MARTIN SAMUEL: Change the script if you want a happy ending, Arsene Wenger

22 April 2010 01:02
It is a pity that Arsene Wenger no longer goes to the pictures; he would rather like what he sees these days. Wenger needs a happy ending at his football club, but he is out of luck. The movie theatre is the only place where such dizzy optimism consistently prevails.

There are few happy endings in the Premier League any more. The powerful are victorious, the little guy gets crushed. In the cinema, it is different. We live in the age of the test audience, in which films are shown to sample groups who inform the studio how they would like the tale resolved. And we are simple folk. So the guy gets the girl, good triumphs over evil, the planet is saved and the best, the noblest, survive.

At the end of the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow - a film that does for climate science what Frankenstein did for heart surgery, according to paleoclimatologist William Hyde - billions are dead, Tokyo has been destroyed by hail, Los Angeles levelled by tornadoes, New York washed away by a tidal wave and the entire northern hemisphere buried in ice, but most of the film's main characters are alive, so that is all right.

Spoiler alert. The next paragraph will contain the endings to several movies, but only a piece of modern junk and two classics from almost 40 years ago. And if you haven't caught up with Chinatown or the original Get Carter yet, do not come whining to me.

A dark masterpiece like Chinatown, in which the villain gets away with murder, incestuous rape and corruption, and the hero, private investigator Jake Gittes, is rendered helpless by a crooked system, would not even get made these days. The same goes for Get Carter. The original ends with its viciously vengeful protagonist shot dead by a single rifle shot from an unnamed assassin on a desolate Northumbrian beach. Remade in 2000, it concludes with the same character rejecting a life of crime for a girl called Doreen, her name the only nod to its original northern grittiness. It is a wretched project. 

We expect this of Disney, tidying up some of Hans Christian Andersen's bitter-sweet moments so that the little mermaid gets to marry her prince, but adults should be able to handle a bit of sand in the ointment. Nahum Tate, an Irish author best known for the Christmas carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, tried to smooth out the wrinkles in Shakespeare as long ago as the 17th century, tagging a wedding between Cordelia and Edgar on to the end of King Lear, but thankfully his ideas never caught on.

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These days, of course, Shakespeare would be told to lighten up his tragedies so that Othello could be played by Eddie Murphy in a fat suit. The main problem in his marriage to Desdemona would be a cavalcade of embarrassing in-laws (also played by Murphy in a fat suit) and Iago would be re-imagined as a pinch-faced, waspish nosy neighbour, who grows to love the wacky Othello clan by the end.

So advanced is this desire to sanitise popular culture that the media even fell for the existence of an organisation called the Happy Endings Foundation a few years ago. It claimed to be a pressure group working towards brighter conclusions in children's literature but was revealed to be a hoax, a PR stunt by the publishers of the twisted Lemony Snicket series. Until that point it was plausible enough to have fooled several newspapers.

Maybe if the Happy Endings Foundation was real it would get hold of next year's football annuals and redraw the final Premier League table with Arsenal in first place.

This is, after all, what most neutrals want, surely? The team that Wenger has organically grown, dedicated to playing the most beautiful game, with a sustainable business plan approved by a professor of economics to triumph over the forces of the establishment, debt and owner interest. An Arsenal title win would be the happy ending the test audience demands and Wenger feels he deserves.

Sadly, sport is not like the movies. The bad guy wins; the hero ends up dead in the surf; the King loses his sanity; and Arsenal come third, again.

It has been six years since Arsenal won the league title, five since they won anything at all and there is no colourful, climatic wedding of art and silverware in sight. Not even the poorest Premier League of recent years has let Arsenal in and what Wenger needs is a script writer to jazz up the last scenes, so his team finish with a song and do not stuff it up against Wigan Athletic. .

  More from Martin Samuel. MARTIN SAMUEL: We are just one puff of dust from disaster (again)22/04/10 Martin Samuel at The Masters: Tiger's lack of control seeps into his game12/04/10 Martin Samuel: Nearly man Martin O'Neill is at the crossroads 11/04/10 Martin Samuel: Tiger Woods is back to business after a day of seduction09/04/10 Martin Samuel: Tiger laps up Augusta love - Woods back in the groove09/04/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: The game is up if a nutter knocks at your door.09/04/10 Martin Samuel: Master Jack Nicklaus teaches us to fall in love with golf again07/04/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: US can handle Tiger Woods' dirty sex, but it will never forgive dirty drugs06/04/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE This is not Hollywood, however. So, as impotent as the Gittes character in Chinatown, he rails instead against perceived injustices, as if a happy ending is Arsenal's entitlement. 'Chelsea's wage bill is not normal,' Wenger said at the weekend. 'It should not be allowed.'

