There exists in England a newspaper called the Star. In fact there has been a newspaper in England called the Star for many years – but the current version of this paper is unlike any that has gone before it. The Star is not a newspaper in the true sense of the word. Part is true – it is printed on paper. But as for the other bit: ‘NEWS’ does not really have any part to play in the making of this newspaper at all. They make things up.
Most newspapers have editorial conferences where the leading planners in the paper sit around a big table and argue about the main stories and features of the next edition. They might talk about the collapse of the British economy, the danger of North Korea having a nuclear bomb, big stuff like that.
But not in the Star. For them the big stories are TV personalities, and people who are dead. This might sound morbid, but I have always thought that the Star would be the best place in the world to work, because their news conferences each day would be so funny.
“What’s tomorrow’s big headline?” shouts the editor.
“Elvis Presley found living in a London bus on the dark side of the Moon,” says a journalist.
“We did that last week,” says the editor. “There must be something new!”
“John Lennon is doing a comeback tour from his new base in Terra del Fuego,” says another.
“Possible, possible,” replies the editor. “But what about football, we must have some football!”
“Cesc Fabregas is going to Barcalona,” says a new reporter who hasn’t quite got the hang of everything yet. Everyone sniggers.
“No wait,” says the editor. “I have it. Liverpool are going to sign Eduardo!”
Now you might think this is an insane and stupid story. But it is true. It was run by several papers – and not only was the story in the paper, it was published the very day Eduardo signed a new long term contract with Arsenal!
In fact, football journalism is not quite as crazy as it might seem. You can do it if you want. You take a load of players names and write each one on a card. Put all the cards in one box. Now take another load of cards and write football clubs names on those cards. They go in another box.
Now you draw out cards at random and get Eduardo from the players box, and Liverpool from the club box, and that’s it. You have a story.
And better, it doesn’t matter what you wrote the day before, because the readers of these newspapers are so stupid that they can’t remember yesterday’s story.
“Denilson wanted by Real Madrid,” is a possible headline. (I just made that up but it could appear – and the fact that for 18 months every single paper in the Britain called Denilson not Pereiria Neves Denilson – which is his proper name – but “Lightweight Denilson” – endlessly suggesting he was useless. The fact that Wenger played Denilson more than any other player last season suggested merely that Wenger had ‘Lost It’ and no longer knew how to pick a team.
The fact is, when it comes to transfers, no one can ever predict Arsène Wenger. He never does what you expect him to do. We have a perfectly good right back called Eboue. Everyone says, we really must sign a new centre forward. So Wenger goes and buys another full back called Sagna (a man whom most of us have never heard of). Then he takes Eboue and plays him in midfield. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. “Play him as a Full-Back or not at all,” everyone in the crowd shouts. So Mr Wenger turns him into a Forward.
This is how it always is. Henry leaves. Surely Arsène will bring in a big name superstar striker. He brings in Eduardo, again a man without much of a reputation. The same is true over and over again. Which is why all the predictions in the press about Arsenal’s transfer dealings are so stupid. Mr Wenger never does the obvious.
When he first came to Arsenal, Arsène Wenger introduced three great revolutions. One was to change the diet and lifestyle of all our players. One was to say that we needed a new training arena – which we then built. And one was to introduce World-Wide Scouting.
It is this last revolution which has given us the exciting football we have seen. To begin with World-Wide Scouting was used to bring in players from around the world who were not known in Britain but could perform. Vieira was one of the first, and one of the greatest. Pires, Henry, Lauren, Ljunberg, Adebayor. When Wenger signed these players there was no competition for them. There were no articles in the press everyday linking them with Milan or Madrid, because no one was talking about them. He signed players we had never heard of – and then turned them into superstars.
But then having set up that approach he did something even more remarkable. He started up a second round of world-wide scouting with ever younger players, finding 16 year olds across the globe who could develop into the very best in the country. And behind that he started recruiting an 11 year old team. Last year as the under 18s they won the youth cup. They have been playing together for 6 years.
We all now know that Walcott is a great player, but when he signed, not everyone was sure. Except Wenger. When we signed Ramsey, or Vela, who really knew what they could produce on the pitch? No one, except Wenger. No other European manager would touch Vela because they knew how often he would have to fly back to Mexico to play for his country. But Wenger saw something so incredible in the young man, that he was willing to accept that disruption.
So it continues with Arsenal – and this is one of the great joys of watching Arsenal. You never quite know who you are going to see next. Not everyone works out. I thought Julio Baptista could have been a sensation – but he never really functioned. When I watched Lupoli in the reserves I thought he was Theirry Henry II. So what do I know?
Which makes me think, maybe I should be working for the Star today. I’d stop focussing on Liverpool buying Eduardo, but instead think maybe of Arsène Wenger’s next buy.
Wenger to buy 12 year old goalkeeper from Peru. “I see him as potentially a great winger,” says Arsène Wenger. That’s how I’d write it. And the chances are, even now and then, I’d be right.
Tony Attwood is editor of two daily blogs: UNTOLD ARSENAL – which is dedicated to telling the stories of Arsenal than no one else ever tells, and WOOLWICH ARSENAL which re-tells the Gunners’ daily history from 100 years ago. He is the Committee Member of Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association in charge of the Arsenal History project, a contributor to Highbury High, the Arsenal programme and the Official Arsenal.com biography of players, and the author of the novel MAKING THE ARSENAL which tells the story of 100 years ago through the eyes of a Fleet Street journalist. Details of Tony’s work can be found on www.emiratesstadium.info