First thing’s first, I apologize for the prolonged absence, it’s the business-end of semester at university over here and though I can clearly hear you sarcastically bowing your air violins across the sea, the fact remains that Allen Ginsberg isn’t going to read himself.
So. Footballers come and go, the song remains the same. It is an unavoidable facet of football support that in involving oneself with the fanfare, one must be utterly aware of the attached strings.
There will be ups, there will be downs; there will be comings, there will be goings. I will resist the temptation to propagate the risqué simile on the tip of my tongue.
Arrivals and departures elicit excitement and lament from supporters in equal measure; it is one of the biggest drawcards of football, and of sport in general—that constant, permeating, unknown quantity that soaks every aspect of every club. How will so-and-so do at such-and-such a club? Why did Arsenal sign Chu-Young, how could they fail to sell Squillaci, will Diaby be able to stay injury-free, can Cazorla maintain his form, how many minutes will van Persie play for United before suffering his first injury? (er...203, actually).
Player departures are possibly the least rewarding and most common of these unknown quantities, and for good reason: when you bring someone in, there is the potential for newness, freshness—for that player to maybe bring something to the table that the team has been lacking, something exciting and innovative and, particularly in the case of Arsenal, for a nobody to turn himself into a somebody.
But when a player leaves, it is almost as though that departure is a metaphor for a kind of failure—whether it be the failure of the club to get the best out of the player, or the failure of the player to deliver his best at the club.
Sometimes, though, a player’s sale is met with absolute glee by one or both of the parties. Think of a football team as a rough, uncut diamond. The players are cutters, the manager is the designer of the diamond: in order for the diamond to be cut according to the blueprint that the manager sets, all of the cutters must be of a quality to know and perform their role in the cutting inherently, so that it can take shape as close to the specifications as possible.
If one of the cutters openly disagrees with the shape that the diamond is taking and is not dealt with, the eventual diamond will be cut in an unbalanced way.
If one of the cutters is not skilled enough in the art of diamond-cutting, then his area of the diamond will be cut to a significantly lower quality than the rest, which unbalances and devalues the diamond.
And if one of the cutters turns up to work one day with the news that the Devil appeared to him the night before and offered him twice his diamond-cutting wage to sit around pretending to cut diamonds at a rival diamond-cutting company, before being sent off to toil away at a variety of copper mines on fixed-term contracts, well, who are we to stop the money-grubbing fiend?
Here are six diamond cutters whose services we were glad to see terminated.
Poor old Frannie Jeffers’ Arsenal career came during that awkward pre-Invincibles period when Arsene Wenger spent a considerable period of time attempting to think up profound English idioms, and Jeffers was thus promptly dubbed Wenger’s “fox-in-the-box”.
Too many derogatory counter-puns have been penned regarding Jeffers’ conspicuous failure to deliver the goods for the Gunners, and I shall console myself with a dignified silence on the subject.
To be fair to Wenger, Jeffers had shown all the qualities necessary to be a star: he had a one-in-three goal-to-game ratio, and his style of play was that of a true, out-and-out goal poacher—the sort of attacking player Arsenal had, at the time, been missing since the retirement of Ian Wright.
Now to be fair to Jeffers, the young Englishman arrived at the club with the considerable weight of a £10 million transfer fee on his back, as well as being a young, up-and-coming English player in what was, at the time, possibly the least English team in the history of English football. He also had to compete with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Silvain Wiltord—three strikers who collectively embodied almost all of the features of an ideal striking force.
But it is still no excuse for the bottom line; the reason why the Englishman left after just 22 appearances and four goals, who has since played for eight clubs, most recently the mighty Newcastle Jets of the Australasian A-League: he just didn’t live up to his potential. He did not make himself into the player he once promised to be, and this is his fault and his alone.
The Francis Jeffers experiment was exciting for sure, but his name will never echo rhapsodically from wall to wall at the Emirates; he is, and always will be, that expensive boy who jumped in the deep end, panicked, and forgot how to swim.
Oh, and by the way: On the day that Arsenal’s purchase of Jeffers for £10 million was made official, Chelsea also confirmed a new signing. Frank Lampard. For £11 million.
What could’ve been...
This saga was a real shame, and neatly demonstrated the fickleness of football transfers. I know I use tree metaphors a lot to demonstrate my point, but none have been so apt as the case of Jose Antonio Reyes: sometimes, even when the sun shines, even when you water and nurture and care for a plant that, it is plain to see, could produce the most divine of fruit, it simply won’t grow. And when that happens, disappointed though you may be, the only thing to do is to mournfully uproot that tree, take it away and dream of what could have been.
