Des Kelly: Arsene Wenger needs a cup - not a glass of wine!

25 September 2010 03:19
Now I don't want to spring this on you suddenly; you may even want to take a seat before you read on, but I have had a glass of wine with Arsene Wenger. Maybe two.

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I know. Extraordinary, isn't it? At the time they seemed agreeable but fairly unremarkable moments in history, but I've recently revised that view after hearing a Premier League manager complain for what must be the 4,257th time that the Arsenal manager always snubs the offer of a sociable drink.

I now realise our shared bottle of Chablis was a stupendously rare event, like being challenged to an arm wrestling contest by the Dalai Lama or stumbling on two pandas mating at the exact moment Halley's Comet reappears in the sky.

Pointing the finger: Sam Allardyce and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger struggle to see eye-to-eye

Wine with Wenger just doesn't happen. Ask Sam Allardyce. The poor bloke has been uncorking bottles in his office for 11 years following Arsenal matches only to be left to drink alone.

'When I first met Wenger, I was really looking forward to it,' he says. 'But all I got was a handshake. No more.' (What, no ticker-tape parade? No flags?)

'I have given up inviting him for a glass of wine because I know he won't come.'

It brings to mind that scene in the film The Damned United where Brian Clough lays out his best glasses and an expensive bottle, waiting to entertain Don Revie in a bid to impress him with his knowledge and hospitality - only for the Leeds United boss to breeze straight out the door without so much as a backward glance.

Today's managers grumble that Wenger performs this snub on a weekly basis. Some gripe with good humour, like Steve Bruce, while others appear genuinely insulted by the perceived slight.

Here's Allardyce again: 'British coaches see it as an unwritten rule that, no matter what, they pop in and see the manager after the game. He's never been the type of man to do that, but if that is Arsene's way, then I respect it,' he added, making it clear he was doing nothing of the sort.

The underlying message here is that the Frenchman is aloof, arrogant, and far too haughty to lower himself to sup with bosses from this country.

So is that clear everyone? Wenger would never dare discuss football over a drink with a British manager after a game. Oh, hang on. Didn't Ian Holloway have something to say on this a couple of weeks ago?

'It was great to sit down with Arsene and talk football for a few minutes after the game,' said the Blackpool boss.

'He had a glass of wine, I had a beer, and he was lovely to talk to. As well as being someone who I hugely admire, he is simply a very nice man, a total gentleman. He is quietly spoken, very thoughtful and was very complimentary about us, despite the scoreline.'

Perhaps the Blackpool boss could give Allardyce a call and tell him about it? Of course, it is always easy to share a drink with someone you have just thrashed 6-0, but that does not take into account the fact that Holloway is an honest and gracious man himself, or that he is essentially right.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Big Sam's rant over Wenger is like Brian Clough's (played by actor Michael Sheen) disappointment after Don Revie's post-match snub in the film The Damned United

Wenger is very good company. He is not aloof, remotely snotty or even the deluded eccentric some would have you believe. I've had lunch and dinner with him in Switzerland, I've interviewed him at length and we've worked together at various corporate events. Throughout, the Arsenal manager has always been erudite and engaging, and equipped with a surprisingly sharp sense of humour.

Yet, he still inspires a great deal of antipathy among his fellow managers, which brings us on to what skipping that glass of wine actually represents.

The thing the really rankles is Wenger's disdain for their 'manager's club'. He won't fall in line with their traditions of bonhomie and clink glasses with Allardyce, Bruce, Stoke City's Tony Pulis and latterly Owen Coyle after a match, especially if he has a justifiable axe to grind about violent tackles or unfair tactics.

When Wenger pointed out that the Spurs goalkeeper was being blatantly blocked off by Stoke's Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross 'like rugby', he was spot on.

Blackburn were at it with El-Hadji Diouf against Fulham as well. After these basic set-piece ruses were exposed, Allardyce decided it was down to a southern conspiracy while Pulis had his club fire off a laughable formal complaint, copied to the Football Association. Sour grapes, I believe.

What is it with managers and wine, anyway? In every pre-match interview, experienced bosses seem to morph into pseudo sommeliers and agonise over whether the red wine they have bought for their visiting counterpart is decent enough. It has become a badge of bogus sophistication.

