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I'm All Wright; Why Arsenal MUST not let ace Ian go!; The best in the business.

GEORGE GRAHAM has spelt out exactly why Arsenal cannot - and MUST not - sell Highbury hero Ian Wright.

Former Gunners boss Graham describes Wright quite simply as: "One of the top half-dozen British strikers I have ever seen."

Wright has fallen out with current Highbury manager Bruce Rioch and has asked for a transfer, as exclusively revealed in last week's Sports Mirror.

But Graham, the man who signed Wright for Arsenal, does not think the club can afford to let their star striker go.

In his book, The Glory and the Grief, Graham explains just how important Wright is to the Gunners.

He says: "You could not ask for a more genuine, honest professional than Ian Wright, who was 21 before he finally made the breakthrough into League football.

"This meant he was hungrier than most other players, and explains why he celebrates every goal as if it is a Wembley winner.

"Even in training, if he gets the ball into the net he will run around posing until some appropriate insults from his team-mates bring him back down to earth.

"He is a one-off who has a boyish enthusiasm and love for the game that I wish I could bottle.

"I would class him among the top half-dozen British strikers I have ever seen."

Graham recalls how he pulled off a major coup when he signed Wright from Crystal Palace for pounds 2.5million in September, 1991.

Proud

He says: "We had been tracking Wright for several seasons, and Crystal Palace reluctantly allowed him to go after their chairman Ron Noades had made some controversial comments in a television documentary about the attitudes of black players.

"Wright, black and proud of it, took deep offence at the remarks, and he was an Arsenal player 11 days later.

"Ian is a larger-than-life character who lights up the pitch and dressing room with the electricity of his performances and his personality.

"Some players you have to wind up before sending them out to play, using psychological ploys to lift and inspire them.

"With Ian, I had to try to douse the fire that was always burning within him.

"His bubbling enthusiasm could run away with him, but while getting him to control himself I had to be careful not to rob him of his natural desire to compete.

"People are surprised when they meet Ian for the first time off the pitch. They think he is some sort of giant because of the determined and aggressive way he goes about this business, but he is barely 5ft 9in tall and, by today's standards, quite small for a striker.

Courage

"But there is a lot of power packed in his muscular frame, and he has the courage to go in where it hurts if he feels his reward might be a goal.

"Wright won instant hero status with the fans by marking his Arsenal debut with a hat-trick at Southampton.

"He also scored four goals in the dismantling of Everton and in the final match of the season snatched another hat-trick (again against Southampton), his last two goals coming in injury time to lift him above Gary Lineker as the League's top scorer and the `Golden Boot' winner.

"He had scored 29 goals in total, 24 of them counting for Arsenal after his move from Crystal Palace. And nearly every one of his goals was a gem.

"Ian is one player I cannot claim to have improved with my coaching. Everything he does is by instinct. He is a natural like Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law used to be.

"As with Jimmy and Denis, he can never explain to you after a match how or why he scored a wonder goal.

"All he knows is that it went into the net, and like all great strikers, all his concentration and attention is on the next goal.

"It was often claimed that we had an Ian Wright complex because he scored such a high percentage of our goals. I encouraged the other players to try to match him, but he was out on his own."

Graham points out that there is an explosive side to Wright's character which sometimes lands him in trouble. But, if controlled properly, he reckons it only adds to Wright's game.

Spirit

"You have to take Ian `warts 'n' all', and he has a touchpaper temper to go with his fizzing spirit," says Graham.

"There is not a thimbleful of cowardice in Wright, and he will give as good as he gets if any player goes beyond the boundaries of fair play against him.

"This means retaliatory tactics often drag him into trouble with referees, who do not see the original foul.

"In December 1992, a television camera caught him throwing `paperweight' punches at David Howells in a League match at Tottenham.

"The Press blew it up out of all proportion and the result was a three- match ban, and I got hit with a pounds 500 fine for letting the referee know what I thought of the way he handled the game.

"There was no excuse for what either Ian or I did, but anybody who has suffered the inconsistencies and incompetence of some referees will know why Ian loses control of his temper - and I lose control of my tongue."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Silver, Neil
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 17, 1996
Words:882
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