The ungrateful moaning directed at the game's most successful managers only discredits the grumbling fans
"I very much support Arsenal. But to be honest, Wenger needs to coach another team now and Arsenal needs another coach." So said Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, after Arsenal's third successive defeat, 2-1 at home to Manchester United in late January.
Kagame, who was given an Arsenal banner signed by the team to mark his 50th birthday in 2007, is not the only internationally renowned figure disturbed by the team's relatively poor form. The game was broadcast by Fox TV, making it the first Premier League fixture to be covered live on terrestrial television in the USA. One of the studio pundits was Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror who now has a talkshow on CNN. A self-described "massive Gooner", Morgan raged at his team's failings during the match and concluded by saying he had "had it" with Wenger, who had apparently made the "worst ever substitution" when he took off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin, who defended badly for United's winner.
On one level there is little point in complaining about Piers Morgan. The greater fault lies with those who think he is worth employing. But, for once, he serves a useful function. Firstly, in demonstrating that no good ever comes from newspapers or broadcasters giving a platform to a celebrity fan, whose insights are invariably on a par with a drunk yelling at the pub TV screen. These fairly crucial limitations are overlooked, however, because they can get the attention of players and managers. In the past few months, Morgan has engineered toe-curlingly inane "arguments" on Twitter with Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, who wouldn't bother with him if he was just another loud bore in an expensive seat. Such people have been making themselves heard at the Emirates lately, of course. Choruses of "you don't know what you're doing" rained down on Wenger as his team slipped to defeat in the match against United.
The second purpose served by Morgan's rant is that it highlights once again the absurd sense of entitlement that afflicts some followers of the most successful clubs. Managers at all levels of football are judged increasingly by their latest result, with every new defeat declared to be the final straw by fuming contributors to post-match phone-ins. Many club owners respond to demands for instant solutions, with managers' average tenure across the four divisions down to 18 months at the end of 2010-11, and under one year in the Championship. Given twice as much time to prove their capabilities, most managers would be deemed to be a success if they won promotion or kept their team in the upper levels of a division. They would not be expected to win the double twice or qualify for Europe every season while finishing no lower than fourth in the Premier League. That is what Wenger has done in his 16 seasons at Arsenal.
The Arsenal boss's record is bettered only by Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been in charge at Old Trafford nine years longer. Yet when United lost two league matches in a row in early January, a section of their support responded as they do whenever the team loses or draws with someone other than Barcelona, by going on air to suggest their 70-year-old manager has lost his way.
Ferguson's critics have at least stopped short of barracking him at home games. While Wenger has expressed his distaste for clubs that buy success, it looks like he was wrong to believe he could construct another successful team around bargain signings from abroad. He is now paying for his perceived obstinacy by having to chase fourth place – which will probably involve finishing behind Spurs for the first time in 17 years – but it is unclear whether Arsenal's enigmatic American owner would have funded a spending spree even if Wenger requested it.
During Wenger's time, Arsenal fans have become accustomed to seeing their team win the majority of their games while picking up trophies regularly. As one of the Big Four, they acquired a sizeable number of new followers who wanted to support a successful team. The current seven-year stretch without a trophy was not the package the glory-hunters signed up for, while some long-term fans seem to have forgotten they used to have barren spells like most other clubs. As Ferguson said in defending Arséne Wenger recently: "Supporters are less easy to please than they were 20 years ago. It's a cynical world." One in which Piers Morgan can thrive.
From WSC 301 March 2012