Arsene Wenger and Javier Aguirre In: "What Have You Done For Me Lately?"

Eric GomezAnalyst IJanuary 13, 2009

Die-hard football fans are known for their voracious appetite of the game.

The more we get, the more we want.

Three hours of television analysis here, a couple of hours on the Internet there. The constant pumping of information, the memorization of stats, and the endless conversations dissecting strategy make us believe that many times, we know better than the people in charge.

Sometimes, as a group, fans can voice their displeasure enough to get the boards thinking, and eventually moving in a different direction with players, managers or both.

Be warned: they don't respect your opinion per se, just that it come somehow affect their finances.

It is often said that when a team is doing badly, it is easier to fire one man than 23. Welcome to a manager's worst nightmare. When the criticisms are well-placed, no relative harm is done. A new manager comes in, and hopefully rights the ship.

This season, two European clubs find themselves facing unprecedented amounts of criticism for their well-respected managers. Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and Atlético de Madrid's Javier Aguirre manage important clubs in the top half of their respective tables, and in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions' League.

They also have millions of people second-guessing them, some even calling for their ouster.

Is this fair?

Fans, could you honestly do better than these two men? I'm almost certain... you could not.

Case #1 — Arsene Wenger, Arsenal

Since taking over in 1996, Wenger has presented Gunner fans with 11 new pieces of silverware to polish. His three Premier League titles feature the 2003-04 squad that did not lose a single game, and two of his four FA Cup titles came against heated rivals Chelsea and Manchester United.

In recent seasons, favoring a youth movement, the results have slowed a bit, but the Frenchman's sides are still an annual fixture in the UEFA Champions' League, by way of placing in the top four of the Premier League.

A dreadful spell between matchdays 10-14 saw Arsenal win only one game, and despite a resurgence, find themselves currently placing fifth in the league.

Now, Emirates Stadium swirls with an ever-growing feeling of disappointment and anger, fueled by vocal sectors of supporters becoming impatient with Wenger and disapproving his course of action throughout matches.

The match against Bolton featured heckling of substitute Nicklas Bendtner and sarcastic applause when he'd pass the ball after holding it for periods of time. Bendtner scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Bolton.

After an "AKB" (Arsene Knows Best) camp publicly made their support of the manager, dissenters made it their business to rise up and offer a counterpoint. While this is certainly healthy and normal, a myriad of things need to be pointed out to these detractors.

This season, Arsenal have been hampered by injuries, missing international stars like Eduardo da Silva, Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas, and Theo Walcott among others.

Despite sitting fifth in the EPL, Arsenal have defeated Manchester United and Chelsea this season, and have drawn with current leaders Liverpool. The Gunners also cruised through the Champions' League group stage and await a Round of 16 matchup against Roma.

Despite elimination in the Carling Cup, the squad's youngsters have been impressive. The squad is also very much alive in the FA Cup.

Three points are the only thing keeping Arsenal out of Europe at the moment, and at the front, is Wenger, weathering the storm amongst a growing mutiny. With 17 matches remaining, Arsenal would be foolish to make a change at manager.
Case #2 — Javier Aguirre, Atlético de Madrid

Over on the mainland in the capital of Spain, the manager of Madrid's other team, usually known for his cheeky comments and joyful demeanor, finds himself immersed in a storm of pressure mounting from recent disappointments in the league and in the Copa del Rey.

In 2009, Javier Aguirre's squad have yet to win a game.

Two losses in the league against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao as well as 3-1 loss to Barcelona in the cup have Atlético fans calling for their manager to resign or to be fired.

Surely, on the surface, a team featuring Diego Forlán, Maxi Rodríguez, Gregory Coupet, Simao Sabrosa and Argentine wunderkind Sergio "Kun" Aguero can be expected to do better.

Also sitting in fifth, Atlético's dropoff has meant they would be in danger of failing to repeat their participation in the Champions' League, a feat they had last registered in 1996.

Despite boasting a high-powered offense—Atletico's 41 league goals rank only second to Barcelona—the Indios defense is porous, having allowed 29 goals  through 18 games, with summer signings Gregory Coupet, John Heitinga, and Tomas Ujfalusi failing to bolster the back line.

Not accustomed to multiple tournaments, Atletico's performance is far from disappointing —remember Villareal and Sevilla's early forays into European play?— just three points behind a spot in next year's Champions' League.

The problem with Atlético's fans is their sense of entitlement to greatness. Long gone are the days of Aragonés in the 70's and 80's, and even further gone is the Golden Age of Helenio Herrera in the 1950's.

The current generation of Atlético de Madrid supporters, is more likely to have seen their team relegated at the beginning of this decade, and a carousel of managers (Radomir Antic, Claudio Rainieri, Aragonés himself, Carlos Bianchi among others) come and go without bringing any results.

Aguirre, a humble workaholic who saved his native Mexico from missing out in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in only eight months, and took Osasuna to unsuspected heights during his four years at the helm (Osasuna currently rank last in the league), has worked wonders with this team in a relatively short amount of time.

In his first season, he ended a decade-long drought by taking Atlético back to Europe in the UEFA Cup. The next season marked Atletico's return to the Champions' League. He is credited in the development of Aguero and managed to strengthen his team even after superstar Fernando Torres bolted for Liverpool in 2007.

And now, with Atlético relevant again in the football world, fans are ready to turn their back on him. After three losses.

Three losses after two consecutive European campaigns.

And Wenger? Fifth place after 12 years of titles and glory.

"What have you done for me lately?" Indeed.


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