Godfather Of Champions Chapter 430
Tang En carefully considered the problem of Arsenal’s new strategy.
Although Arsenal had not played beautifully in those three matches, they had still managed to win. Tang En did not believe it was a coincidence. In fact, he felt that Wenger must be using the Premier League to train for the Champions League. While it would be difficult for Arsenal to achieve any breakthroughs in the Premier League this season, they could set a record of breaking into the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in history. Wenger would certainly not give up easily on that.
It seemed certain that Wenger would begin emphasizing defense in the Champions League. However, it was outside Tang En’s expectations for Wenger to change into playing defensively in the current Champions League because of him.
Now, Tang En did not feel an iota of achievement. His head was killing him.
If Arsenal decided to play defensively Tang En was not in the least doubtful of the team’s ability under Wenger’s management; they would surely be able to accomplish it. The crucial factor was not how the opponents were, but how they themselves should respond to it. What was Nottingham Forest going to do?
If both Arsenal and Nottingham Forest went on the defensive, the match wouldn’t be able to go on. Would everyone only end up shrinking back into their penalty areas and waiting for the 90 minutes to end?
Tang En tried to recall, in detail, the original two rounds between Real Madrid and Arsenal. Although he could not remember the precise situation, he remembered the goal scored by Henry on Real Madrid’s home grounds. It was a classic fast break. Arsenal did not invest very much into their attacking forces, but their efficiency was extremely high. Furthermore, Real Madrid was at a complete loss against their tight defense.
If this was how Arsenal planned to deal with Forest in the future, how should Forest respond?
Arsenal had a troop of mega stars who were able to individually decide the match’s result. Tang En believed that playing defensive counterattacking would be more than simple for them. Henry was certainly one of the players who had to be closely watched, as well as Fbregas, Robin van Persie, and so on.
As with Mourinho, Tang En had a knot in his heart.
Ever since Mourinho had joined the English Premier League, he had yet to defeat Tang En’s team even once. Similarly, since Tang En had led his team to enter the EPL, he had not been able to defeat Wenger.
Was this a coincidence, or Fate’s arrangement?
Their first round was to be held on April 19, and the second round a week later. Tang En did not have much time to prepare. If Arsenal was going on the defensive, he had to attack.
In contrast to when they had played against Inter Milan, Tang En led the team, a mere day before the match, in a coach to the hotel they would be residing in during their time in London.
“This doesn’t feel like going for a Champions League match,” Ribry mentioned as he chatted with his teammates on the bus. Unexpectedly, many of them agreed with him.
Everyone felt the same way. Being at such close distances and sitting on a coach to get to the competition felt no different from the usual League matches. Shouldn’t the Champions League be of a higher standard, be something different?
Before, after everyone’s flight to Spain or Italy, seeing Bernabu Stadium and Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on their bus rides roused their emotions; the thirst for competition and their pursuit of victory filled their hearts.
Now, when the red coach, fully seated with Forest’s players, cruised past the corner of the street and saw the top of Highbury Stadium in the far distance, everyone’s mood remained completely calm without any feelings.
They visited this stadium at least once every season. If they met with Arsenal in the EFL Cup or the English FA Cup, they had to come by even more often. Even in pretense, they could not muster up any intense emotions.
Tang En felt that such an emotional state was good. It meant that everyone saw the match as nothing unusual.Once their attitudes were right, the match would also no longer be difficult.
He stopped worrying.
Beyond being a civil battle within England, there was another matter of the match that made it a highlight; this match was to be the final European match held in Arsenal’s Highbury.
Countless people appeared on match day. Outside Highbury Stadium were massive crowds and bright lights that lit up the entire place. With both teams from the same nation, it was more convenient for away team fans to make the trip and watch the match live. However, more of the crowd came to commemorate the departure of the European battles from Highbury. A large number of fans wearing the nostalgic maroon version of Arsenal’s jersey swarmed out from the exit of Arsenal Station. The crowds meandered forward. Numerous streams of people moved towards the same spotHighbury Stadiumhidden amongst the European-styled villas in the residential area.