Jose Antonio Reyes’ Arsenal career should have been a wonderful thing. The striker-cum-winger possessed excellent movement, good pace, a powerful finish and—it appeared—a maturity that belied his youth.
He was bought by Arsenal in 2004 for the enormous sum of £10.5 million, potentially rising to £17 million dependent on performance-related bonuses, which would have made him, even today, the most expensive player in Arsenal’s history.
He came with a considerable reputation. Reyes had made his La Liga debut for Sevilla at the age of just 16, and by the time he came to Arsenal he had built himself a reputation as one of the brightest talents in Spain.
Because of his close relationship with Sevilla’s fans, a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona was out of the question to young Reyes—evidently those stars-in-the-making on the continent have an element of moral fibre that is somewhat lacking in English players.
The thing is, when Reyes came to Arsenal, he originally played really, really well. He impressed in Arsenal’s famed unbeaten season, and scored in the first six games of the 2004-05 season. The catalyst for his downfall, however, came in the end to Arsenal’s unbeaten streak, in the 2-0 loss at Old Trafford.
Reyes was outmuscled and beaten up by the United defense, which relied on some barbaric defending from Gary Neville and an outrageously liberal refereeing display which would be more at home in a hippie commune.
Following this display, it became clear that Reyes was finding life in the Premier League—and in London—difficult to adjust to. The harder, faster, more physical style of the English game was taking its toll on the young Spaniard, who would likely have taken the bull that is world football by the horns in today’s more nuanced game, but whose confidence, once shaken, affected his game immensely.
The bottom line is, Reyes got homesick. And his homesickness was not helped by the Spanish media, who seized upon any opportunity to torment the youngster.
A prank by a Spanish radio DJ saw Reyes and his agent—thinking they were speaking to Emilio Butragueno—admit that the forward was homesick at Arsenal, and speculate that there were “bad people” at the club who could force Reyes out.
Eventually the situation descended to the point where the Spaniard asked not to be played in a Champions League group match, as it would leave him cup-tied should he wish to complete a speculated move to Real Madrid. Wenger obliged Reyes’ wish, left him out, and soon after he had completed a year-long loan to Madrid in exchange for Julio Baptista, effectively ended his Arsenal career—though, it is noteworthy, he failed to fire at Madrid as well.
Now, we don’t hate Reyes—I don’t, at least. He is a premium example of a player who tried to run before they could walk, and players like Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge would do well to heed his example.
Just because you are a player with immense potential does not mean that you automatically should claim your right to play for a big club. There is still learning to be done, and an inauspicious move to a club with already-established stars who still have a while left before their use-by date may sound glamorous, but shows a lack of maturity and measuredness—a propensity to allow oneself to get caught up in the bright lights.
Reyes is on this list because what he could have been contrasted so severely with what he became. As it became clearer and clearer that Reyes was not going to live up to his potential—that he would, sooner or later, be leaving the club—the inclusion of him in the team became, more and more, an exercise in futility; flogging, if you will, the dead horse.
It is always a shame when a tree fails to bear fruit, and especially so when that failure is beyond your control—when the roots of the tree are strangled by its immediate surroundings. But in such a situation, the only course of action is to forgive and forget, to pat him on the back, wish him well and move on.
A crying shame, the case of Jose Antonio Reyes. But one that was written in the stars.
Some friends of mine (I use the term loosely) once concocted an elaborate and admittedly well thought-out ploy to convince me that I’d won just under $5 million in the New Zealand lottery in my youth. During those two all-too-brief, wonderful minutes, I tore off my button-down shirt and sprinted wildly through my house, screaming like the proverbial stuck pig.
Apparently Ashley Cole did pretty much the same thing when he found out he was coming into a similar amount of money. The difference is, he screamed, yelled “they’re taking the piss Jonathan” and, in his own words, nearly crashed his car, so incensed was he by the club’s apparently pitiful offer.
The problem with Ashley Cole was that he was actually good, and he was English, and he’d been coached and bred at Arsenal ever since he was a teenager. He was, for a period, everything that was right about Arsenal, but he allowed his gaping flaws in character and a crippling jealousy of the reverence afforded Thierry Henry to distort his view of reality.
I’ve written on Ashley Cole before. My feelings on the man are no secret, and call me a broken record if you will, but in retrospect, I’m glad he’s gone. I want to like the players in my Arsenal shirt as blokes, as productive members of society, not solely as footballers. That’s why I wouldn’t want Cristiano Ronaldo dirtying our most sacred of shirts. Because he’s an arrogant bloody sod.
