The quiet revolution
Arsene Wenger is sad this week. I don’t think we need to explore the issue much further. According to the Frenchman, after being knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford, “It is becoming a farce. We have lost a game.” Whether or not his tongue was anywhere near his cheek when uttering these words, one thing is for certain, Arsenal are doing an Arsenal and they are doing it supremely well. You know the script.
Of far more interest are the less predictable stories that have sprung up around the Premier League this year. Had it not been for Leicester’s ground-breaking season, Quique Sanchez Flores’ Watford team would be flavour of the month. After a recent slump in the league, the Hornets grabbed the headlines once more this weekend by knocking the FA Cup holders out of the competition on their own turf. If you are looking for an indication of how Watford have confounded expectations this year, then look no further than Flores’ post-match comments. “The most important things we can give are passion and heart. We are building a team. It’s an amazing experience.” At the beginning of the season, many (me included) thought that Watford had bought in too many new signings and not enough Premier League quality to earn a prolonged stay in the division. How wrong we were. Clearly, the commitment to building a team runs throughout the club, from the Pozzo family in the directors box, to the manager on the training pitch; Watford’s dedication to a clear plan has borne greater fruit than they can have imagined. Now they stand just one step away from an FA Cup final, an achievement which is certainly not lost on Quique Sanchez Flores; “I have memories on television of the old Wembley and watching in Spain and seeing the finals of this competition. I’ve just arrived in England, and to get there is exciting.” Given the job he has done and how he has conducted himself this season, I can’t see many onlookers begrudging Watford a place in the final this year either. What a first year in the country it could turn out to be for Mr Flores .
On the topic of teams performing above expectations, Bournemouth and their manager, Eddie Howe, deserve a special mention. A 3- 2 win over Swansea this weekend has left them all but safe and Howe’s interview after the game exuded many of the same qualities of the afore-mentioned Watford boss. Howe hasn’t got many column inches in the blog so far this season, largely because he doesn’t say anything ridiculous, is generally measured in his responses and clearly thinks deeply about the game. Unfortunately that doesn’t always catch the eye. What is worthy of our attention however is the respect he clearly commands from his players. On the topic of Max Gradel’s goalscoring return to the first team, having spent much of his first season out injured, Howe said, “It meant everything to the club and everything to the player himself who has had a difficult time [through injury]. But the way he has come back is a breath of fresh air.” Gradel’s own comments after the game spoke volumes for the love of the manager within the dressing room at Bournemouth and goes a long way to uncovering why the Cherries overcame their blip earlier in the season to become odds-on to stay in the division. That sort of respect is earned over a long period of time and through commitment, vision and intelligent management. It’s only right that these sorts of achievements get the recognition they deserve, alongside the motor mouths of the league who cover up their own inadequacies with a few well placed one-liners to their pals in the press. Let’s raise a glass to the real deal that prove the post-match press conference is not just a vehicle for hammering referees.
This is Issue 124 of true faith – just click on the image to be taken to Newcastle United’s number one fanzine, providing the alternative view since 1999. Its absolutely and comple