The indomitable lion
It’s quiet. Very quiet. So quiet I’m beginning to wonder if it might just be best to put today on snooze and come back tomorrow when hopefully something will have happened.
The only snippet of Arsenal related news is that Carl Jenkinson was invited to train with the England squad yesterday as they had a session at London Colney. Roy Hodgson isn’t calling him up just yet but obviously wants to show him that his international future lies closer to home. As I’m sure you know Carl has represented Finland at underage level and could declare for them. So, after sharing a training pitch with Ashley Cole I think our snowy friends can celebrate a new international player coming their way very soon.
Beyond that nothing. Not a thing. It’s one of those Interlulls where the very life has been sucked out of football and one must resort to old tales and anecdotes to fill the gap. I’m reminded of an Interlull many years ago, probably around 2000 or 2001 and in order to get a couple of injured players back to fitness Arsene Wenger arranged a behind closed doors friendly against Birmingham City one evening.
There was a smattering of senior players involved such as Sylvain Wiltord (who was recovering from an Achilles injury caused when Ray Parlour knelt down behind him and Dennis Bergkamp pushed him over), Alex Manninger was in goal while Kanu, in dispute with the Nigerian FA over a goal bonus issue, supported Wiltord up front.
It was supposed to be a routine win for Arsenal but Birmingham, managed by football’s most overworked sinuses (Trevor Francis) took to the field like demons and gave us a torrid time. The artful mastery of Stan Lazaridis had our midfield chasing shadows, while the twin threat of Geoff Horsfield and Peter Ndlovu up top caused the defence all manner of problems. Arsene Wenger grew ever more perplexed on the sidelines as his team struggled with their opponents and it was no surprise when Horsfield shanked a ball into the path of his Zimbabwean strike partner for him to put the visitors 1-0 up.
It went from bad to worse a few minutes later. Lee Cannoville failed to deal with a routine long ball, allowing it to bounce over his head. Igors Stepanovs slipped as he went to make the tackle and a gleeful Ndlovu made it 2-0 to Birmingham. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he then turned creator as he skipped past David Noble in midfield and threaded a beautiful ball to Horsfield who shouldered John Halls out of the way to put them 3-0 up at half-time.
The usually stoic Arsene Wenger was furious at the interval. Throwing cups of tea around and booting chairs from one side of the dressing room to the other. Pat Rice was aghast. Boro Primorac looked like he might cry a little. The team looked shell-shocked though and nothing was getting through to them. It did not augur well for the second period.
Now, many of you will know that Arsenal’s training ground is right next door to Watford’s and the two clubs have a good relationship. On that particular day, Watford chairman Elton John was there to watch the game (he was having an enforced lay-off from singing because of throat nodules and he was filling the gap with his second love, football).
As the teams came out for the second half he was dismayed to see Arsenal’s players trudging forlornly to the pitch, looking beaten and dispirited. Elton had a big problem with Trevor Francis after England’s first £1m footballer told Shoot magazine in 1978 that Crocodile Rock was his least favourite song of all time, and he wanted some revenge. So, as the Arsenal players made their way onto the pitch he took Kanu to one side and whispered something to him. At first he looked shocked but then seemed to understand, nodded and with a newly found spring in his step went out for the second half.
The game kicked off, Arsenal looked tired, beaten, and Birmingham’s front men started to cause problems again. That was until Kanu ambled back from his forward position and when the ref wasn’t looking pinched Ndlovu’s arse. He looked around but Kanu just winked, took the ball and fed Wiltord who banged home a goal. A few moments later, again out of view of the officials, Kanu cupped Ndlovu’s balls before setting Jo Kuffour free who crossed for Tomas Danilevičius who closed to gap to just one goal.
With ten minutes left, well, I think you know. This time he groped his opponent’s chest, tweaking a nipple which allowed him to run at the Birmingham defence and deftly chip the keeper to make it 3-3. And with just 2 minutes to go Arsenal won the game when Kanu erotically stroked the now bewildered Ndlovu’s inner-thigh which freed up the space for substitute Graham Barrett to win the game for the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger was delighted, beaming on the sidelines, and after a perfunctory handshake with Trevor Francis sought out his main man to ask what had turned the game around.
“That was amazing,” he said to the lanky Nigerian, “but I have to know what Elton John said to you. Whatever it was it totally negated the threat of their most dangerous player.”
“It was a simple instruction, boss”, he replied.
“What was it? What was it?!”, Wenger asked.
“Well, he came up to me said …”
“Yeah … yeah …?!”
“Kanu, feel Ndlovu tonight.”
Till tomorrow, if we’re still speaking.