Ronaldo is bad. But Ashley Cole is the worst. He’s worse than anyone—he’s worse than John Terry, he’s worse than Joey Barton, he’s worse than Luis Suarez.
He has no respect for anything, or anyone. In 2004-05—the season before he moved to Chelsea, and a year and a half before his move was made official, Cole and his agent were involved in a tapping-up scandal—a secret meeting involving the pair and a certain Jose Mourinho at a London hotel, discussing the possibility of a shift to the Blue side of London while still under contract at Arsenal—in which both were found guilty and heavily fined for their actions.
He also leapt to John Terry’s defense during his captain’s highly-publicised racism trial, presumably because Ashley knows it’s very important to keep your friends close, but to keep your friends who have a penchant for calling opposition team members “black f****** c****” even closer (no insensitivity or offence intended to any reader, I should mention on a more serious note).
Not just these. He also cheated on his wife.
Oh, you say. Lots of people cheat on their wives, doesn’t make them the bottom rung of the ladder, does it?
Ashley Cole’s wife was Cheryl Cole. You know? Cheryl Cole.
In the outraged words of one particularly astonished reader,
“how could ANYONE cheat on Cheryl Tweedy!?! HOW ?!! HAAAAAAAAAAOWWWWWWWW?!?!?!?!?!?!??”
I must say. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Oh yes, and let’s not forget that Ashley last year shot a 21-year-old intern with an air rifle from five feet away, while the kid was on work experience at Stamford Bridge. And then refused to apologize publicly.
Class act, that Ashley. Class.
That William Gallas is the only player in English Premier League history to have made appearances for Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Arsenal speaks volumes about several aspects of his character.
Gallas is like that big, dumb jock at high school. Remember that guy? The one who thinks that the only way you can get anywhere is through strength and fighting and being tough, and who treats his teammates with utter rudeness and disrespect because, ya know, I have expectations of my team and if they don’t, you know, if they don’t meet those expectations, you know, well I’m’a tell ‘em. I am. And if they don’t like what I’ve got to say well then they can just shut up.
What a toolbag.
Gallas’ Arsenal career—in fact, Gallas’ entire footballing career, has been perennially plagued by controversy; characterized by objectionable comments, bone-headed thuggishness, a determinedly childish tactlessness and a propensity for prima donna antics that make Liberace look like Paul Bunyan, all intermingling into one utterly unsavoury cocktail wielded by a brutish-looking man who felt that he looked good with a Mohawk hairstyle. At the age of 31.
Gallas’s four years at Arsenal neatly demonstrated his blunt-force-trauma mentality: After holding the captain’s armband for two years, the captaincy was stripped from Gallas for an outspoken rant in which he questioned the resolve of the team, preferring the completely original and creative simile of football-players-as-soldiers-in-battle-unwilling-to-fight-for-their-freedom.
He also stated to the media that a number of Arsenal players were having internal problems with an unnamed 25-year-old in the team—and remember, this is the captain we’re talking about, dishing out gossip on the dressing room goings-on with the breathless stupidity of a bored housewife on a daytime soap opera.
Just a month before his infamous rant, Gallas had been spotted coming out of a London bar with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Kolo Toure also reported that Gallas was the decisive factor in his decision to leave Arsenal, saying “One of us had to go, and it was me” when the relationship between the two broke down.
In researching for this slide, I even managed to stumble across this little gem from the Daily Mail, just in case you’re ever looking for an absolutely textbook, perfect example of irony.
Gallas was a prat who thought he was a king. He seemed constantly to be under the impression that his age and experience made him correct in every matter, and gave him the right to do and say anything he wanted. The list of casualties which resulted directly from his conduct during the four years he spent at the Emirates is depressing at best and crippling at worst.
He is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with testosterone: A captain who also wants to be manager, spiritual guide, teacher, guru, life coach; who sees fear as being tantamount to respect and who strives for this “respect” through the constant imparting of fear.
Bugger William Gallas.
The most disrespectful action I can conceive that doesn’t break any universal taboo is the impartation of the backhand slap to the face which at once sends a message both of flippant domination and utter, crushing humiliation for the recipient. This can be seen at literally any WWE event.
Ideally, the backhand slap is bestowed by a large and imposing figure of elegance and gravitas to the face of one who is small, diminutive, and looks like a horse. Thus, my proposal that the most perfect backhand slap in history would see the petulant and obnoxious Samir Nasri absorb the wrath of the unfortunately deceased Robert Wadlow, the 8'11"-tall American whose hands were quite literally larger than dinner plates.
Now wouldn’t that be a sight to behold.
