Belfast Telegraph

Alan Green: Alex McLeish has left Arsene Wenger in fear of a season falling apart

It would be a very dull football world in which every commentator - myself included - and pundit always got it right. Thank heavens, the sport never loses its capacity to make fools of us.

On Sunday night, making my way home through Euston station, two young Birmingham City supporters approached me. One said: “You’re that guy off the telly, aren’t you?” Oh no, my world imploded: I’d been mistaken for another fat-faced Ulsterman! I quickly regained some credibility by assuring him that, no, I worked on radio.

Nevertheless, he really wanted to know what I’d thought about the game. I said I thought Birmingham wholly deserved to win the Carling Cup Final, that Ben Foster and Roger Johnson had been immense and that Lee Bowyer had run them close.

“Oh, thank you,” he replied, “we don’t get too much credit. This has been the best day of my life.”

You’d have to be pretty thick or maybe an Aston Villa fan (think Linfield or Glentoran fans praising each other’s team) not to relish the joy that greeted Sunday’s win at Wembley. Whereas you might accuse Arsenal — Arsene Wenger said beforehand that Cesc Fabregas would go up with Robin van Persie to receive the cup — and their supporters, who were very late into their seats, of some complacency but, for those wearing blue, it was unconfined delirium.

To think I’ve heard frequent barracking of Alex McLeish at St Andrews. There should be relief that, just six months ago, they handed the Scot a new three-year contract. And I wasn’t the least surprised to hear a lucid caller to 6-0-6 wondering if McLeish might be the man to succeed his old mentor at Old Trafford.

That’s a future consideration and Alex, the younger one, won’t be deflected from his principle task of keeping Birmingham in the Premier League. You don’t want to be caught doing a ‘Norwich’ who won the League Cup in 1985 and were relegated the same season.

And so much for the ‘Quadruple’, eh? How appropriate now seem the pre-final words of Bacary Sagna, who richly contributed to a woeful defensive display by the Gunners, that his team had been “scared” in the past when on the verge of winning something?

I thought only Jack Wilshere and Andrey Arshavin played remotely to form. Samir Nasri flitted in and out and van Persie was excused only because of his excellent equaliser. Now, of course, the Dutchman is another major injury doubt for next week’s vital game at the Nou Camp.

Wenger hoped winning a competition he’d previously derided might be the lift-off required in his team’s attempt to win an unprecedented four trophies. Now he fears “a negative effect”.

Even Leyton Orient, tomorrow night, can’t be taken for granted. Then it’s Sunderland on Saturday and Barcelona on Tuesday. It’s unlikely but not inconceivable that all hope could be extinguished in eight days.

So, the manager’s unshakeable faith in his players and in the way he runs the club — imagine if he’d bought the likes of Foster and Johnson for Arsenal — is about to be severely tested.

Belfast Telegraph


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