Martin O’Neill poetry.
Alvaro Recoba, 23. Alessandro Nesta, 23. Fernando Hierro, 31. (ignore that) Roberto Carlos, 26. Rio Ferdinand, 20. Steven Gerrard, 20.
The chairman’s eyes watered when I gave him that list (with a few others we couldn’t prize away from their club such as Pavel Nedved and Gary Neville) and the outlay of cash he would have to undergo. It’s 1999 now, though. £69.8million is a drop in the ocean, an investment. I promised him Champions League football within three years and only a couple more names to be added to the list next summer.
I twisted his arm and we compromised on the sale of £11m-priced Neil Lennon as well as useful utility man Andy Impey to Aston Villa for £3.75m. Net spend was more around the £50 million mark. A bargain for European football next season.
Tony Cottee Derby County £500,000
Arnar Gunnlaugsson Auxerre £1.5m
Andy Impey Aston Villa £3.75m
Frank Sinclair Bradford £2m
Neil Lennon Liverpool £11m
Alvaro Recoba Inter Milan £8m
Alessandro Nesta Lazio £13.5m
Fernando Hierro Real Madrid £6.8m
Roberto Carlos Real Madrid £27m
Rio Ferdinand West Ham £9m
Steven Gerrard Liverpool £5.5m
Steve Guppy – Fernando Hierro – Rio Ferdinand – Alessandro Nesta – Roberto Carlos
Steven Gerrard – Muzzy Izzet – Robbie Savage
Alvaro Recoba – Emile Heskey
It’s a beautiful team isn’t it?
Arsenal (1:3) Leicester City
And that beautiful team had the opening day blues. Emanuel Petit danced through our wide open defence, breaking from deep behind Patrick Vieira, as he did in the World Cup final last summer. He got the ball from Freddie Ljungberg and clipped the ball past a wanting Tim Flowers who was slow off his line.
We changed things up after that setback in the tenth minute. Thinking we could shore up the midfield with a couple of half-backs in the form of Robbie Savage and Muzzy Izzet, I pushed Izzet alongside Steven Gerrard. We became almost a permanent 3-3-4 as Gerrard and Izzet linked well with Heskey and Alvaro Recoba.
Meet the risk with reward. Gerrard played some defence splitting passes, gifting Heskey his first two goals. The third was from a comical error in the Arsenal defence, allowing Heskey in between Tony Adams and Martin Keown to make it 3-1 before half-time. Tactically, we were very different in the second half. We reverted to a 5-4-1 with Heskey up top on his own and Recoba sitting in a four-man midfield as a playmaker in front of three defensive midfielders in Gerrard, Izzet and Savage putting out fires met with a sturdy Arsenal midfield.
We sat back, soaked up the dozen Arsenal attacks and walked away with a stupendous win on the opening day.