It was five years ago that Wenger speculated £2 million on an eighteen year old who had only made two appearances for Luton. Despite being permanent fixture in England U-18 and U-21 teams, there were rumours that the player himself didn’t think his manager rated him. Such gossip was backed up by Arsène’s subsequent transfer activity. Perhaps Wenger felt his fingers had been so badly burned on this centre-back that he refrained from dipping his toes back into the domestic market (forgive me for mixing my hands and feet metaphors!). To our frustration, it was four years before he dared risk any more of the club’s money on raw talent from these shores, with the signings of Wright and Jeffers.
Upson had to cope with a career threatening injury as he suffered calamitous complications with a broken leg, whilst watching the meteoric rise of colleagues like Ashley Cole. The light at the end of this tortuous tunnel must have appeared when he finally cracked it last term. With our squad so severely depleted all season long by injuries and suspensions Matthew made almost as many appearances as the previous four years put together. Therefore he ended the season deservedly taking his place in line for the reward of a precious Championship medal. It was a position he must have been more than familiar with after spending his entire Arsenal career patiently biding his time waiting upon the eventual demise of the famous dinosaurs of our defence. Upson has seen Bould, Winterburn, Dixon and finally Adams all eventually put out to pasture, managing to keep himself in the frame despite increased competition from Stepanovs and Campbell. No sooner does the retirement of our captain take him one step closer to his goal of a permanent berth in the team, than he finds himself bumped back down by the arrival of basically an unknown Frenchman, the bald headed Frank Le Boeuf lookalike, Cygan.
However Upson looked anything but out of the first team picture, when he was putting the ball in the back of the net for the winner against Barnet in a preseason friendly. Only a month later his Championship medal must be losing some of its lustre. As his mates were larging it up on International duty Matthew spent 86 minutes lounging on the bench in front of 6,000 fans at Millmoor, beginning a three month exile in the Nationwide by coming on at the death against Rotherham. Losing himself to the relative obscurity of such a long loan spell with the Royals, it must be hard for Upson to continue convincing himself that he is part of Wenger’s Arsenal vision.
These lean times for the Nationwide leagues have ensured that he’s just one of an assortment of Arsenal players currently out on loan. With Graham Barrett at Brighton, Jerome Thomas at QPR, Ben Chorley at Brentford, on Saturdays without a Premiership programme we Gooners are guaranteed plenty of interest elsewhere. Mind you, we might soon be needing them back, if we carry on with our card collection at the current rate. Considering I have yet to see a dirty game, I can’t help but wonder if there is some truth to Wenger’s contention that our disciplinary troubles are due in some part to the number of live TV fixtures involving the Arsenal.
It is possible that some officials might be more prone to wanting to be seen to be stamping their authority on a game before a live TV audience of millions. Personally I think all clubs are suffering from coming up against card happy Premiership refs. I am not qualified to contest that it is a psychological condition, but I am fairly certain that we are all too often lumbered with long suffering referees who have totally lost the plot. Many insist on imposing their inconsistent interpretation of the rules and regulations to the ruination of our enjoyment of current and future contests, apparently unable to appreciate that the game is being played for the pleasure of the paying punter. What’s more, it is unlikely that this particular penny will drop, when the slightest attempt to apply some common sense is punished. Uriah Rennie is no favourite of mine. Yet like many other fans I applauded his muscular intervention between McAteer and Keane. Reprimanded as a result, it will only make other refs think twice in future about attempting to apply the rules as best suits the specific circumstances and for the benefit of the spectator.
I could have sought solace in the Nationwide on Saturday when the string of second half substitutions ensured England’s friendly fizzled out following such a promising first period. That is if I hadn’t been so busy trying to keep abreast of all the other International matches involving Arsenal players. After Ashley Cole’s departure the encounter at Villa Park developed into a meaningless match. It solved my dilemma and made for an easy decision to follow the far more important fare from Russia instead, via RTE’s radio broadcast on the satellite TV channel. I had spent an unsuccessful hour tearing my hair out trying to tune in on the Internet, so that I could watch one game and listen to the other. But with such a catastrophic half-time scoreline, I knocked my efforts with this worthless wonder of modern technology on the head, because I knew it was going to take all my concentration if the Boys in Green were going to have any chance of staging a recovery.
Myself I reckon McCarthy made a mistake replacing Duff with Morrison instead of the doughtier Doherty. He might have done more to prevent the two first-half goals and a defeat which resulted in the reappearance of whole heap of headlines droning on about what could have been with Keane. Can it be a coincidence that Ireland’s first defeat in open play for a couple of years comes after they’ve been installed in the unfamiliar position as favourites to win their group? Without actually seeing the match I wouldn’t like to say that complacency was the cause. If a timely kick up the backside was a necessary tonic, it was best that it came in their first qualification test and in Moscow, where dropping points was not improbable. Hopefully we’ll reap the benefits when they batter the Swiss at Lansdowne Road next month, with a return of the hard to beat attitude they were so comfortable with as unfancied underdogs.
My only reaction to the club v country row was to fall about laughing at the comment from Gerry Francis "I can remember being manager of Spurs with a squad of 30 players and being left with only 3!" I can't imagine Tottenham have had 27 Internationals in total in modern times, let alone in any one squad. No wonder Francis has ended up in the theatrical business (as a backer of a play about to open in the West End), if he's so good at spinning a yarn!