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Comment: Why Mickey Harte and Arsene Wenger need a final flourish

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

It's not that often I would make a point of tuning into a full game of soccer.

Match of the Day? No bother. Will watch that every week and recall the line the former Armagh/Derry/Donegal and so on coach John Morrison said, that during the analysis segments, he mutes the telly and gets 50 body weight squats in, amounting to 350 squats every Sunday morning before he goes to climb the steps of St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh for a few sets.

But Sunday was different. Sucker for sentimentality that I am, I tuned into matters not far from the Lower Holloway Road. I wanted to see The Arsenal have a right old knees up and bid adieu et merci to Arsene.

And while the goals flooded in after West Ham's Declan Rice let a harmless cross past him and bamboozled Joe Hart, there was something cold about the whole thing. I thought Arsenal fans would be overflowing in their tributes but, having talked to two friends who were at the game, one said: "Definitely no celebrations. Also he made it quite clear he was binned off too," while the other sent me a message: "It was mixed, the vociferous Wenger Out brigade were always a pretty small minority but most of the fans wanted him to go a long time ago. Only really started in the final 10 minutes when the game was done."

However, for his final contribution when I asked if there are similarities with Wenger and another long-serving manager, Tyrone's Mickey Harte, he said: "There's a definite parallel about someone who was a transformative figure in his time but has been overtaken tactically and should have gone five or six years ago."

We just wonder how someone like Harte will be treated when his time comes to an end. Right now, his arrangement will run to the end of 2020, by which time he will have been the Tyrone senior manager for 18 seasons.

In many ways, he is a victim of his own success. In delivering All-Ireland titles at minor and under-21 level, he raised the level of expectation in Tyrone, and yet he delivered spectacularly. Three senior All-Ireland titles in his first six seasons was an astonishing return for a county without a single one before he came along and bore comparison with Wenger's three Premier Leagues in his first seven seasons.

Their innovations got up people's nose. Wenger banned alcohol from the players' lounge and set the example of the dietary culture, and soon all of English football followed. It led to some mocking that Wenger had done more for the fortunes of broccoli than any food board could manage.

Harte introduced a high pressing game and more aggressive defending from his forwards, leading to Pat Spillane's inaccurate and unfair assessment of their 'puke football'.

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor even stated in his autobiography that northern teams at this time were "flash and nouveau riche and full of it" which, given the use of French in that expression, can easily relate to some of the embittered attitudes from British coaches towards Wenger at the time.

They also had two vociferous, pantomime critics. For Wenger, it was Piers Morgan. His Twitter feed is instructive. On Monday he tweeted: "Wenger blaming the fans for his own failures. Pathetic." And the tweet pinned to the top of his feed is a picture of himself with Wenger in happier times, along with a quote from Socrates: "The hottest love has the coldest end."

Harte's arch critic has been Joe Brolly. In April 2017, he stated: "I think it is time to change now." And when Tyrone extended his arrangement four months later, Brolly wrote: "The Glorious Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Tyrone has been insulted with a 3 year extension. He will now boycott everyone."

Despite that, Harte and Wenger kept trucking on. Wenger understood that if he could keep qualifying for the Champions League - an accolade he began referring to as "the first trophy of the year" - then the stakeholders would be happy.

For nine long years without a cup, as the 'Mind The Gap' signs went up from opposition fans, Wenger clung on, with three FA Cups in four years doing just enough to keep him in a job.

There is a sense among some that, although Harte has led Tyrone to the past two Ulster Championships - something he has managed twice and that Tyrone have only managed twice since the competition began in 1888 - that has only bought him time.

Their respective sports have changed beyond recognition in style and attitude since they first took up their roles, and the criticism of managers has become a race to the bottom with media outlets prizing the kind of snide insults that deliver clicks on a website. Somehow this has cheapened both men, although they can do nothing about that.

It was the final line from the Arsenal fan that captured what the loyalty of fans is dependent on: "Fans are so fickle though so if by some miracle Arsenal can get past Atletico then there may be an outpouring of affection for the man."

Harte's Atletico is a final Sam Maguire. But how likely is that? And how will he be treated?

Belfast Telegraph


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