Actually, Chelsea's wage bill is roughly £137million, placing it only £17m above Arsenal's, but what really angers Wenger is that Chelsea's outlay is underwritten by Roman Abramovich and not dependent upon money generated by the club. Wenger is a fierce advocate of financial fair play, because it will benefit Arsenal, yet on the other elitist anomalies of the modern game he is less radical.

He is proud, for instance, that Arsenal have been a Champions League club for 10 years despite winning nothing for half of that time and does not find it peculiar that until this season their UEFA coefficient was superior to Chelsea, who had won the league twice in that period.

The UEFA coefficient ratings present one of the biggest challenges to fair play in European football, because they reward what a club was as much as what it is, making it harder for newcomers and easier for the old established order.

Even if Tottenham Hotspur finished above Arsenal this season - and there is still that faint possibility - the way qualification around Europe stands, Tottenham would be in the third pot of Champions League seeds and Arsenal in the first (providing they made it through the preliminary stage).

Tottenham could, therefore, meet Barcelona and Roma, the current league leaders in Spain and Italy, while Arsenal would avoid many of the strongest clubs in Europe, including all four of this season's semi-finalists. As it is, Manchester City could win the Premier League next season and still have a UEFA coefficient rating lower than Middlesbrough.

For a mind so alive to football governance, Wenger is not at all vexed by this. Nor is he greatly bothered by the practice of filching teenagers from youth systems at Barcelona or Paris St Germain, of bringing in cheap labour from Africa or of South American players who enter the European transfer market on dubiously acquired EU passports.

Not that these random controversies, affecting Arsenal in recent years, make their methods vastly different to their rivals. It is more that in football, unlike films, the good guys and bad guys are rarely so clearly defined. It is all too easy for Wenger to depict Chelsea as the villains, but the cause of Arsenal's problems runs deeper than the salaries at Stamford Bridge.

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It is not Chelsea's fault that Arsenal's first choice goalkeeper, Manuel Almunia, is not among the top 10 in the Premier League and his understudy, Lukasz Fabianski, is not among the top 30. It is not Chelsea's doing that Wenger sold one of his best goal-scorers, Emmanuel Adebayor, to Manchester City in the summer and did not replace him. It is not down to Chelsea that Robin Van Persie cannot go a season without injury.

Wenger is not helping the script writers here. Some of Arsenal's misfortune, such as the injury to Aaron Ramsey and the virtual wipe-out of the forward line for several weeks, has been rank bad luck, but Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo were never going to be adequate cover for Van Persie, and so it has turned out.

Where once Wenger proved his critics wrong, now he makes them right. The goalkeepers were not up to it. The attack lacked depth.

Not every dissenter was without, either.

Andriy Arshavin said a year ago that Arsenal's squad needed less potential and more players 'ready to do it now'. 'Players like me,' he added. Arshavin was right, as were many others peddling a similar line.

And the sad fact is, we do not like being right about Arsenal. We want to be wrong. We want a team to win the league with youth and beauty. Hell, in unguarded moments, even Sir Alex Ferguson might occasionally want them to win it, too.

Wenger's beliefs appeal to the romantic in us all. We want the good guys to finish first, we want the best to prevail, we want the handsome hero to make it to the airport just before she gets on the plane.

Wenger might not know movies - asked to name a recent favourite he came up with The Deer Hunter, released in 1978 - but, like a test audience, he knows what he would like to see.

It is up to him to put it on the big screen, though. No pre-release showing is going to deliver a rewrite with an upbeat finish; boxoffice pressure alone cannot see off these villains.

The problems at Arsenal now are the same ones many identified before the season began, so Wenger will have to construct his own happy ending, edit his own script, if he is not to end up as bleakly frustrated with the modern game as the powerless Gittes was with the forces around him.

'Forget it, Jake,' his partner advises. 'It's Chinatown.'

 Zola the genius is flawed after allThe reinvention of Gianfranco Zola as a master of man-management on the back of a late draw at Everton and a home win over Sunderland was always destined to be short-lived.

Zola: TV appearance

Zola was credited with having inspired his players at West Ham United to this two-game revival having given them three days off following defeat by Stoke City on March 27. This would have been more impressive had it not been shaping up as the plan no matter what happened that day.

As it was, Zola used the time to return to his native Sardinia and, while there, recorded a television spot for the equal opportunities commission, urging parents to spend more time with their children.

It was a thoroughly decent act, as always with Zola, but not the sort of undertaking that can be arranged on the hoof.

Camera crews, sound men, lighting engineers, all need to be booked in advance. Zola could not have come up with this scheme in response to defeat at 5pm on Saturday. He would have been committed to the trip, and the recording, and gave the players time off as he would not be at the club.

So this was not some grand psychological ploy, but a succession of coincidences, and it was no surprise that normal service was resumed against Liverpool on Monday when West Ham looked utterly uninspired.

This is the danger in reading too much into insignificant events. If a team wins, everything the manager does is deemed to be insightful when, often, stuff just happens.



Source: Daily_Mail