'So what if my centre half just kicked your winger over the advertising hoardings and put him out of the game for three months, I think you'll appreciate this robust Margaux.'

Calm down: Blackpool manager Ian Holloway is full of praise for Wenger

Now I enjoy a glass of plonk and appreciate some of the finer things in life, but I draw the line at wine bores.

I lose the will to live waiting as they hold the contents of their glass up to the light, slosh it around, sniff, frown, slosh it about a bit more, sniff again, frown deeper, scrutinise the label, pretend they understand it, and then finally take a sip and nod that it has somehow miraculously passed their rigorous vetting procedure.

While this is taking place, I usually find I have time for a quick beer.

Ask any manager what they thought of Pesquera a few years back and they'd have said he had a decent left foot. Now, they know it is 'laden with crushed and macerated summer berry fruits, with delightful rich nuances of chocolate and spice'.

This is because it is one of Sir Alex Ferguson's favourite red wines. The Manchester United manager certainly seems to be the main beneficiary of all these trips to the posh section at the local off licence.

So much so that Coyle, a lifelong teetotaller, sent out for two bottles of the finest red for the United boss before a match last season and then promptly stuck them in the fridge, much to Ferguson's contempt.

Maybe that's what Wenger is doing wrong? It's not as if the French know anything about wine, is it?

Rich tastes: Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson

Of course his real problem is not the lack of a relationship he has with a gang of rival managers or the quality of the vino, it is the failure to produce a team that can equal the quality of his past vintages, most notably the 2004 Invincibles.

Yes, Arsenal play a delightful passing game and the Gunners boss says his achievement of keeping the club in among the elite during the stadium move should not be overlooked, but they still fall short when tested at the highest level.

Jose Mourinho, in between sending bottles to Fergie, got to the heart of the matter with one shot at the spittoon.

He said: 'Year after year with Arsenal it looks like they will do something, but no. It looks like they will again - but no. And always the same type of comment:

"It's a young team, it will be next season, it will be next season".'

There have been too many next seasons, too many failed harvests. That is why Wenger is so animated on the touchline; that is why he is pushing fourth officials and behaving like a 'nutter' as Harry Redknapp jokingly puts it.

He knows he can bang on about football being art for as long as he likes, but you don't get any medals for being 'in the top eight of the UEFA index' and it infuriates him.

Winning trophies and titles ends all arguments and debate and the first big test of those credentials this season takes place when Wenger sends out his side to face Chelsea next weekend.

He deserves some return on his admirable principles, but should Arsenal fail once more it might be time to hit the bottle.

 Delhi may be smelly but let's get goingIf you believed all the travellers' tales from India, every visitor either spends the entire time stoned or marooned on the toilet with chronic diarrhoea.

In charge: Delhi state Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit

Having seen the state of the Commonwealth Games facilities in Delhi it was tempting to accept the backpacker stereotype was closer to the truth than one might care to imagine.

A situation not helped by the fact that the Chief Minister supposedly'in charge' of this farce was the unfortunately named Sheila Dikshit.

But India is a chaotic place at the best of times. While I am not belittling the scale of the mess, or the panic in the recent clean-up measures, in a few days there is a very serious possibility that the Games will begin and everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Most major sporting events always have last-minute dramas and cock-ups yet, by hook or by crook, they are resolved.

Now the athletes are arriving, the event will take shape amid the bedlam.

Labouring on: Indian labourers work in front of the Lawn Bowls venue at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium

'There's a lot of hysteria,' said multiple gold medal winner Steve Backley.

'The fuss is like Carry On Up The Khyber. But I competed twice in Delhi and had a ball. You're partly there to explore a different culture as well.

'My attitude is roll up your sleeves and get on with it. There's a job to be done.'

Quite. By next week, the likes of triple jumper Phillips Idowu and the Team Sky cyclists will be sat at home, watching the contests unfold on television, and wishing they had not been quite so quick to bail out on representing their country because of issues with 'hygiene'.

Let us hope so, anyway.

 The Nutty Professor! Stress has turned Wenger as crazy as the rest of us, says HarryWenger slams Allardyce's claims he tries to influence refs using the mediaScary and chaotic, but India's Commonwealth Games will go ahead


Source: Daily_Mail