Today I sat back shaking my head as I read stories of the impending, and inevitable sale of Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Glancing over the various articles, fans cursed and bid him good riddance in abundance.
Just wonderful, yet another flower bloomed to brilliance in our garden. Cast out for an insignificant blemish.
Once beloved by the Arsenal faithful, the young center forward finally showed his quality in the 2007/08 season, scoring 24 Premier League goals, three Champions League goals and two FA Cup goals. A sensational haul for a goal scorer, having tied for second place with Fernando Torres behind World Player of the Year Ronaldo, in the goal scoring charts.
Even more sensational was the WAY in which he scored many of his goals. Several jaw-dropping goal-of-the-season candidates, that thrilled not just Gunners, but football fans around the world. As with any player finding such form at the end of the season, Adebayor sought a pay increase from a frugal manager and board. He should’ve taken a course in Public Relations before making his pitch however, because Ade created a mess for himself that summer, one that he would never be allowed to forget.
One of the qualities that Arsenal fans loved most about Ade early on was his humility. He was a gangly creature and a bit awkward, but also high strung, eager, happy and seemed hard-working. When he was interviewed he sometimes went on about his humble background in Togo, barefoot in the streets, potentially growing up in a life of crime before football saved him. His speech was quick and erratic but oddly endearing, like a cute 10 year-old in desperate need of Ritalin. He often spoke of how much he appreciated his opportunity with Arsenal, the fans, his teammates and his manager.
But like the innocent child we never want to see grow up, Arsenal fans did not welcome the reality of a World Class striker growing into his own, a poor African kid getting some swagger, actually realizing his worth and making mistakes along the way. He got his pay raise, but the following season he was derided and booed each time he stepped on and off the pitch, unless he netted that game winning goal. As a result his enthusiasm seemed to wane, and injury further thwarted his goal tally.
However statistics showed that Ade’s performances against the top teams in Europe for 2008/09 were his best ever, and his goals/mins ratio matched Robin Van Persie’s. Still it was not enough for many Arsenal fans. The love affair was clearly over.
But what’s love got to do with it? He’s a footballer for goodness sakes, and like him or not, a darn good one! When fit, Ade is at least a 25-30 goal a season striker and is still quite young. I don’t care how much profit his sale might bring, that kind of forward is hard to replace. His sensational entertainment value makes him a rare commodity.
I say leave the past behind and give the boy the love he needs so that he can get on with it. But they won’t…they’ll rail and fit over him until he returns to the Emirates wearing another team’s kit, chests down a pass, and wraps his F50i TUNiT around a 20 yard screamer into the top corner of our net. Then maybe, just maybe, those blinkered lenses will fall off and they’ll realise the whole Hate-Ade campaign was just much ado about nothing.
I fear that in a way we are becoming the “Newcastle” of the Big 4…or is it now 5 or 6? We’ve lost touch with reality and fallen off the map as serious contenders for the Premier League or European titles.
This past season the media stopped making reference to the “Big 4” as in years past and began making reference to the “Big 3”. Even as we closed in on Chelsea towards the end of the season we still weren’t taken seriously. It wasn’t likely we’d run down Man Utd and take the title, but never had we been taken off the “A” list before, or stripped of our VIP pass to that exclusive party.
Yet fans still remain eerily deluded and stuck-on-stupid where Wenger’s concerned, living off past glories, when with the resources and status still available to us, we could create a winning team.
We too easily dismiss valuable players for the silliest of reasons, with fans demanding loyalty when they’d turn on a player for a brief spell of bad form or an unfortunate spate of injuries. Droning chants of “Wenger Knows” as claims of growth and transition continue to echo in Arsenal football forums across the World Wide Web to no end. While each year we reset and start again, another year of promise, another season without a trophy.
Without even a Carling Cup to claim since 2005 we go into our fifth season now looking less threatening than the last, with stock dropping. Tragic.
This transfer window Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo blew off the idea of coming to Arsenal and was adamant about going to Juventus instead. That’s a bad sign. Especially since one of his mentors, ex-Arsenal DM Gilberto Silva, reportedly encouraged him to come aboard if offered a contract. Players used to covet an opportunity to play for Wenger, but with only old silverware being polished lately at Ashburton Grove, it’s looking a far less attractive prospect for some.
I watch in frustration as Wenger’s young Gunners mature, hone their skills then walk off into the sunset so that some other team profit from (or waste) the gifts that Arsenal has nurtured.
All left because Arsenal would not pay their worth, respect their experience or match their ambition. Henry saw the writing on the wall after practically carrying the much transformed and younger 2006 Arsenal side to the CL final and losing. With a view from the inside, he knew the future of Arsenal would not likely reap the trophies he coveted before his best years were gone.
He’d seen highly valued senior players that might’ve lost a step, but could’ve provided much needed quality and experience to the side during Cup competitions and high profile matches hurried off by Wenger’s “over 30” rule. Players that had helped Wenger to groom his magnificent young prospects in the past were shown the door, or offered “unacceptable” short-term contracts.
Too few were left to lead and show the gifted youth how “Champions” fight in a match when all looks lost. Fans and media awestruck by the occasional brilliant performances of Wenger's bright young starlets, too often give them a pass, using age as an excuse for a lower standard of play.
The few remaining senior players, stretched and stressed trying to do their own jobs while covering for young mistakes, were often made the scapegoat when things went wrong. Henry, Gilberto…now Gallas, a World Class International defender much maligned by media and fans, currently stands peerless in the side, all things considered.
We have a few World Class players, but none with that unique combination of skill, experience and the will of a champion. Had Gallas been fit the day we played Manchester Unitd in the CL Semi-final, we would’ve seen at least one player with a gun on his chest fighting for his life until the last whistle.
Instead we were treated to a disaster captained by a brilliant young midfielder that leads well by example, but when he’s not playing well he provides little leadership or inspiration whatsoever. If the recent form of Gallas against Man Utd had stood on that day, he might’ve nicked a goal and kept out two. Still, like Adebayor and Henry strangely, many would rather he just go.
Why do we make much of issues that in the scheme of things, really don’t matter, or constantly want to cut our nose off to just to spite our faces? Why do we continue to give “The Professor” license to conduct his experiment year after year unchecked, without tangible improvement and retention?
We aren’t at all sure if it’s just an obstinate Wenger hell-bent on building an almost exclusively young squad of trophy winners as his next major career achievement, or if it’s the Arsenal board that’s really keeping Arsenal from funding a quality side capable of contending for the highest honors.
I might accept blaming the board if we hadn’t seen Wenger let go of several senior players of superior quality in recent years that would’ve stayed on for a mere two year contract and a reasonable salary.
Maybe it’s both.
What I do know is that I’m tired of watching my team underachieve. We have a manager capable of winning trophies. We have a vast international fan base that creates enough revenue to fund a proper and balanced side of players. If only we had the wisdom and humility to find and keep them.