Post by Varun Shukla (@wengerarmy)
While browsing through the new Arsenal website (which is an absolute corker by the way) I stumbled upon Lee Dixon’s interview. He talked about how he was scouted, approached and signed by Arsenal and his feelings during the entire process. An extract here:
“I walked through the marble halls and I just went to myself, ‘whatever happens today, I am not leaving here until I sign’, because the place smelled of football.”
The more Sherlock Holmesian of people will stop me right now with an “Elementary, my dear author” comment here and deduce where I’m going with this, but for the more mortal of us, read on.
Every Gooner remembers the summer transfer window and one Dutch Skunk in particular. There’s no need to go into the details, I’m sure- he is where he wanted to be and no one this side cares. He however can’t stop talking about us. When he’s not busy getting impregnated by little boys or spending time in sweet shops, he talks about how he’s ‘‘seeing things he’s seen before only with Henry and Bergkamp’’ and about how his current employers ‘breathe football’.
What’s the difference between Lee Dixon and United’s number 20? Aside from the fact that one is an Arsenal legend and the other would give Brutus a run for his money in the Best Betrayal of All Time Award, it’s in what they said about their respective clubs. On the face of it both statements seem to be similar (though Lee has better grammar). There’s a huge difference though – Lee was bowled over by the sheer history of the Club, the way one might feel while visiting Buckingham Palace. The other guy’s statement was just a PR exercise to enhance his image.
And that is the difference between a legend and a good footballer. Players of the past – Dixon, Adams, Bergkamp, Seaman, Rocastle etc respected the Club as a historical institution. They felt a sense of responsibility and belonging – it was almost as if they were supporters themselves. Henry is a legend not because he scored the most goals or because he won with us. It is this statement which says it all “You need big shoulders to play for Arsenal – the cannon is heavy.” The same can be said about Gerrard, Pirlo and Antonio di Natale for their respective clubs. They believed.
Most modern players however, are more individualistic. These days, it is Club A for development, Club B for winning stuff and Club C for a comfortable retirement and so on. They plan every stage like a corporate career and that somehow just doesn’t go with the spirit of football. A football player is a role model to many and for me; he is complete if he is a good person as well. This is one of the things which make me proud to say that I am a Gooner – by and large; we’ve always had players who are great humans as well as footballers.
Much has been said about the ‘family spirit’ at Arsenal. We have top class facilities, one of the best footballing arenas in the world and a visionary manager who has always cared about his players. On more than one occasion, we’ve heard from ex and current players about how great it feels in the dressing room, how Arsene is like a ‘second father’ and how life is generally top class. Even the new signings admit that their national compatriots were a big factor in convincing them to sign (Mertesacker for Podolski and Cazorla for Nacho to name just two). Which makes it all the more baffling when players leave for no apparent reason.
A big part of the reason for our trophyless run (aside from financial restrictions, oil money and even some refereeing ‘errors’) is the outflow of players. Every season since 05-06, the manager has had to contend with key players leaving which results in an overhaul of strategy leading to rebuilding of the team and a loss of ‘chemistry’ and stability.
A chronological list here would be helpful:
You’ll notice that I omitted players such as Henry, Ljungberg, Gallas, Toure, Lehmann etc. Here I’ve considered only the players who could have contributed significantly to the team by staying. The list also has some of the biggest ‘traitors’ in AFC history (except Clichy maybe). This, however, is exactly my point.
Why, when everything is so brilliant at our club, do players leave? Out of all of these players, Cole was perhaps the only one who admitted outright that he wanted more money than we could offer. The rest had varying degrees of ‘trophy sickness’. And more money of course. The thing that hurts is the way in which the Club is made a scapegoat and the way in which it becomes widely accepted opinion.
Particularly in Persie’s case, he released a statement which effectively disrespected the Club and said ‘they lack ambition’. What does ambition mean? How does signing 5 players (some of whom are targeted by teams fighting to avoid the drop) show that we’re serious about winning the title? Is the board, Dick Law, Wenger or Gazidis out there playing on the pitch? No. The best the Club can do is provide the best possible environment for the players to excel. It is the players who need to show that they want to win, not the Club.
Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying the players don’t make any effort. Just that blaming the Club for what are essentially their mistakes is wrong. An open net, just the finish required. A goal takes us through to the next stage, and it is shot wide. Instead of working harder and improving that, player takes the easiest option to move in transfer window and accuse us of lack of ‘ambition’. It’s a similar thing with defenders. Let in a goal, and yet they say that Wenger didn’t handle the ball better.
Coming back to Persie. After nearly 6 seasons at the treatment table, he showed the form of his life. We finished 3rd, and were raring to go in the next season. He knows that he could have helped us do better by staying – repaying the faith shown, but he chose to leave. And before that, he even took the pains to undermine the club that made him. Wasn’t it his attempted chip against AC Milan which was saved and cost us progression in the CL? No, that was somehow Wenger’s fault.
Fabregas, beloved captain. Got homesick apparently and went on strike to force a move. He knew that the team was built around him – the boss must have talked to him about it, about the difficulties we’d face in rebuilding – but no, he went home to Barcelona who willingly let go of him at the age of 16.
Maybe the agents are to blame. They make the players believe that they are the best thing to happen to the human race since the wheel, talk to their ego and tell them the Arsenal isn’t good enough. Of course, the agents want their commission too. What it all results in is instability in the team, and still the great man finds the resources to qualify for CL each year (for well over a decade running now). And finish above Spurs for good measure.
It’s not as if all players have had successful careers afterwards. Barring Cole, no one has achieved much. Nasri was on the bench for City’s triumph, he doesn’t count. Hleb and Flamini, Adebayor have all come out to admit that they should never have left Arsenal, Fabregas only played in the final of Spanish equivalent of Community Shield in his first season, Song is miserable at Barcelona.
What they fail to realize is as a bunch, staying together, they could have achieved something much much greater than they will ever do with other clubs. And that is what is good about the current team. No exit in sight (only Sagna’s contract situation left), everyone has ages left on their contracts, they all want to win something NOW. And God damn, we will.