Earlier today I saw a Tweet from Blackburn George asking his ‘followers’ who their current favourite player was, as well as proclaiming that Granit Xhaka was his. Certainly few could dispute that Xhaka has been one of, if not the, most consistently good players since Christmas: his appetite for hard work, his on-the-field leadership and his game changing performances at the heart of the midfield have all played a part in the gradual climb towards a more respectable league position. But not many, I suspect, would have him as a favourite – and certainly none of those who manufactured outrage and abuse against him, and then spat their own dummies as he responded in kind. He is a player many fans love to hate, especially those who have been influenced by anti-arsenal pundits.
As is one of my almost favourites, Hector Bellerin, guilty in the eyes of many for no less a heinous crime than suggesting that some of the louder and more prominent supporters make a living out of negativity. Guilty too for taking a while to come back from a serious ACL injury. And guilty, I suspect, for not conforming to stereotypical footballing virtues, such as short back and sides and unambiguous masculinity. Perhaps it is certain fans’ dislike of him that is one of the things that George likes most about Xhaka, that I like most about Bellerin. And indeed there can be a certain smugness about going against popular opinion, or of believing that you see qualities missed by others.
But having football favourites or sporting heroes is not just about point scoring – and I think it is certainly far more than being a ‘fan boy’, that pejorative term thrown in the direction of any one who dares to voice support for a player not currently the flavour of the month. I got to wondering what makes me side with one player over another, and what qualities they have that elevates them to favourite status. And from there I began to wonder whether it is because they show qualities that I recognise, that I perhaps have something in common with – or whether it is because they have abilities that I may only dream of, so far beyond my abilities they are.
Of the current lot I like Bellerin, but that is mainly because I remember watching his debut game and enjoyed seeing him progress from there: I happen to think he is a fine player (I prefer him to Cedric Soares) and I always want to see him do well, but he doesn’t really qualify as a true favourite. Should he leave and return to Spain it will not sadden me unduly. I can certainly understand why Tierney is admired by so many, but great though he undoubtedly is I suspect he will never be a favourite, whereas Nacho Monreal was (and I can’t quite explain why, something about rooting for the underdog maybe). Chambers is a favourite but I doubt I’ll see any more of him in an Arsenal shirt, whereas I think that ESR has enough brilliance to become a favourite player of mine. Ozil was definitely a favourite, given that he possessed many of the qualities I look for in a sporting hero (sublime but fragile and inconsistent – in old fashioned cricketing terms a Gower rather than a Gooch) and I had a ridiculous soft spot for Danny Welbeck, who never quite managed to live up to the extravagant hopes I had for him.
So I begin to realise that to qualify as a hero of mine a player must either have frustratingly mercurial brilliance, or feet of clay that occasionally transform into match-winning ability. I am aware that any half decent psychiatrist would make much of my enthusiasm for vulnerability, which is perhaps why I almost prefer the Arsenal in its post 2005 state than in the years of its impossible pomp. But I would also love to know who are the ones that you support more than others, and what it is about them (and you) that makes them stand out as especially worthy of your support. This is not a call to debate who are the best players, merely an opportunity to reflect on the absurdity of investing our hopes and fears in those we will not only never meet, but who will never ever know of our existence!
|Tim Head @foreverheady|