LONDON – Arsene Wenger admitted that it was “a dream” to watch the F.A. Cup final when he was a kid.
“The players had their hair well combed and the managers were relaxed at that time — they joked together on the bench. It was one of the competitions you could watch in black and white on television,” said Wenger.
It is tempting to say the last time Arsenal won a trophy TV was still in black and white. For Arsenal fans, the nine years seems like 90 and it is a mounting statistic Wenger, his players and supporters want to end Saturday when the Gunners play Hull City in the F.A. Cup final at Wembley.
Arsenal is a clear favorite, just as it was in the 2011 League Cup final when it lost to Birmingham, while it needed a penalty shootout to overcome last year’s winners, Wigan, in this season’s F.A. Cup semifinal. Arsenal also lost the 2007 League Cup final to Chelsea and the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona.
Jose Mourinho called Wenger a “specialist in failure” though the Portuguese specialist in sarcasm has won nothing for two years so he, too, is learning how to fail.
Wenger is aware of the perils of knockout football and that in a one-off game the dreams of the underdog often come true.
“If you are in the F.A. Cup everyone can dream of winning it at the start of the season, while in the Premier League only seven clubs can dream of winning it. Last year Wigan won the F.A. Cup, this year you had Sheffield United in the semifinals and that kind of dream (is) open to everybody,” Wenger stated.
“In the Premier League we know the biggest budget will win it. That open dream is what makes the F.A. Cup special in football.”
Hull manager Steve Bruce won the F.A. Cup three times as a player with Manchester United, but the Tigers will need every break and every bit of luck if the biggest game in their 110-year history is to have a happy ending.
Bruce said: “For a club like ours to take on the mighty Arsenal just has a fantastic ring to it. That’s what the F.A. Cup’s all about. We must be rank outsiders, but that’s the beauty of the F.A. Cup. That’s what we saw last year. Manchester City were huge favorites and Wigan have come up and won the thing.
“That’s why, for me, it’s the greatest competition. There’s always been shocks. It’s a one-off game. Of course, Arsenal are favorites, but everybody enjoys a shock. If you’re not an Arsenal fan, I’m sure the rest of the world will be rooting for Hull.”
Wenger’s biggest selection dilemma is whether to choose Wojciech Szczesny or fellow Pole Lukasz Fabianski as the Wembley goalkeeper.
Fabianski has played in the F.A. Cup ties, but is out of contract this summer and wants to move to play regular first-team football.
It would be a fitting farewell for Fabianski if he helped the club win the cup in his last game, though Arsenal supporters would not care if Mesut Ozil played in goal as long as it wins and ends the trophy drought.
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NOT FOR THE first, and certainly not the last, time a high-ranking football official has found what he considered private words thrust into the public domain. The latest is Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League who sent emails containing crude, sexist comments to personal friends.
A former temporary P.A., who under the agreement of anonymity, told/sold (take your pick) a Sunday tabloid the contents which at best were laddish, but at worst were offensive and inappropriate remarks particularly from someone in a position of authority.
Scudamore has apologized for his “error in judgment” but like anyone in his situation, his main sorrow is for being caught out.
He said they were private emails “received from and sent to my private and confidential email address, which a temporary employee who was with the organization for only a matter of weeks, should not have accessed and was under no instruction to do so.”
The former temporary P.A. claimed his emails were forwarded to her so that she could manage his diary. I am not a techno-wizard so I am unsure how emails are forwarded without that person’s consent, but it is worth pointing out that in England it is illegal to access someone’s emails without permission under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
However, there are also suggestions that the emails were in fact sent from a Premier League account.
The plot thickens.
Inevitably there have been calls, even from government ministers, for Scudamore, who has been hugely successful in his job and is one of the most influential figures in English football, to resign.
F.A. chairman Greg Dyke said: “In terms of F.A. disciplinary policy we, as the F.A., could have considered taking action had Mr. Scudamore’s statements been made in the public arena. We do, however, consider the content of the emails to be totally inappropriate.
“But our policy has always been that we do not consider something stated in a private email communication to amount to professional misconduct.”
Can private emails be considered any different to texts and recorded conversations the victim was unaware of?
Last year, former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott, made a CBE for his services to equality and diversity in football, had no option than to resign from all his roles within the F.A. when a text sent to ex-Charlton teammate Richard Rufus containing the N-word was made public.
The pair were involved in a dispute over a business deal and the F.A. chairman at the time, David Bernstein, said: “The use of discriminatory language is unacceptable, regardless of context. It made Paul’s position untenable.”
Four years ago Lord Triesman resigned as chairman of the F.A. after a female colleague from the world of politics taped a conversation between the pair about the potential 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts and passed it on to a usually generous Sunday newspaper. He said: “Entrapment, especially by a friend, is an unpleasant experience.”
While not condoning what Scudamore wrote, if a whistleblower has financial inducement, then the motives can be doubted.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.