I’ve spoken a number of times in the past about other sports in the U.S, specifically the NFL and NHL. I’ve touched on the rejuvenation of the Washington Redskins following their selection of Robert Griffin III in the 2012 draft, and up until recently both he and head coach Mike Shanahan were untouchables in DC. That has changed significantly over the past week or so, or at least in Shanahan’s case.
The Redskins were up 14-0 in their wild card game with the Seattle Seahawks and Griffin was looking far from his normal self following a knee injury a few weeks prior. The team were winning, had a very capable backup quarterback in Kirk Cousins and should have hooked Griffin and saved him to fight another day. That wasn’t to be, Shanahan kept his star quarterback in the game — Griffin later claimed that he wanted to continue playing — and twisted his knee in a gut-wrenching way following a poor snap. The player has since undergone surgery and will be out of action for the next eight months, perhaps even longer.
Robert Griffin should be looked at as a gift handed down to a struggling NFL franchise, a player who had lifted an entire fan base and has since become one of my favourite athletes in sport. Rivalries aside, you’d be extremely hard-pressed to find any NFL fan who doesn’t have some form of admiration for Robert Griffin III. Right now, we really don’t know how much he’ll play next season, we don’t know if his game will have to be drastically altered due to the effects of the surgery on his knee. It’s also worth pointing out that he is only 22.
The point is, up until that game with Seattle, coach Shanahan was a legend around DC, he could leave the house without his wallet and be guaranteed a free dinner. Following the game, however, everyone has broken out to heavily criticise him, whether it be fans, media or anyone who has even the slightest interest on the matter; hell, there have been figures in the White House who have parted with a great deal of criticism for Shanahan. If the tide can turn so quickly on one coach or a team, why should football managers be any different, specifically Arsene Wenger?
The problem with the issue of criticising Wenger is that it is often misinterpreted as unrelenting disrespect. Those who look to question his methods are seen as anti-Wenger or — and this is a really shameful tag to give fans who have a right to form their own opinions — spoilt, unappreciative brats.
That’s not the case at all. Why should any sports team, manager or player be exempt from criticism? What kind of unhealthy atmosphere does it build if everyone sticks their head in the ground and convinces themselves that everything is ok? Just as in the case of the Washington Redskins, fans have every right to be critical of Shanahan’s decision to leave Griffin in the game, but it doesn’t take away their appreciation for what has been one of the most uplifting seasons in years.
Wenger brought a great deal of success to Arsenal in the first half of his time at the club, but does that give him unlimited chances to put the ship right now? Should he be given unlimited chances?
But even before that question or similar questions are answered, it’s again necessary to tackle the idea that so many fans won’t allow that kind of discussion to crop up.
I thought the banner that was shown at Reading a few weeks ago was distasteful and out-of-place. It doesn’t, however, mean those fans aren’t entitled to that view, it doesn’t make them any less fans than someone with contrasting opinions, and it certainly doesn’t mean they should be marginalised and told to go and support another team.
It’s the view of almost every Arsenal fan that Wenger has taken the club forward by a great distance, while also ensuring the long-term safety of the club. He’s set up a good youth system with excellent facilities, has generated plenty of cash and has brought Champions League football to Highbury and the Emirates every season. So if the club are in such a healthy state, one which is sure to outlast Wenger’s tenure with Arsenal, why is it then assumed that no one else can come in and do a better or even equal job? Why is it assumed that the walls will crumble as soon as Wenger leaves the building for good?
I don’t need to list all the managers on the continent who I believe are doing a better job at the moment under much more strenuous conditions, but a quick look over to foreign leagues will give a good indication. It’s not an unnecessary pop at Wenger, but it is a necessary call for constructive criticism to be acknowledged and not just brushed away as barbaric cursing. There are fans who will continue to call Wenger names, as well as many players in the squad, but the two are not related.
Constructive criticism comes in the form of questioning why Wenger and his scouts have been unable to identify the right player during this transfer window. For starters, shouldn’t targets have been identified well before the window opened? Criticism comes in the form of the way Wenger talks down to journalists and thus, indirectly, fans. It’s the assumption that those who have never managed can’t form an opinion. Those who haven’t managed can’t be critical because we don’t know what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence. Well if that’s the case, every music journalist, sports journalist, political journalist, and every other person in a similar field should just pack up and go home.
In a perfect world, Arsene Wenger would remain manager at Arsenal for many mores years and make up for the huge disappointments in recent seasons with a flurry of successes. In a perfect world, Wenger changes his ways and adapts to the modern game, taking his knowledge and applying it to the game now dominated by younger managers.
How far ahead of his peers could Wenger be if he mixed his traditional views with something more progressive? But that is a perfect and altogether unrealistic world. It’s a world where criticism will still be present, but they won’t be as justifiable as they are now.