Highbury, which could seat up to 38,500 people, was devoid of empty seats today.
While the fans made their way into the stadium, both teams were in their locker rooms making their own preparations.
“There’s no need for us to get used to the field. We’re no stranger to it. For the past week and more, we have been practicing going on the offense; attacking through all sorts of routes and in all sorts of situations. Do you know why?” Tang En stood before the players and said, “Because I plan to attack in the away field. Arteta, you’re a starter for this match.”
The team looked at the Spaniard. He nodded.
Tang En drew out the midfield positions on the tactical board. It was a standard flat diamond.
“Your position needs to be slightly forward, and a bit more active.”
Arteta continued nodding. “I understand, Boss.”
“And George.” Tang En put a dot in the circle.
“Protect him?” Wood asked.
Tang En looked at him before nodding.
“Yes, protect Arteta. There’s no difference from before. Watch out for Fbregas.” Tang En hesitated briefly and added, “Oh, if If you have an opportunity, cut forward to assist in the offense.”
Everyone in the locker room was stunned to hear that. He had almost never asked for Wood to participate in offense. Though he would give Wood all kinds of missions, they could all, to a high degree, be summarized with one word: “defense.”
Wood had not expected that. His face was astonished.
“Uh… I’m saying, if there’s a chance with the pre-requisite of securing the defense. Do you understand, George?”
Wood nodded. “Understood.”
“That’s good. You must know that an offense is built on the foundations of defense. George, and all our guys in the defensive line, you are our foundation.”
“Do you mean they’re all getting stepped on?” Eastwood loudly commented.
“What?” Tang En had not expected Eastwood to pull the rug out from under him that way. Unprepared, he was stumped with a hilarious expression on his face.
The locker room exploded into uproarious laughter.
In comparison with the somewhat relaxed atmosphere of Forest’s locker room, everyone’s expressions in Arsenal’s locker room were stern and serious, even rather grim.
The players had already changed into their jerseys, and Wenger stood in the center among them.
“Everyone knows Highbury will be getting demolished in the next season. It’s been our home field for 93 years. This match will be the final European match she hosts. Everyone knows what I want to say, right?”
Some of the players began nodding.
“How many trophies have we held up in this very stadium? So many I can’t even count them. She has been a witness to Arsenal’s glory and victories. Today is her first time hosting the semi-finals of the Champions League. Her legend has yet to end. Lads, don’t let her leave behind any regrets!” Wenger’s pre-match talk ended there. It was not long, having ended in just five minutes. But the effect was instantaneous. The eyes of Arsenal’s players were brimming with a thirst for victory; a passionate fire was burning ferociously.
“Okay, guys.” Tang En dipped his head to look at the watch. It was almost time. “Let’s go.”
The players stood up one after another and strode toward the doors.
As Anelka walked past Tang En, Tang En nodded to him.
“How are you feeling?”
Anelka stopped and turned to look at him. “Not bad.”
“You don’t sound too excited”
“I’ll be excited after scoring a few goals.”
Tang En chuckled. “Go on.”
Anelka walked out with his head lowered. He knew what his manager was trying to say, or what he was worried about. Today marked his return to Highbury. He was certain that later, when the stadium broadcast announced his name, what he faced would not be cheers or applause.
But he was used to it. So Twain need not worry about that at all. In fact, Anelka thought he would probably not feel any motivation if those fans failed to jeer at him.
He had already become used to playing soccer among jeers and curses.
While Tang En’s gaze was still following Anelka, Albertini stepped in front of him.
“Thank you, Boss.”
“What are you thanking me for?” Tang En asked, feeling odd.
“You gave George a chance”
Tang En laughed. “It’s still early. He’s got a ways to go.”
“But at least you gave him a direction, a sort of hint. That’s crucial.”
Tang En silently assented and changed the topic.
