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Unlike new breed of coach, Arsene Wenger at least started out hungry

THERE is a time when the best of us look old.

'Can I have minute of your time, gents? Have you taken out a credit card, loan or mortgage in the last 10 years?' Picture: Herald Archive
'Can I have minute of your time, gents? Have you taken out a credit card, loan or mortgage in the last 10 years?' Picture: Herald Archive

In my case, it lasts for 24 hours, 365 days a year. Yet as the nurse shifted the tartan blanket on my legs during The Herald planning conference, one had to feel some sympathy for Arsene Wenger, who appeared on the television in the corner displaying all the vibrancy of a can of Coke left on the sideboard for three days. With a stubbed out fag in it.

He looked old and done. This is an expert analysis. I know how old and done looks. I have a mirror.

My sympathy for Wenger is limited, though. He has made millions from the game and picks Arsenal teams that are knocked out of cups by Bradford and Blackburn.

But I remember him as the French revolutionary and I shudder at him being replaced by the Corporate Young Manager who frankly talks so much nonsense he should be writing a Saturday back-page column. It is sobering to recall that Wenger was once at the cutting edge of innovation in football management.

He told his players to stretch, causing giggles on the training field. He told his players not to drink before games and Tony Adams and others adhered to this by changing their ways and not bringing a carry-oot into the dressing room, leaving the empties at the door as they made a dash towards the liniment for a fly slug.

He advised players that there was nothing effete about passing the ball to someone who wore the same strip. He stopped Arsenal players lifting their arms in unison in that wonderful spectacle of synchronised appeals for offside.

Now he is as passe as a Rubik's Cube that doubles as a CD player.

The Corporate Young Manager is swaggering into town. He is easily recognisable as he wears dapper clothes, sometimes a padded jacket, presumably made from the interior of his cell. He looks like the sort of young man who would sell you life insurance while measuring you up for a coffin. He does not have that strong stare that marks Alex Ferguson or David Moyes. He seems nice.

He talks, too, in a certain way. He speaks of his philosophy of football as if a flat back four is the epitome of existential angst or the throw-in is but a metaphor for the fractured nature of life.

He has his special words. He does not have a team or a squad. He has a group. This makes it sound as if he is Brian Epstein and is managing a collection of lovable mop-top Scousers.

He believes in motivation as if he is in charge of an aspiring Robert De Niro who is using method acting to channel himself as a rugged centre-forward. Which might explain Andy Carroll.

He calls his job "the project''. He is wrong. The project is something you do for your kid when he/she is in primary seven. He praises tempo, which is strange because it is just a ballpoint pen.

He also has a ritual before sending on a sub. The bemused player is presented with a portfolio and asked to study a series of diagrams. These are: (a) the theory test for a driving licence; (b) the instructions for the construction of an Airfix model; or (c) a Google map for the immediate area. The player looks at them with all the interest of a dug being presented with an iPhone.

After the match, the manager comes out with descriptions that make one believe the bottle of clear liquid he is drinking on the sideline is filled with mescal laced with LSD. One Corporate Young Manager has spoken of "inverted wingers". This bemuses those of us who only recognise perverted wingers.

The most common fault of the Corporate Young Manager is that his group never have as their project the use of inverted wingers to win a competition. Everything is progress, even when the tempo is set to reverse gear.

The currency is no longer silverware but the perceived triumph of qualifying for the Champions or Europa League or achieving "stability". The Corporate Young Manager may be lean but he is not hungry.

The same might be said now about rich, old Arsene.

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