LONDON – “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” said Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL coach. Fair point, but you can be a gracious loser and still maintain the fire and passion that Lombardi had.
There are few less gracious losers in football than Arsene Wenger, a manager who has given Arsenal and the English game so many positives.
Sadly, it is not in his vocabulary to say: “Credit to the opposition, they deserved to win.” Arsenal is rarely beaten fair and square, it is someone else’s fault, usually a perceived inadequate referee, a dodgy offside decision or unsporting opponents, which is a bit rich from a manager whose teams have accumulated 100 red cards during his time in charge of Arsenal. Mind you, Wenger probably agreed with no more than eight of those dismissals.
Every side has been the recipient of harsh red cards and opponents who dive to gain a penalty. They have also benefited from the opposition being unfairly reduced to 10 men and generous penalties in their favor. Wenger only sees injustices against Arsenal and his latest wrath was directed at Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben after the Gunners’ Champions League exit, the Frenchman calling the winger “a great player and a very good diver as well.”
In Wenger’s opinion, a view shared only by rhe most one-eyed Arsenal fans, Robben dived to earn a penalty which saw Wojciech Szczesny sent-off at the Emirates and repeated this simulation when he was touched by Laurent Koscielny in the penalty area on Tuesday (ironically both penalties missed). The majority of observers believe the referees were correct on both occasions and while the Holland international needs only the slightest encouragement to hit the deck, FIFA guidelines are that it should only be deemed simulation if there is no contact.
Wenger is one of the most respected and innovative of managers, but he is also a serial post-match moaner, you just know that after an Arsenal defeat it won’t be its fault. He is not alone at only seeing his team as the victim, though some of Wenger’s defenses of the indefensible do little for his credibility.
In 2003, Robert Pires was guilty of one of the worst dives ever against Portsmouth, hooking a leg around one of Dejan Stefanovic’s to earn a penalty that saved Arsenal from defeat.
Wenger’s response? “It’s very difficult to say whether he touched him or not.” No Arsene, it’s very easy. He did.
Six years later, Emmanuel Eboue had fallen over as if hit by a truck instead of the slightest of touches to gain a penalty against Manchester United. Wenger said: “Sometimes players dive to escape being hit.
It’s not always necessarily diving because you want to dive. Sometimes it’s a way of getting out of the way. The borderline between being sensible, being shrewd or being a cheat is very slim so, in some cases, to assess which is which is very difficult.”
For Wenger, it is only difficult when one of his players is the diver.
After diving to earn a penalty against West Bromwich in 2012 Santi Cazorla said: “Sometimes you dive and yet it’s not something that should be a big controversy. It’s something that happens in football.”
In Wenger’s world, diving is only practiced by Arsenal’s opponents.
WHEN SIR ALEX Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United, his main ambition was “to knock Liverpool off their perch.”
Mission accomplished because when Ferguson retired last year United had overtaken Liverpool as the Champions of Champions with 20 titles compared to the Merseysiders’ 18.
United vs. Liverpool has become probably the most bitter rivalry in the Premier League and Sunday’s meeting at Old Trafford has so much riding on it for both teams it could easily carry an 18 certificate.
A United win would be huge for under-fire manager David Moyes, who is aware that defeat would give his growing army of critics even more ammunition.
Last season’s champions, who are sixth, are realistically chasing Tottenham for fifth place and a Europa League spot while Liverpool travel to Old Trafford to keep its unexpected title hopes intact.
No one believed Liverpool, which was seventh last season, would be in the title mix and any top-four finish would be seen as a success.
Equally, nobody foresaw the drop in United’s fortunes and finishing fifth would only be a bonus in the light of the team’s miserable form for so much of the season.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have 42 league goals between them, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have managed 22.
Liverpool, chasing its first title in 24 years, has not lost in its last six visits to Old Trafford while United has lost four times at home in the Premier League this season, a scenario that was almost unthinkable under Ferguson.
Liverpool’s record of seven wins and two draws this year has lifted Brendan Rodgers’ impressive side into second place, but Moyes can field his strongest attacking formation with Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj ready to supplement Rooney and van Persie.
THE HANG ‘EM HIGH brigade was quick to insist Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew should be sacked for head-butting Hull’s David Meyler (or to be more accurate, putting his forehead against the midfielder’s face).
It was disgraceful and unprofessional, Newcastle announcing within hours of the incident a £100,000 fine for its manager.
The Football Association this week handed Pardew a three-game stadium ban plus a seven-match touchline ban, the latter a non-punishment of making a manager watch the game from the directors box. The F.A. also fined Pardew £60,000 which means he is a total of £160,000 out of pocket for his moment of madness.
No court would have fined him that much so he was hardly let off with a slapped wrist, but managers are only shown the door after a string of poor results, losing is a sackable offense, you see.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.