“Hey, Demi. Why don’t you just stay in England after you retire? I believe the members of the managerial team would be happy to see you join them.”
Albertini shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Boss. I like Italy, and I’m Italian. I hope for my managerial career to begin in Italy.”
“That’s a pity.” Tang En’s brow furrowed. He recalled the “Calciopoli” incident in summer that year. He really did not wish for Albertini’s future to be a trip into those muddy waters.
“Don’t worry, Boss. I was thinking, perhaps one day in the future, we could meet again on the sidelines of a match? That’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Tang En recalled Keane and sighed in anguish. “Why do you all like being my opponents so much?”
“Maybe because defeating you and seeing your flustered, exasperated expression would give me a sense of accomplishment,” Albertini said with a laugh. “I should go now.”
Tang En waved.
The locker room was already empty beside himself. He looked around at the empty place and walked out as well.
Players from both teams jogged out from the players’ corridor, inciting the first high on the spectators’ stands. When Arsenal’s fans noticed that Nottingham Forest’s starting line-up included French forward Anelka, they showed off their chemistry jeering together as a unit.
“This is truly unfair,” The television commentator mocked. “Selling Anelka benefited Arsenal. They used half of the transfer fee to purchase Henry, while the other half was used to build the most high-tech training facility in Arsenal’s history, London Colney. Without all that money, Wenger’s team may still need to head to the hotel to shower and change after training every day.
As he spoke, the stadium broadcast announced Henry’s name. At that moment, the jeers were replaced by deafening cheers and applause.
“Welcome Thierry Henry, Highbury’s King, Arsenal’s captain!”
Wearing the captain’s armband, Henry, who was walking foremost in the team, raised his hand up high and fully displayed his leadership bearing. Initially, he came to Arsenal as Anelka’s successor. But he had unexpectedly surpassed Anelka, doing even better. In the club, he was the King, a representative player. Within France’s National Team, he was a core figure second only to Zidane.
Meanwhile, Anelka had become a Judas, who was spurned by the people.
The world is impermanent, and fate makes a fool of all of us. It was nothing more.
Among the piercing cheers, Nicolas Anelka kept his head up high. He stepped into the stadium, which had once given him immense glory but was now left only with heartless jeers and curses; a stadium that had already become someone else’s palace.
“This is the final UEFA Champions League match in Highbury. It is also the first time in Arsenal’s history that they have successfully fought their way into the semi-finals of the Champions League! On this memorable and special day, Wenger’s team will certainly not allow themselves to lose, on their home ground, to Nottingham Forest. Similarly, this is also the first attempt for genius Manager, Tony Twain, at leading his team in the Champions League. In a single stroke, they managed to barge into the top four. There is still much more for them to look forward to, and they will certainly be unwilling to end their steps here. This is a civil war in English football; two historic teams have walked to this point together. Welcome to ESPN’s live broadcast of the first round of UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the 05-06 season!”
Tang En walked out of the corridor to find Wenger standing in front of the home team’s technical area. He walked up to him and put out his hand.
“Mr. Wenger, I won’t be wishing for your team to do well.”
Wenger smiled in response. “Same to you, Mr. Twain.”
“Then, I’ll see you after the match.”
“See you after the match.”
The two managers briefly greeted each other before going their separate ways. Even though both knew each other well enough personally, this was prior to a match between them. They were still enemies and could not appear too close to each other. That would negatively influence their players.
The die-hard fans on Highbury’s spectators’ stands continually yelled “Arsenal” and “Highbury,” while those from Nottingham Forest went toe-to-toe with them from the Southern stands, shouting Nottingham Forest’s name. As much as they could, they wanted to make this match into Nottingham Forest’s home match.
Tang En returned to his seat. Next to him, the managerial team and reserve players took their seats in turn. Everyone was anticipating the match that was about to begin.
UEFA Champions League Semi-finals. Tang En took a deep breath.
The referee’s whistle sounded.