Unai Emery Etxegoien has been relieved of his duties as the manager of Arsenal on the day after Thanksgiving, 29 November 2019. The club statement read: “Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand.”
Where do we start with the dissection? Let’s start with the words of the manager of Arsenal’s North-London rivals, Tottenham.
“In football and in life when I hear about factories closing or people being made redundant, I’m never happy,” said a poignant Jose Mourinho at the pre-match press conference looking ahead to their fixture vs Bournemouth while looking back.
“It’s always sad news. When my dad was sacked as a manager I felt the pain as a kid. I felt the pain myself as a manager. There hasn’t been one sacking that I have been happy with. For me, it’s a feeling of deja vu. I’m sad about it even when I was waiting for a job. Even when I needed someone to get sacked for me to eventually be a possibility, it’s not something I enjoyed."
“Unai Emery wasn’t happy at Arsenal, obviously. But he’s a fantastic coach with a proven record. A little bit of a rest; you’ll get another big job, amigo. Keep going.”
Let us pause to consider the last paragraph from Mourinho's comments yesterday. That this decision, while expected, may have not been one-sided. It’s not hard to imagine that there is relief from the Spaniard’s side too.
Few have a problem with Emery’s pink slip. Premier League football is, after all, a multi-billion dollar results industry. What has left a bitter taste in the usually impeccable palate of reasonable, life-long Arsenal supporters is the hounding that their now-ex manager had to take from their fellow fans.
In fact, you don’t even have to be a level-headed Arsenal supporter to realise that Unai Emery looked like a broken man in his last post-match press conference as their manager, you just have to be a decent human being.
It is in that press conference that a Sky Sports reporter tauntingly greeted Senor Emery saying “good evening.’’ A salutation that as a Spanish-speaking man the manager had difficulty enunciating. This has been a long-standing gag ever since his arrival at the London club.
Veteran Arsenal FC writer, Jon Spurling had this to say about the issue on Twitter, two days before Emery’s departure: “He may not be at Arsenal much longer, but I'm getting bored with the 'Good evening' jibes at Emery — they're a bit classless towards a guy trying to improve his English — and from a fanbase which supposedly prides itself on being cosmopolitan. We're better than that. Aren't we?”
Evidently not. The 1 million-strong AFTV (Arsenal Fan TV) YouTube channel is the modern metaphor of the ancient Greek monster Ouroboros — the beast that feeds on itself for sustenance. The success of AFTV is inversely proportional to Arsenal’s success. Arsenal Football Club and their decision-makers have been at ill-ease with the AFTV undermining them on a weekly basis.
It has almost exclusively become the mouthpiece for knee-jerk reactions of (often inebriated) scarf-wrapped, match-going fans who demand their penny’s worth with little or no consideration for objectivity post-game. No time is afforded for introspection. Content fueled by hyperbole and shouting bloody murder has single-handedly raised its popularity among fans and schadenfreude-loving rivals alike and turned it into a modern football phenomenon.
It has been sewn into the fabric of Arsenal’s matchday experience. AFTV is mob mentality hidden in the sheep’s clothing of a public forum. Any fan trying to be a pacifist or pleading patience in the circle of this forum gets his voice drowned out, and gets called out for not being enough of a fan. Not very ancient Greek of them.
Rory Smith explored the length and the depth of this phenomenon in his recent NY Times feature, “Some come for the spectacle, the circus of it all. Others treat it as a sort of impromptu town hall meeting: They listen to the speakers, debate their points, cheer the claims they like and jeer those they do not. They start chants and shout cutting one-liners.”
The influence of AFTV, unlike a lot of other fan-generated content, is not contained by its definition. It has normalised an entire generation of football fans, local and international, to an all-time low standard of discourse and outright ridicule of their managers that have leeched into aspects of their lives that it should not touch. Mob culture relies on a sense of power trip that anonymity provides, with people getting away with things they normally wouldn’t in the workings of civil society. But at what cost?
Earlier this week UCFB, a football and sports education university, cancelled Unai Emery’s campus address due to “a number of negative comments at Mr Emery when the guest appearance was initially announced.” This drew a line under the #ManagerOut culture, its power, the lack of decency thereof. On social media, culpability for harassment is rarely established with fans hiding behind aliases.
The UCFB statement was also mindful to remind their transgressing students that, “the digital footprint you create could impact you throughout your career within the football and sports industry.”
For over two decades Arsenal didn’t have to bat an eyelid in terms of changing the man at the helm. Instead, they focussed their energies on players and staff and perfecting a process and developing a well-informed fan culture that came naturally as a by-product. Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery’s predecessor, erected Arsenal’s tenets that were held up by his principles.
The Frenchman’s moral compass pointed steadfastly towards uplifting the youth, state-of-the-art nutrition, revising coaching techniques, treating football as an art, and a self-sustaining transfer policy that held the Premier League and Arsenal’s hands and walked them into the new millennium. Most importantly, Wenger embodied grace, fairness, progress, patience, and the purity of the game. This was the man that many young fans thought Arsenal was named after, this author included.
AFTV, you should remember, had the leading voices in the #WengerOut campaign in his last two years as Arsenal manager, despite his 22-year legacy. The AFTV mob may not have been the hand that pushed the red button, but it certainly proved a catalyst in convincing Wenger that it was time to step aside.
Wenger’s exit should have been on his own terms and definitely more dignified. Poetically, Wenger since has been appointed FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development, a dream job for a man of his skillset.
Presently, AFTV is the face of football’s new impatient, result-oriented fan culture. Granted Unai Emery and Arsenal weren’t the perfect fit. But history will remember him as a man who earnestly tried to fill the biggest shoes in club football since Sir Alex Ferguson.
He had to contend with Arsenal’s fans rejecting Granit Xhaka as the club captain, publicly booing the Swiss international at the Emirates. Emery’s incompatibility with Arsenal’s highest earner, Mesut Ozil, was another issue that alienated fans. The Europa League final loss vs Chelsea was an early blow, while the loss at home to Frankfurt was the final nail in the coffin.
Player departures rocked the boat too. Former captain Laurent Koscielny’s unpopular exit to Bordeaux (where the player took off his Arsenal shirt to reveal Bordeaux’s shirt underneath it), Aaron Ramsey’s move to Juventus compounded the misery.
Ultimately, Arsenal fans will remember him as the man under whom their club couldn’t win their 7 seven matches in all competitions. The last time this happened was in February 1992 under George Graham (8 games). This run meant Arsenal scrambled to sack their second manager under 22 months. However, Unai Emery may only be a symptom, hinting towards a larger malaise.
This, for the 8th-placed Arsenal, may just be the beginning of the slump that Manchester United faced after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Like David Moyes, Unai Emery could be remembered as Arsenal’s ceremonial sacrifice to appease the AFTV mob but to no avail. A first of many.
Spare a thought for former player and now interim Arsenal manager, Freddie Ljungberg. Imagine working in an environment where not only each and every one of your mistakes is broadcasted for the world to see, but then having your dignity drawn and quartered outside that workspace, by the people of whom you have the best interests at heart. This is what Ljungberg will have to look forward to.
Good luck, amigo, you’ll need it.
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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2019 13:21:01 IST