Willy Gallas seems to have fallen into a classic media bear trap that he has himself put in place. In trying to affect media perceptions of himself he has now discovered that it will always first go in the direction the media most wish it to.
Prior to the international friendly against Uruguay this week he was asked a number of questions concerning his role in both the french national team and Arsenal. These comments and interviews are connected with the promotion of Gallas` autobiography due to be published in France today. In a general theme about young players he apparently informed the Parisien that young players have a different attitude now than in his day.
‘These conflicts [between young and older players] exist in all the clubs. Simply, we did not expect this,’ he confides ‘Youth of 20 years, they have everything for them. I am surprised by some of their reactions. Their way of responding by example. In my time it was different.’ He gives an example of a conflict between Benzema and Thuram during the Euros last summer and claimed that he also had a skirmish with a player in the French national team. This player is reported in France to be Samir Nasri whom L`Equipe reveals also had a falling out with Thierry Henry after taking his seat on the team bus. The falling out is included in the Gallas autobiography and apparently relates to a training ground incident in which he took exception to the response made to ‘advice` offered to communicate clearly on the pitch. Gallas claims that the player has come to accept that he was in the wrong and the issue now settled.
He also responded to questions about criticisms of his captaincy of Arsenal in which he again pointed to the role he has to play in trying to settle conflicts within the team. It is naïve to think that these conflicts don`t exist in all teams and have always existed. Overmars and Anelka were widely reported to have had a fractious relationship during the early days of Wengers reign. Accepting this truth privately and speaking of them publicly are different things.
In an attempt to explain himself and deal with criticism levelled at him, much of it unfounded, he has given more ammunition with which others can increase the pressure on him. Those comments referred to one player ‘insulting` him, and others, when confronted during a match. Frankly, I would be surprised if it couldn`t be shown that on pitch criticism isn`t regularly treated with a dismissive four-letter instruction. The media is only too happy to lap this up and comments which were originally published as ‘Gallas urges youngsters to be brave` has been turned into ‘an astonishing attack`.
Taken overall these comments are pretty innocuous but together with those in his book reveal a difficulty that Gallas has with his expectations of young players. Unfortunately Arsenal is pretty well all about young players and any sign of difficulty is bound to be amplified in the media. Show them an itch to scratch and they will do so until it bleeds.
I don`t suppose Gallas is the best captain the club has ever had, nor is he the worst, but it is perhaps a more difficult team to captain than some others. Vieira was captain of a team that didn`t need captaining with players like Campbell, Ljungberg and Gilberto having experience of the job themselves while other senior players like Pires and Henry were hardly the types that needed keeping in line. Vieria still managed a widely publicised physical confrontation with Lauren though. This young team needs more considered thought to get the best out of them.
In some ways Gallas takes the job of captain too seriously and his comments will not help him but stripping him of the captaincy now, as much of the rabid press are urging, will not serve the cause of harmony within the team well. Forget the froth and bubble of the tabloids and soundbite obsessed media and avoid the temptation to feed them further. He, and the club, should now follow the advice of Disraeli ‘Never explain. Never apologise`.
Ironically consistent as it is with the attitude he is so uncomfortable with from modern young players, it might have been useful for Gallas to have had that advice a little earlier.
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