huge project is in the offing in Merseyside and there is no doubt that should Koeman oversee such a large project he will succeed.

The Inside Story Of Arsenal Under Wenger: A book review

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It has taken a while for me to finally finish the Arsene Wenger biography written by Daily Mirror Chief Football Writer John Cross. It has not been for the lack of great tales or nostalgia bait but simply due to a hectic schedule. However After powering through the second half of the book in a night and a half here we are, a review of the book at last.

 

While I have read several books centred around Arsenal in the past (see my review of Thierry Henry’s biography Lonely At The Top) This is the first one I’ve read that gave me almost an all access look into press conferences with Wenger, away day journeys to all kinds of places with all manner of interesting tales and tensions behind the scenes. As an aspiring sports journalist myself it was genuinely mind-blowing.

 

I think my biggest take-away from the book was Wenger’s emotion. Having worked in a few sporting environments by now I am well aware that what is said in front of pressing BBC or Sky Sports cameras is not always the prevailing feeling away from the prying eyes. However, throughout the book there are constant tales of Wenger’s emotions playing a part in his press conferences, interviews with the newspapers, his players – past and present, board members and rival managers. Wenger is very much a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. His outbursts on the touchline and in the immediate post match interviews have mellowed in recent years and long gone are the days of explosive scenes and quotes like the ones given in 2005 in response to an interview Sir Alex Ferguson gave with the Independent. Wenger lashed out saying:

I have no diplomatic relations with him. What I don’t understand is that he does what he wants and you [the press] are all at his feet. The managers have a responsibility to protect the game before the game. But in England you are only punished for what you say after the game.

 

There are of course examples of Wenger’s emotion being seen in a joyous occasion and you don’t have to dig far into his Arsenal career archives to find it. When referee Lee Probert sounded off his whistle for the final time at Wembley on Saturday May 17th what washed over Wenger was relief as well as champagne. As Cross put it: “Wenger celebrated like never before. The players tried to soak him in champagne and then almost the entire squad lifted him up and threw him in the air.” His emotions make up a large part of Wenger’s DNA as manager of Arsenal and Cross details the Frenchman’s feelings expertly throughout the biography. When Wenger receives abuse from the stands while he looks oblivious to it all Cross makes it clear that he can hear it and it does hurt him to hear fans react so viciously when things are not going well on the pitch. One emotion that rarely crops up, and is therefore much more noticeable when it does, is anger. The two instances that stick out in the book are when his years at Monaco are explored and in 1993 they were consistently finishing second best to Marseille only for southern France team to be embroiled in a match-fixing scandal. The book details how Wenger felt betrayed by the Marseille hierarchy as well as officials and opposing players too. The other instance, which is chilling to the bone when reading the pages, is that Wenger faced a media storm when rumours about his private life started to circulate. Cross, via an interview with then press officer Clare Tomlinson, recalls how angry Wenger was:

All I remember is his reaction. I remember him going very still, very white. He was furious. It wasn’t like a Fergie red mist – he went white cold, just disgust, and I often wonder how close he was to just going outside, getting in a taxi and going back to Heathrow and giving up.

 

While many managers loath the press the book depicts Wenger as a man who enjoys their company, will crack a joke, offer sharp-tongued quips in response to questions and is even sharp when responding to text messages from more trusted members of the media. Throughout the chapters we see his relationship with the media get increasingly frosty especially when Arsenal and Wenger where under the cosh for: their lack of silverware, his future and big players leaving for rivals. However in his early days as the boss at Arsenal Wenger was often jovial with the media – even after disappointing results. After a 1-1 draw to Middlesbrough in 1998 Cross inserts a Wenger quip: ‘If you eat caviar every day, it’s difficult to return to sausages.’ Such a result today has often prompted the Frenchman to give longwinded answers about togetherness, to keep fighting and so on. Yet in this instance Cross paints the picture of a man who was under no pressure from the fans or media after the wonders he worked with the Gunners in such a short space of time. His caviar vs. sausages comparison is the type of one-liner that became synonymous with Wenger amongst the press however such humour in public dwindled as the years went by, swapped out for answers drawn out of tension or annoyance – especially when being pressed to respond to comments made by one Jose Mourinho. It’s a fantastic look into the mindset of one of the Premier League’s most respected managers.

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Throughout the book Cross writes about Wenger’s interests away from football. Politics, culture and business are all hot topics Wenger enjoys discussing at length and in terms of culture Wenger enjoys engrossing himself in the culture of whichever country he is in. This has been evident since he started managing in England but it was something he learned in his early days the slender, well spoken manager embraced the culture of Japan and what Japanese football brought with it as Cross explains:

Japan seemed to reinvigorated Wenger and, in a rather understated way, seemed to help shape the way he is today. His experience there, the adulation of the fans, helped him realise the importance of embracing the culture of the country you are in, thus preparing him for his transformation into an adopted Englishman.

