An Argentine midfielder playing in the lower leagues may be a strange choice as the best professional in the world, but the reason for such a statement spreads beyond the painted lines of a field.
Many of the problems in today’s society are mirrored in the game, and we stand on the brink of a generation of football fans falling out of love with the game. We live in the era of the individual taking precedent over the team, and in players treating football like any other career and worrying about their bank balance and individual situation above all.
Examples are not hard to find, whether it be Luka Modric responding to some good form at Tottenham by seeking a better club, or Wayne Rooney causing such unrest at Manchester United last season before being handed a huge pay rise.
On the individual level, Joey Barton is worshipped by many fans and perceived as intelligent merely because he can copy and paste quotes from other people on his twitter feed. After criticizing his club openly his ‘punishment’ was to start the first Premier League game and embarrass himself in a spot of handbags with Gervinho.
Even positive role models like Ryan Giggs have been exposed as flawed. While stars like Lionel Messi are doing a fine job and appear loyal, it is easy to be loyal when you are paid millions and play for the best team in the world.
So why is Middlesbrough’s veteran Argentine midfielder Julio Arca any different?
The answer came when he was interviewed after his team’s impressive 1-0 victory over Leeds United at Elland Road.
Arca has been involved this summer in a long-running ‘transfer saga.’ However, you have likely not heard about it. The reason for that is not that no good clubs were involved—in fact, Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors were among those linked with his signature.
The reason you will have not heard about it is that Arca dealt with his situation like a grown man, a rare event in today’s game. There was no running to the press to cry and moan about getting gout, and no agent leaking stories from “dressing room sources” to cause unrest.
Instead, Arca kept his head down and did his job, appreciating how enjoyable it can be to be a professional footballer even when you don’t have it all your own way.
At the end of it all, he re-signed with Middlesbrough and gave a very impressive display at Leeds. Arca made some quotes in his interview that you simply do not hear anymore in football. These sentences included:
“I did not get what I wanted financially, but decided to stay.”
“There is more than money, I like it here.”
“It is not about money, I prefer to play for this manger in this style.”
Just think about it, how often have you heard that? The concept of a professional footballer not getting what they want but staying anyway is a rare event. Indeed, it harks back to the days before ‘player power,’ when clubs had authority and respect from the individuals they employed.
When you look back, Arca’s entire career at Boro has shown respect and humility. He was signed as an attacking left winger, and shifted about from left midfield, to center midfield, to right midfield, to left back. Despite the team toiling for results, all this was done without a word of complaint.
He came off the bench at Leeds with Boro holding a 1-0 lead in front of a hostile crowd. In a difficult situation, he constantly got himself on the ball and kept possession as Boro closed out an important win.
Even the skill of coming off the bench with a good attitude is dying in the game today. It is now common to see decent-to-average footballers acting too good to play a role for their team after 10 Premier League games.
For an established veteran to have the humility to come on and play a solidifying role without complaint is a credit to the man, and also to the culture being formed by Tony Mowbray at the club.