Friday 25 May 2018

Under-fire Gunners boss deserves a dignified exit

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters

Jamie Carragher

One of the saddest moments of my career came towards the end of the 2003-'04 season at Liverpool.

I recall playing at Anfield amid an air of apathy as Gerard Houllier's reign came to an end.

Over the course of two years Houllier lost the trust of the supporters. For a while there had been some anger - there was a home FA Cup tie with Portsmouth earlier that season when Anfield was 10,000 short of its usual capacity and every managerial decision seemed to be met with a chorus of disapproval.

When we lost the replay at Fratton Park, deep down, everyone at the club - players, directors, supporters - knew what was needed, despite their admiration and respect for the manager and all he had achieved.

No-one running the club ever came out and said they would be replacing the manager before the start of the following season, but there were no messages of support and I recall chatting to assistant Phil Thompson about whether Houllier had been reassured of his position.

"The silence is deafening," we agreed.

What Liverpool tried to oversee was a respectful separation. Everyone working at the club loved Houllier for what he had done during his time at Anfield, winning trophies, getting us back into the Champions League, restoring prestigious European nights. His legacy would help his successor Rafa Benitez. They also knew such was his pride and self-belief he would fight on if he could. He would have to be told it was over.

By May there was a growing realisation the end was indeed coming - as players we could sense it - and results were not too bad. Anfield was full and we ended that season well enough to qualify for the Champions League, including a vital win at Manchester United.

I am reminded of this because of what I witnessed at Arsenal on Thursday evening, the supporters both inside and absent from the Emirates going through the same emotions I saw in our supporters where resentment turns to despondency and, worse of all, lethargy. The difference, of course, is there is no guidance from the Arsenal board about their intentions at the end of the season.

Until there is the scenes on Thursday will be repeated. There may be the occasional encouraging wins or performances, but we have long passed the stage where any setback is tolerated.

The Arsenal board may feel they are helping the greatest manager in the club's history - one of the greatest of all time - by leaving him exposed in this way. In fact, they are doing him a disservice.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport