A few weeks ago, Daniel, my 15 year old son, rushed out of his room, and full of excitement told me that while it obviously wouldn’t happen The Arsenal were linked with Martin Ødergaard. I listened attentively, and while not wanting to kill his enthusiasm, also wanted to warn against the inevitable disappointment when yet again a transfer rumour proved to be just that: a rumour, written to generate website clicks. While it is also true that most of the players he tells me we are about to sign I have never heard of, this one intrigued me for I had a distant memory of the name – and a sense that we’d been linked with him before.
And so we had, back several years ago now when the footballing world was suddenly full of the new latest wunderkind, the ‘hardly old enough to tie his own bootlaces’ Norwegian Messi. Martin Ødergaard. With, of course, the best ‘knower’ of new talent, Arsene Wenger instrumental in inviting all 15 years old of him, to spend a couple of days at Colney. Money talks of course, especially if you are keen to cash in on a yet to be proved player, and so predictably enough he went on to sign for Real Madrid. But however talented they may be, teenagers by and large don’t cut the mustard in senior football, and so Ødergaard disappeared from view, needing to do his apprenticeship, an apprenticeship of course involving loans to clubs perhaps less well suited to nurturing prodigious, yet fragile, talent (think Gnabry and Pulis). But the fact that Wenger had seen something, and that six year later Arteta was seemingly interested, was enough to get me thinking.
Enough to get me thinking? That, if not a lie, is criminally economical with the truth. This 63-year-old, recently invited for his first Covid jab due to a ‘pre-existing’ condition, was straight on to YouTube, consuming all the Ødergaard videos and chat it was possible to find. And then he did sign (just a loan, but who knows?). That it also coincided with an upturn in The Arsenal’s results even saw a re-reading (about the 7th, if the truth be known) of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. Suddenly we were back, the sunlit uplands beckoning, League, Cup and European glory only a matter of time. Arsene knew. And he made sure Arteta knew too. In my dreams I was shuffling back to the tube station, carried along on waves of song and the scent and smells and banter of match day, full of the 4-0 schooling we’d just handed to the lot down the road, a victory orchestrated by Ødergaard, Saka and Smith-Rowe. My dreams are so sad these days!
Well as night follows day, Ødergaard didn’t really feature at all to begin with: we were dumped out of the Cup, and then met with horribly predictable reversals in the Midlands, first thrown to the Wolves’, then scrappily at the hands of a Villa side unreally favoured by Fortune. Ødergaard merely an ineffectual bit-player. Of course there was a reason why Real let him go, of course Tierney and Partey were injured, of course the Refs were never going to help us, of course the lot of the football fan is to be permanently disappointed. And of course a bit of me was deep down pleased: supporting a team, unless you are a shifting glory hunter, is not just about the shitness of everything, but it’s the active revelling in it.
And yet. And yet. And yet.
Just when you think it is all so bad it’s time to walk away, to stop going, to stop accessing the websites, to deactivate Twitter, Arteta only goes and starts Aubameyang up front, with Smith-Rowe, Saka and Ødergaard just behind him, and another great Wenger signing (Xhaka) playing alongside another tiki-taka Real reject (Ceballos) at the heart of the midfield against everybody’s flavour of the month, Leeds. And before you know it, it’s 4-O to the Arsenal and the side’s oozing Wengerean unction. Little twiddly midfielders everywhere, Wengerball incarnate, ‘walking-the-ball-in’ the clear ambition.
As I once read, Arteta was Arsene’s translator on the pitch. Could it just be that the DNA is reasserting itself? Might there be glory days ahead? Is it safe to dream again? And if it isn’t, if dreams aren’t allowed, then what after all is the point of anything?