Thursday, March 01, 2007

Brown Gets Blattered

Expectations continued to crumble as Arsenal fell to the luckwarm might of Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup last night. Arsenal have been my team of the season, playing expansive football that leaves the crowd breathless. Yet it’s not been about victories as much as it’s been about Wenger playing a long term strategic game.

Arsene Wenger must have read the old Arabic proverb about the blow that doesn’t kill you making you stronger. Each one of these failures helps to temper a side which already has fantastic resilience matched by penetrative play able to slice open the defences of any team. Occasionally they youngsters overplay the ball, try one of two touches too many when a more mature side would take the chance of a strike on goal. But every time Arsenal take to the field we have to set the game in a bigger context. They are a team of young players who are now learning to lose. In a year or two, they will have mastered winning and they will be unstoppable.

The same cannot be said for Gordon Brown who is weakened by each phase of this phony war. You can imagine how it made me smile to see Sepp Blatter in Downing Street yesterday, playing his usual spoiling tactics.

This time Blatter was downplaying England’s chances of hosting a World Cup in favour of more worthwhile nations like the USA and China. Blatter brings an intractable European quality to negotiations. He appears on the scene like an ogre set on smashing the English game with his club. Yesterday, it was Brown that felt the weight of the Blatter bash. Every day that Tony Blair remains in office, Brown’s magic is dissipated. He no longer looks like the shoe-in. Stronger candidates will emerge once a leadership campaign begins. We saw this with the Tories. We’ll see the same with Labour. And if you want to put money on who will win, there’s only one possible winner. Put your money on Blatter. He knows how to play real hardball politics.

Nobody plays cooler or meaner game than the current President of FIFA.

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