Ask most journalists about an Arsene Wenger press conference and they’ll tell you they enjoy them a great deal. The Arsenal manager is open (unless talking about transfers), funny, honest and engaging.
The assembled journalists know that if they ask him a question, even if it’s not related to Arsenal, he’ll give them an answer. There is almost always a part of his weekly press conference which pertains to the pressing issue of the week whether there’s any Arsenal focus to it or not.
He speaks intelligently about the game of football itself, is critical of things he perceives to be bad for the game overall and not just Arsenal. Yet time and time again the same journalists who laugh and joke with him in the press conference misrepresent him in print or during their punditry.
This weekend was a perfect case in point. After the potential leg-breaking foul on Abou Diaby by Paul Robinson, Wenger hit out at the lack of protection for players. All players. Not just Arsenal players. He said:
I do not say I get an unfair press, its not about me this story, its about the players who play football with the right intention. The only thing I regret if I speak about it – it is only controversial and it is: ‘Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger…’
He then practically pleaded with those in the media to support what he said about the lack of protection offered to all players:
I would like you to support me, not the managers. Instead of making a story, write the truth. You have a responsibility as well don’t worry. It is like the pundits on television, the journalists – we all have responsibility. It’s not only me.
So what happens? Well, on Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports Jeff Stelling and his motley crew decided to make it all about Arsenal. After they showed one replay of the Robinson challenge they then showed five or six perfectly fair Bolton tackles, ignoring one or two terrible ones, making it look as if Wenger was the one with the problem. Nobody said every Bolton tackle was a foul. It was actually embarrassing to see the depths they plumbed just to have a pop.
On ESPN they Ray Stubbs and Jon Champion mentioned time and again how Wenger kept going on about wanting more protection for his players, ignoring the point that he was talking in general terms.
And it gets the point where you have this kind of nonsense from Mark Lawrenson in The Mirror:
What is it with Wenger? On the one hand, the guy says Arsenal are stronger physically this season. But, at the same time, he complains that his team shouldn’t be tackled.
This is a man who is paid by the BBC and the Mirror for his ‘expert’ opinion on football yet he’s either creating fiction, because Arsene Wenger has never said that, or he’s just too lazy to read or listen to what Wenger actually says. I suspect the latter, to be honest. It’s much easier to parrot what you think people are saying rather than spend any time watching Wenger’s press conferences, you know, doing some actual work. If he did he’d know the Arsenal manager has never said his players shouldn’t be tackled. Quite the opposite in fact:
I admire a great technical tackle as much as a creative pass. A tackle is an art in itself – that means you always have your eye on the ball, never with a high foot, in your tackle you can already make a pass. Tackling is an art you do not want to get out of the game.
Lawrenson is essentially ignorant and unprofessional. If you have the privilege of making a living talking and writing about the game of football then you have a responsibility to your employers, and to those who listen and read you, to be as well informed as possible. His comments about Wenger are just utterly wrong. It’s complete fiction yet people like Lawrenson are given a huge platform every week to perpetrate this nonsense.
Once again we have a situation where the story has become ‘Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger, Wenger…’. What he actually said and what he actually meant have been taken and twisted by the media so the real point is lost.
And here’s the thing, the real point is to make football safer for players in every team. It’s to stop tackles like this, or like this, or like this, which cause serious injury. Players out of the game for months at a time, battles to save careers which aren’t always successful, and the impact it has on teams when they lose players through acts of recklessness and violence on the football pitch.
That’s the real issue and it’s little short of a disgrace that the media use it to take cheap shots at a man for trying to raise it. Of course he’s going to be biased towards his own team, every manager is, but when someone speaks out for the good of the game in general it’s sad that the small-minded fools who have such an influence on public opinion can’t see they’re doing so more harm than good.