Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Invisible Man in Arsenal's Team

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Invisible Man in Arsenal's Team

Article excerpt


AFTER shaking hands with opposite number Ronald Koeman and a quick exchange with one or two players, Arsene Wenger's first port of call in the wake of tonight's Champions League clash in Eindhoven will be a post-match debrief with Boro Primorac.

The big, bald Bosnian's routine both at halftime and when the final whistle blows - is to scurry down from his seat in the stands to offer any tactical or technical observations to his boss and long-term friend.

Pat Rice may sit alongside Wenger on match days and assume the public role as No2, but there is little doubt that the mysterious Primorac - who many diehard Gunners fans would struggle to recognise - is the French general's most trusted lieutenant.

A rugged central defender who captained the former Yugoslavia during his playing days, Primorac possesses the sort of physique that could earn him extracurricular work as a nightclub doorman - and a vigorous handshake to match - but in English football his profile is minute.

He shuns interview requests with self-deprecating shrug: "Why would you want to speak to me? I'm not important."

The evidence, however, is to the contrary.

The 52-year-old is a highly-valued tactician and Wenger's chief sounding board on players, tactics and team selection.

"Boro is an encyclopedia of world football," said Arsenal great and former goalkeeping coach Bob Wilson.

Name a player and he'll know his height, weight and which foot he favours.

He watches tape after tape on football, channel after channel.

"He's Arsene's ally and they share the belief that the three most important things in the game are technique, technique, technique."

Armed with stopwatch and whistle, Wenger personally runs all Arsenal's training sessions himself with the precision of a Swiss clock.

However, according to one Ashburton source: "If Arsene delegates anything, he delegates to Boro. He is the man he trusts most."

Wenger and Primorac's friendship was borne out of adversity.

They first became acquainted at Cannes in the early 1980s, where the Frenchman was an assistant coach and the Yugoslav a player, and then became rival managers in the France Championnat in 1993 - Wenger at Monaco and Primorac at Valenciennes.

But it was Primorac's role in the 1993 French football scandal that resulted in the jailing of Bernard Tapie, the Marseilles president, which was to secure their bond. The fallout from the crisis

also resulted in Marseilles being stripped of the Champions League title.

After being told by one of his players, Jacques Glassman, that he and two team-mates, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert, had deliberately thrown an end-of-season game against Marseilles, Primorac bravely ignored Tapie's attempts to buy his silence and his evidence in court was crucial to the club president's conviction.

After bringing down Tapie, Primorac became something of a scapegoat in French football. At 39, his topflight managerial career was effectively finished.

"Many people felt Boro broke the code of silence in football," remembers a Valenciennes source. "He suffered a traumatic time giving evidence against Tapie. He was personally threatened and Valenciennes got rid of him.

"The results weren't brilliant at the time and he never had great success as a manager, but Boro was robbed of his career by the scandal. He had taken great personal risk in giving evidence against Tapie and was to pay a huge price."

Wenger's Monaco suffered the most because of Tapie's corruption and the Arsenal boss had been impressed by Primorac's courage and integrity.

The Frenchman had publicly supported the man who was to become his long-serving accomplice and eventually offered him a coaching job after moving to Grampus Eight in Japan in 1994. …

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