The present is always and has always been a conversation with the past. For Arsenal fans, Ramsey’s game is measured by the yard stick of our memories of the battles Ray Parlour and Patrick Vieira won in midfield; every through ball to Gervinho instantly invokes the image of Thierry Henry coolly latching onto the ball, and delicately dribbling around several defenders before placing a shot under Paul Robinson’s outstretched arms; and every header by Thomas Vermaelen stands in Sol Campbell’s rather ample shadow. It is no surprise then that Alisher Usmanov invoked two of the three men mentioned above in one brief interview yesterday as an opening salvo in a boardroom tussle for power at Arsenal.
There are a few Arsenal players whom I am in contact with and my favourite is probably Thierry Henry. Thierry should already be a part of the club but not as a player. He has another role to play, a more important role. Take the example of Patrick Vieira at Manchester City. He is also a symbol of Arsenal but he is helping another club. We have to avoid that happening with Thierry. The presence of a champion can radically change the feel of a team. That is what Thierry Henry showed last year when he came back to Arsenal. But I think that a comeback only succeeds once. That is why the decision whether to come back to Arsenal will only be made by Thierry himself.
The loss of Patrick Vieira to Manchester City is one which I felt most acutely because Vieira was and is my footballing hero. Yet as much as it hurt to see him sucked into their corporate shell I’ve come to grips with the fact that his signing for Man City was no more than a symbolic gesture on City’s part, it was something they needed to do because they don’t have any history. They needed a player of Patrick’s stature to add legitimacy to their championship aspirations.
That’s why Usmanov’s fumbling attempt to ingratiate himself with the Arsenal fans is so weird. Arsenal don’t need Henry at the club to give Arsenal the “presence of a champion” because the manager is a champion. Arsene Wenger was the mastermind of the Invincibles, what does Usmanov suppose Henry to do, come in to the changing room, smack some asses and say “see that guy? Arsene? You should listen to him, you should fight for him, you should sweat blood on the pitch for him. He went an entire season unbeaten. Now go out there and win one for the Gipper!”
Even if you were to say “other than Arsene Wenger” Arsenal already have the presence of champions. Go to any event, you’re likely to find Ray Parlour, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, and Martin Keown. Take a stadium tour, you can have Charlie George tell you all about the history of the club. That’s what makes Arsenal a special club, every present moment is a conversation with a past filled with silverware, champions, unbeatable records, and parades. And most of those who lived through that past are still at the club in one way or another.
But as much as I am making fun of Usmanov’s statement, I don’t disagree with the sentiment and have said as much here on this blog. I want Henry back at the club. Most of us want Henry back at Arsenal. I want him to get his 229th goal or even better 233 goals (another prime number). I want him to go to dinners and help Arsenal tap up some player. I want him in the locker room telling these snot-nosed brats that they should sweat blood for Arsene. And in my fantasy world, I want him to drill Gervinho and Cazorla on how to score goals.
I think the main difference is that my desire to see Henry back at Arsenal comes from being a massive fan of Henry and Arsenal. Whereas Usmanov’s statement comes across more like the opening salvo in a public relations war to wrest control of the board from Stan Kroenke. It’s probably no coincidence that Usmanov’s interview with L’Equipe hit the papers on the same day that Lady Nina took to twitter to have a conversation with her own history and admit regret that she sold her shares to Stan Kroenke.
It was an amazing several hours on twitter last night. I had a hard time getting any work done as Arsenal, a club once renown for beautiful football, soiled herself with a soap opera tale of boardroom intrigue.
If you don’t already know, the Arsenal boardroom has been highly dysfunctional for about a decade. And apparently, the original fallout was between Dein and the man he brought to Arsenal, Danny Fiszman. Whatever happened between the two it was a highly charged personal fallout. Not about the direction of the club, or about whether Arsenal would play at Wembley as I have supposed in the past, but rather something personal. The board sided with Fiszman, Dein was sacked, and Lady Nina was kicked off the board as well later when she became “difficult” to deal with (read: disagreed with Fiszman).
But oddly, despite being sacked by Fiszman’s board, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith sided with them when the moment of truth presented itself and became the kingmaker. Her shares were the deciding factor in Stan Kroenke’s takeover of Arsenal when she not only decided to sell them but also to eschew further enrichment (to the not insubstantial tune of around £13m) and refuse to sell to Alisher Usmanov. It’s important to remember that when Kroenke launched the takeover none of the shareholders were forced to sell. They chose to do so of their own volition. Lady Nina pocketed £116m in the transaction for shares she inherited, the inclusion of that fact will now have me accused of being “anti-rich people.”
And now, Lady Nina regrets selling her shares and has taken to basically calling Stan Kroenke “not the right sort of owner” saying that he’s only in it for the money and that he doesn’t love Arsenal. You can read the tweets on her timeline. It’s an extraordinary conversation with her past self, opened for the world to see.
But her regrets don’t change anything and they ring hollow and self-serving. She is claiming that Kroenke sold her some vision of the club and has now reneged on that promise. Perhaps, though we won’t know for sure unless she tells us specifically what the promises were and why she sold to him when she didn’t need to (she claims it wasn’t about the money, they she was wealthy enough). And she has had a while to mull it over and now cries crocodile tears over the lost plurality of Arsenal’s ownership.
All of which she leaked on twitter, of all places. It was a 140 character “hea culpa” backed with no facts and no new real information.
The Arsenal soap opera trundles on, written by a ham-fisted Uzbek and his Lady in London. Stay tuned to find out whether Alisher and Lady Nina have a secret love-child and if they will name him Henry. Also, does Wenger get the heart transplant he needs? Find out next week on ClockEnders* (sponsored by twitter!).
*HT to @thesquidboylike for the title.