Tuesday, 10 January 2012
Getting the old band back together
It turns out that Manchester United's people tasked with finding the new Paul Scholes were looking in the wrong place. In fact, the new Paul Scholes turned out to be the old Paul Scholes. Similarly, when wishing for a new Thierry Henry, Arsene Wenger decided his best bet was to re-hire the old one, a trick he looks like he may soon be repeating by signing the new/old Robert Pires.
The benefits are obvious. In the case of Scholes, it's mere months since he last played at United and he's been coaching at junior levels so has never really been away from the club he represented over 17 years. While Henry had over four years away, he was there for a long time and has worked with Wenger for even longer than that. The players know the management, a lot of the other players, the fans - everything. It's not a question of whether these guys can settle - that they will is a given and put paid to any notion of it taking however many months to adjust to new environments and new playing styles.
It would be more difficult going back to a club like Palermo or Atlético Madrid where coaches are changed on a quarterly basis, even if it's during one Francesco Guidloin or Luis Aragonés's multiple appointments at those clubs. Neither would it be sensible to attempt to bring someone back to a club where squad turnover is high - Manchester City or Real Madrid, say. A healthy throughput of younger players who may look up to a returning legend is also helpful, rather than a dressing room full of big egos who would naturally be put out by suddenly having a team-mate whose statue stands outside the stadium. With all that in mind, it's clear there are few clubs better equipped for a move like this to work other than Manchester United and Arsenal, though Everton's re-signing of Landon Donovan also follows the pattern.
With managers notoriously reluctant to sign new players in the January window, getting the old band back together is a lower cost and lower risk alternative, provided the right environment exists. All of which leads to a mental image of Wenger and Pat Rice sitting in an old Dodge police car: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it."