Just how good enough is good enough? At what point does a player become Arsenal quality? Who decides whether he is world class or just a squad player? And are these judgements set in stone, or can a player move from one state to another? These questions are prompted by two things, the first being a vague conversation I became involved in yesterday about Jack Wilshere, the second in light of the reaction to the possible re-signing of Carols Vela.
I am fascinated by Jack for a whole variety of reasons, and it is possibly easiest just to list them.
- He is only 22
- He has on occasions been hailed as England and Arsenal’s saviour
- He is capable of the most sublime football
- There is a touch of the street fighter about him
- He is a fans’ favourite
- He scored the best team goal that anyone will ever see
- Arsene Wenger has described him as one of the most talented young players he has ever worked with
- He has spent the last three seasons either injured or returning from injury
- He is no longer a favourite of all the fans and some don’t see him as an automatic starter either for The Arsenal, or, more strangely, for England
Not so long ago there would have been little debate about his quality, which would have been seen as top, top, or world class. He was our very own Superjack, and when much else in The Arsenal world was slightly rocky, that at least was certain. But now it would seem it isn’t, or at least it wasn’t to the person I was talking to yesterday, nor indeed to Stuart Pearce who pronounced that Jack wouldn’t kick a ball in the World Cup. I happen to think they are wrong, and maintain my belief that he is an outstanding talent, but the point of this post is not to argue his, or any other’s case (that can safely be left to Twitter and the comments section)but rather to explore what lies behind the judgments that are made about a player’s ability.
Clearly the proof of the pudding is in the playing, but often it is more than that, especially as only a very small number get to see players play for a full 90 minutes with their own eyes. For those that watch whole matches on the TV their view tends to be determined by the shots the cameramen choose to take, and by and large those shots follow the ball. If, say, a quarter of the value of a player to his team is what he does when he isn’t directly and immediately involved in the play, then it is clear that judgments are not based on the full story. Given that even more of those judgements are based on recorded highlights, and that those highlights rely heavily on editorial decision making, with all the bias that such selections inevitably entail, then we can see that most fans’ view of a player is already compromised. Throw into the mix the comments of pundits, who may or may not have an axe to grind (old allegiances run deep, and few past players are totally in love with their modern successors) and suddenly the claim that player X is not world class can be seen to be distorted.
The judgements become even more tainted of course when assessing the value of a transfer target, or when the player in question is being debated in the school yard (yes, I know school yards no longer exist, but what is a comment on football without an appropriate cliché), because then a kind of macho one-upmanship comes into play. Signing Vela is of absolutely no use to that kind of fan. He will not cost nearly enough money (anything under £25m these days is seen as a “Lol, poverty”), he does not come from a well-known club, he has already been dismissed as a failure once in his Arsenal lifetime, his YouTube videos are a little underwhelming, and perhaps most crucially of all, he isn’t talked about in reverential terms by those pundits who are persuaded to talk so glowingly by the agents they spend so much time with. If the dismissal of Vela can be accompanied with a sneering comment about Wenger dithering about in the bargain basement again then so much the better, especially if the twitterliverer of that comment can at the same time proclaim that only he properly understands just what players Arsenal need to even get top 4 again.
So Vela has no chance, and I suspect that a little like Giroud, even if he does come he will spend his life being criticised for what and who he is not , rather than celebrated for what he is and what he does offer. It apparently doesn’t matter that he has improved significantly, because whilst it is apparently fine to say that a player has regressed or hasn’t lived up to his potential, it is not allowed for anyone to improve. And it is that aspect that I find saddest of all, because I believe the biggest obstacle anyone can have to living their life successfully is to settle for a fixed and pessimistic mind-set. The whole basis of coaching is to help a player unlock his potential and find improvement, the whole point of training is to make progress from where you were yesterday. The best coaches dare to see the potential in players, the outstanding ones know how to help them unlock it. Choosing to adopt a growth mind-set is the most positive difference you can make to your life, whether you are a professional footballer, or gainfully employed in some other walk of life or simply waiting to leave school and to find a job that really suits you – or even, like me, just a student of the game.
If Vela returns he will be exciting, as will Balotelli (and the thought of him coming just makes me smile – I don’t think he will, but it would be kind of fun to see what happens if he does, and there is, in truth, only one manager on the planet who I would trust to get the best out of him).
Eighteen months ago, when Jack Wilshere was driving The Arsenal forward to a Third Round Cup victory over Swansea few would have imagined it was Aaron Ramsey who would make the most progress over the next year or so – but he did, and it was due to his courage and determination, but also to the unshakeable and visionary faith of his manager. I would not offer you any odds at all on Arsene Wenger helping Jack, or any of the others he chooses to sign, unleashing that potential too. And while this may well come back to haunt me, I do want to finish by saying that fitness permitting, I believe that Jack Wilshere will be as good a player as we have ever seen at The Emirates.
Today’s post was penned by @foreverheady