What's it like supporting Arsenal from afar when a team from your own country comes up against them in the Champions League? Goal.com finds out with a fan interview...
Meet Max Troiani, Arsenal fan extraordinaire. From his home in Italy he follows the Gunners by TV and the internet, cherishing a love that's been blossoming for the best part of two decades. He spoke to Goal.com to offer his opinions during the build-up to the crucial Champions League clash against Roma.
Max Troiani is the founder of the legendary fanzine UK Football, Please and the author of a book on Celtic which will soon hit the shelves. Not only is he a great connoisseur of English football, but he is also a passionate Arsenal fan and a member of the Arsenal Italy Supporters Club.
How did you develop this passion for the Gunners?
When I started following English football at the beginning of the 1980s, I fell in love with the amazing white and red shirt and the unique Highbury Stadium.
Even though they were not successful and, if anything, they made us fans suffer deeply, I am very attached to the then team, with players such as David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton, Charlie Nicholas and my favourite, Liam Brady.
What do you expect from the upcoming Champions League tie with Roma?
I think that our current side is the weakest in the past ten years. Moreover, we have been plagued by a spate of injuries to key players like Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott. And we cannot forget that Arsenal have regularly suffered a dip in form in February and March over the past two seasons.
They were knocked out by PSV at the last 16 stage two years ago, while last term they also slumped in the league in this period. If Francesco Totti recovers, Roma will no doubt be favourites to progress.
It seems that you are very skeptical about the possibility of Arsenal claiming the Champions League…
Yes, I would say that we don’t stand more than a 10 per cent chance, but only taking into account the unpredictability of a knock out competition like the Champions League, which can nonetheless throw up a nice surprise for an underdog side like Arsenal.
What do you think about Arsenal’s performances so far this season?
I think that the squad at Arsene Wenger’s disposal did the best they could and I feel they cannot push themselves further than challenging Aston Villa for a fourth-place finish.
Since 2005, when Patrick Vieira was sold to Juventus, Arsenal have been gradually weakened. You cannot move forward by simply gambling on young prospects, you need experienced players, particularly in midfield, the kind of men who can do the ‘dirty work’.
However, Wenger perseveres with his non-buying policy and was not able to keep hold of two ‘clydesdales’ like Aliaksandr Hleb and Mathieu Flamini. And this happened despite having funds at his disposal.
I sense that you have doubts about Wenger. Do you think his time is up?
All my English friends keep supporting his work, but I believe that his ideas are outdated.
Don’t get me wrong, he is extraordinary and on a par with legends like Herbert Chapman, the man behind the triumphs in the 1930s, and George Graham, who guided the Gunners back to the top across the 1980s and 1990s.
But perhaps it’s time for a change, building a more British-oriented team and not just gambling exclusively on youngsters.
Luca Manes, Goal.com