Samir Nasri is an embodiment of everything that is wrong with contemporary football.
He is greedy.
He is petulant.
He taunts his old club’s fans after selling his dignity and self-respect for £200,000 a week and a cheap Premier League title, and the thing is—the thing that really grinds my gears—he barely even plays for them.
Nasri’s move to Manchester City occurred after the start of the 2011-12 campaign, which is indicative of what a prick Samir Nasri is—I’m not sure how, but somehow everything Samir Nasri does is indicative to me of what a prick he is. He could be serving up some good old-fashioned leek and potato at a soup kitchen on Christmas Day and I’d still think he was being a prick—but then again, if he was serving up leek and potato in a soup kitchen, you’d bet your bottom dollar that he was stashing a big pot of the stuff under the table for later.
That’s the kind of guy that Samir Nasri is. Even his transfer saga showed how infantile and childish footballers have become; he offered himself on a silver platter, 50 Shades of Grey-style, to Manchester City, who—50 Shades of Grey-style—spent a perversely long time admiring the target from all angles, before cooling their interest.
The used-and-abused Nasri, desperate to cut his losses, then went around offering his body and all the things that it is capable of (yes, I am deliberately making Nasri sound like a prostitute) to anybody, approaching PSG for a move which was a stark confirmation that, truly, he was only interested in money.
Last-minute, City swooped in and took the Frenchman off our hands for the princely sum of £25 million, which incidentally is about the same price as Arsenal paid for Santi Cazorla. Oh, and Lukas Podolski. Combined.
God, what a prick. There is something very unsavoury about Samir Nasri: though he can certainly play football, the hugely inflated ego and sense of self-importance, combined with a mercenary’s attitude, a spoilt child’s petulance and a horse’s face, makes him annoying, immoral, conceited, bitter, childish and, above all, ugly, in thought, in word, in deed—indeed.
Good riddance to the bugger. Anyone with that inflated sense of self-importance will forsake any kind of loyalty or sacredness in order to further their own cause, and at a club like Arsenal, where respect, dignity and measure are paramount to the ongoing success and maintenance of the distinctive aura that the club holds, anyone like Samir Nasri can only be poison.
For a long time—even after his statement—I held onto hope for Robin van Persie.
The sort of hope that I imagine an extremely religious person might hold for someone who is flagrantly on the wrong track in life. Hope for their sake, that their soul might be saved.
Van Persie had a chance to be a legend. To buck the trend. He could have been one of the greatest Arsenal players in history. All the ingredients were there: he had been identified as a troubled but precocious young player by Arsene Wenger; he had undergone severe and debilitating setbacks, but his guru had stood by him during the times of trouble. Despite his physical shortcomings, Wenger had faith in his inherent ability, and, I’m sure, he knew that Van Persie would be immensely strengthened mentally by the trials he had undergone.
Wenger made him the focal point of nouveau Arsenal, knowing that his mental resilience, his leadership and his outstanding ability would set a shining example to the rest of his young and adapting team, that Van Persie would provide goals when there were no goals, hope when all hope appeared lost.
He could have been the moral centrepiece of football: proof that even in a game which increasingly seems to portray itself as a business, humanity and principle and faith can still be relevant, are still present.
But he didn’t. He left.
I began writing for Bleacher Report at the start of the Robin van Persie saga, and most of my articles have involved him in some way, shape or form.
He has put me through just about every emotion football can elicit from a fan: joy, love, admiration, despair, sadness, regret, anger and relief.
Now the only feeling I have towards him is of disappointment. The sort of disappointment that you might feel in an artist who forsakes his art for fame, or a principled lawyer (LOL) who forgets why he became a lawyer because a big firm places a blank cheque in front of him.
Those naysayers will claim that football is a job, that Van Persie was doing what he felt was right for his career, and this argument has some merit. We cannot expect players to feel the same about a club as we do, because they are employees and we, ostensibly, are the employers.
But a football club is also a family, albeit one that players join voluntarily, and within the fabric of a family there is often a patriarch or a matriarch who embodies the virtues of that family, who is the glue that sticks everybody together.
This is the role that Van Persie developed into. And that meant that he had a duty. And he forsook that duty, despite the fact that everything he is came as a result of the nurture, care, love and patience of his family—not just Arsene Wenger, the big daddy, but the fans, the board, the staff and his fellow players. The people who helped him through the bad and celebrated the good with vindication and self-satisfaction, gazing upon RvP, bursting with the pride and gratification present when a father sees his son receive an award for something that the boy has figuratively broken his back for.
What a shame. What a terrible, terrible shame.