 

Details of the move to the Emirates has always been well documented in the public eye. Yet what Cross writes so poignantly about is how the move to their new home in 2006 took the best years of Wenger’s managerial career. The book mentions clubs such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich trying to charm Wenger away from the Gunners during their baron spell. How would Wenger’s CV look had he taken one of the no doubt lucrative offers? When reading about the sums of money available, the measures taken to help pay off the £390m stadium and how the stress and boardroom unrest you get a real sense of overachievement on Wenger’s part and in hindsight – while the lack of trophies was an obvious frustration – a top four finish was often a remarkable feat considering the revolving door nature of the squad from 2006. The penny pinching did see Wenger lose out on key targets such as Gary Cahill as Cross explains that in the summer of 2011 when Arsenal refused to pay over six million for the England defender only for Cahill to join arch-rivals Chelsea six months later for just one millions more. Nobody knows what Arsenal’s squad could have looked like and achieved had Wenger been prepared to pay the extra million here and there but finishing fourth under such restrictions has to be seen as a success, to a degree at least, especially as Arsenal’s purse strings were forced to tighten around the same time Chelsea were becoming free spending. According to Cross, former vice-chairman of Arsenal and a close personal friend of Wenger said: “He had arrived, parked his tanks on his lawn and was firing £50 notes.” The expert detail in which Cross delves into Arsenal’s move to the Emirates and their finances paints a real picture of constantly fighting an uphill battle in every transfer window when it came to keeping hold of their star players as well as recruiting.

 

Wenger has always spoken about bringing players through the Arsenal academy. Nurturing young talent and giving them a platform to develop has always been one of Wenger’s top priorities and not just on the pitch but in life. The book articulates Wenger as a father figure who cares about the future of young players away from the football pitch. Cross writes about a Q&A seminar in 2013 while in Japan in which the Arsenal manager answered willingly and insightfully about all things football. When quizzed about nurturing young talent this was his response: “I believe one of the best things about managing people is that we can influence lives in a positive way. That’s basically what a manager is about. When I can do that, I am very happy.” It’s a common thread through the book that Wenger is always striving to win but wants the club to produce players that are not afraid to express themselves and will give any young player the chance if he thinks they are ready.

 

While so many clubs are obsessed by instant success and buying ready made superstars Wenger has moulded Arsenal into a club that will develop not just football players but young men. Throughout the book Cross writes about how Wenger is a very well liked man and how no players ever leave the club on bad terms with him. Such is the nature of Wenger that for many of the young, fragile players – many of them experiencing an entirely new culture for the first time – he doubles up as a father figure to them. Through listening, wisdom and protection from the media Wenger builds strong bonds with budding players who get the ultimate backing from a manger who has the upmost faith in their ability. Perhaps the most written phrase in the entire book is: “He is a very nice man.” Out of the wide range of ex players Cross interviewed about the Arsenal manager it is a common occurrence. This explains why it hurts Wenger even more when he has to sell players such as Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry as he developed almost a father-son relationship with them watching them blossom from a rough-round-the-edges, enthusiastic starlet turn into a match winning superstar. 

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There are 389 excellent pages about one of the most complex men ever to grace the Premier League. Themes such as his discomfort when dealing with confrontation thus creating a feeling of disillusionment towards his players are often countered with honest interviews with respected members of Arsenal’s past saying he always made them feel involved and appreciated. While managers will often dictate the nature of half time team talks Wenger is a man who would rarely be heavily involved, often leaving the players to discuss it amongst themselves before delivering a concise message about how they play for the rest of the game. There is much more I could write about the book discussing how Wenger enjoys attending international tournaments and soaking up the culture or how he truly believes in his squad using a sports phycologist but the best tale I can tell is the one I endured of nostalgia, intrigue and remarkable discoveries. Over his 20 years of management we have all seen and got accustomed to Wenger the football manager but Wenger the man is a subject so brilliantly dissected that a much rounder image of the man as a whole is formed. Emotions are a large part of Wenger’s make-up while an unshakeable belief in his player’s and his own ability is what keeps him firmly at the helm of the north London club.

Weekly roundup

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

Victories for Anthony Joshua, claiming the IBF world heavyweight championship, and Danny Willett at the Masters, being the first Englishman to win the title in 20 years, capped off an excellent week of sport. Here is your weekly roundup.

 

Tuesday saw the return of the Champions League as Barcelona came from behind to beat 10-man Atletico 2-1. Fernando Torres gave them the lead before getting himself sent off for two bookable offences. Luis Suarez then scored a brace to give Barca a slender advantage.

