I don’t hear Arsene Wenger these days. On the whole, he seems like a reasonable man: genial, good-humoured, obviously intelligent. I’m willing to bet that he’s excellent company at a dinner party once he’s sunk a couple of glasses of decent claret. But should he ever have the good fortune to be invited chez moi, he’s going to have to speak up to make himself heard. It all sounds like the same nonsense to me.
Still, on a day in which Martin Samuel had a longish comment piece printed in the Mail in which he gets stuck into Barcelona as the preening, holier-than-thou stuffed shirts of European football, it’s also worth pointing out that M. Wenger can do a pretty decent job of mimicking the blaugrana’s tune. Why don’t teams play the way we want them to play? It doesn’t seem fair. We spend months developing our pretty, intricate little triangles. But do you stand around admiring them, as is your duty and our god-given right? Do you make the effort to stand stock-still in the centre circle to let us bamboozle you with our brilliance? Do you balls.
Now, Arsene didn’t tread that particular ground this week, but as I watched Arsenal play Chelsea on Sunday, I couldn’t help thinking that Barcelona were the perfect way to prepare for this encounter. Arsenal are a sort of Barca-lite: they have the neat interplay, the studied possession style, the patience to wait until the right opportunity presents itself. What they don’t have is a single player comparable to Messi, or even Henry, so it should have come as a surprise to precisely no one that a Hiddink-organised Chelsea were able to resist their attacks until the game was more or less beyond doubt.
Back to Arsene. Today it’s Drogba, a man who is certainly divisive in terms of how people see his performances. Rehashing all that’s been said about the big man would takes ages, so let’s take all that as read and move on to the actual quote.
“We live in a league now where the divers are rewarded. It’s not right but it is like that.”
Well, yes, except that’s not strictly true, is it? After all, I only saw one flagrant dive in the whole game and, while that did come from an African striker, he was wearing the red and white of Arsenal. And Adebayor was pretty lucky not to have been booked for it. I know plenty of Arsenal fans who are sick of their lanky Togolese, who still seems convinced that the one decent season he put in for Arsenal somehow entitles him to a squillion pounds a week. I’ve also heard them compare him to Drogba, which does strike me as a little far-fetched. If Drogba dives, you know about it. He rolls. He moans. He waves his arms around, sometimes has to be carried off, and limps back on with an agonised expression on his features, only to break into an astonishing sprint to chest yet another 60-yard pass down and lay it off to a midfielder.
Adebayor, by contrast, sits around for a bit and then smilingly lopes off, presumably with one eye on that nice apartment near the Duomo and a guide to Milan’s 3-star restaurants in his back pocket.
There are those who say that this will be Drogba’s last season in England, or at least at Chelsea. Mind you, they said that last year. If it turns out to be true, though, you opposition fans are going to miss him. The papers are going to miss him. You can laugh at pantomime villains like Paul Dickov or Robbie Savage because, when it comes right down to it, they’re crap. Drogba, on the other hand, can take on most of a back four on his own, and come out with the ball, and shoot from 30 yards, and score headers and tap-ins, and do all of it on a pretty consistent basis. Like him or not, his passing will deprive the English game of one of the rarest things in the world: a true target man with touch, power and finishing. At the moment, I can’t think of another one in Europe who really compares to him. If you can, I’d like to hear about it.