 

An Arturo Vidal header inside the opening two minutes was enough to see Bayern Munich beat Benfica 1-0 at the Allianz Arena in a game which saw soon to be Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola take charge of his 150th game as Bayern Munich manager.

 

On Wednesday Manchester City took on PSG in France in City’s first ever Champions League quarter-final. Joe Hart saved a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty as City claimed an impressive 2-2 draw at the Parc des Prince. Ibrahimovic would later get on the score sheet but not before Kevin De Bryune had opened the scoring for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. Adrien Rabiot gave the French champions the lead before Fernandinho struck in the 72nd minute to put Man City in a strong position to qualify.

 

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during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City at Parc des Princes on April 6, 2016 in Paris, France.

Elsewhere the shock of the round came when Wolfsburg defeated Real Madrid 2-0 in Germany. Two goals in the first half from Ricardo Rodriguez and Maxi Arnold were enough to take down Cristiano Ronaldo and company who came into the game fresh off the back of their El Clasico victory at the Nou Camp.

 

Catalans Dragons fired an emphatic warning to the rest of Super League on Thursday as they dominated Hull KR from the first whistle and cruised to a 40-0 win at the KC Lightstream Stadium. Catalans ran in seven tries with five different scorers, Jodie Broughton getting a brace.

 

In darts Phil Taylor became the man to beat as he collected four points to move three points clear at the top of the Betway Premier League. The Power played twice on the night first dismantling an out-of-sorts Gary Anderson 7-3 before resisting a late James Wade charge to beat ‘The Machine’ 7-4. Earlier in the night Wade was in focused form as he defeated Raymond van Barneveld 7-4. Robert Thornton made Michael van Gerwen sweat as he valiantly fought back from 5-1 down to go within one leg of snatching a point. Ultimately the ‘Green Machine’ kept his nerve to run out a 7-5 winner, his first victory in three weeks.

 

Hull FC added to the Huddersfield Giants’ misery on Friday as they defeated the Giants 37-20 at the KC Stadium. The game was finely poised at half time with Hull holding just a two point lead over Paul Anderson’s men, 18-16, before a second half flurry saw off Huddersfield – who are still at the foot of the Super League table.

 

Elsewhere St. Helens beat the Warrington Wolves, 22-25, in one of the games of the season at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. Saints had to resist a barnstorming comeback from the Wolves as they lead by 11 with just eight minutes left. However Warrington fought to the death with two tries in the last six minutes left Saints clinging on for victory.

 

Saturday saw Anthony Joshua crowned the IBF heavyweight champion as he stopped American ‘Prince Charles’ Martin in the second round. Joshua floored the champion twice in the second as he caught Martin with a thunderous right hand. Joshua came down to the ring in white robes paying tribute to his hero Muhammad Ali and now looks set for a date with Tyson Fury as their rivalry heats up.

 

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

Saturday also saw Andy Carroll fire a hat-trick as West Ham came from 2-0 down to draw 3-3 with Arsenal. The Gunner’s faint title hopes were completely extinguished as they relied on a Laurent Koscienly header to rescue a point.

 

Newcastle’s survival hopes now hang by a thread as they lost 3-1 to Southampton. Crystal Palace finally halted their rotten run of form with a hard fought 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Norwich City.

 

Bournemouth all but officially relegated Aston Villa as they beat the Villains 2-1 at Villa Park. Elsewhere Swansea beat Chelsea 1-0 as Gylfi Sigurdsson’s goal ended Guus Hiddink’s 15-game unbeaten run. Manchester City came from behind to defeat West Brom 2-1 in the evening kick off with Samir Nasri scoring the winner just after the hour mark. Meanwhile Watford and Everton shared the points in a 1-1 draw.

 

The weekend was capped off with Danny Willett becoming the first Englishman to win the Masters in 20 years. Willett capitalised on favourite Jordan Spieth’s meltdown on the 12th to claim his maiden major title at Augusta.

 

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during the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia.

Sunday saw Leicester City move closer to an incredible title triumph as they downed Sunderland 2-0. Jamie Vardy scored a brace to end his seven match goal drought as The Foxes briefly moved 10 points clear.

 

Tottenham Hotspur then closed the gap back down to seven points as three goals in six minutes saw them complete a comfortable 3-0 victory over Manchester United and dent their top four hopes. Goals from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela kept Spurs just in the title race.

 

Liverpool thrashed Stoke City 4-1 at Anfield to leapfrog their opponent into eighth place. Super sub Divock Origi scored twice after Alberto Moreno and Daniel Sturridge goals sandwiched a Bojan strike for the visitors.