By Tony Attwood
The story of Arsenal losing a highly talented player is not new. It has happened regularly, as the media is now telling us over and over.
Robin van Persie, Cesc Fàbregas, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna, Alex Song, Emmanuel Eboué, Andrey Arshavin, Emmanuel Adebayor, Aleksandr Hleb, Ashley Cole…
But it is interesting that when the media recite the list they tend to do it with certain players included and some missed out. And as always, abbreviated details never tell the whole story – although they tell us a lot about the person who creates the list.
During the time of paying for the stadium, Arsenal players who we might have welcomed keeping were allowed to go, we all know that. The ultimate was van Persie, top goal scorer in the league, finally having a season when his talent was allowed to shine without the interruption of injuries; he was offered a contract in Ferguson’s last year in office which was by any standards financially insane – but it helped give Ferguson the chance to sign off with his much wanted final trophy. Of course it also gave the club a real problem thereafter – a new manager lumbered with a player with a reputation for disruption, a player on an insanely high salary which increasingly he would not deserve and a price tag that no one else would ever pay.
Cesc Fàbregas was the tale of the ludicrous DNA, Barcelona being taunted by Real Madrid for not being able to keep their youngsters, willing to pay any price for a player whose remarkable talents were not always on display (just consider what happened to him last season at Chelsea). Great sometimes, not so great others, Barce let him go with much less noise than they used in getting hold of him once again.
So it goes on, different players leaving for different reasons – sometimes clearly players that Arsenal wanted to keep (like Cole), sometimes players for whom the bid must have left everyone at the club desperately trying to keep a straight face while accepting the offer. One thinks perhaps of the tealented but injury prone Thomas Vermaelen, the erratic Alex Song, the seemingly bonkers Emmanuel Adebayor, the fading Aleksandr Hleb…
The issues of transfers out are often complicated and confused, and not always made apparent, but I am not sure we have seen something quite like Alexis Sanchez before. The tell-tale sign came in the game against Liverpool, where Alexis, sitting in the luxury seats reserved for the subs, tried to make light of the situation by talking to Gabriel. You may have seen it – Alexis animated, laughing, joking, desperately trying to engage with Gabriel. Gabriel sitting there stony faced, not wanting to engage at all. Someone clearly had been involved in a very big row – it was only a little later we found out who.
Body language can be a highly contentious topic, as much of the time it is in the eye of the beholder – the person delivering the body language, if questioned on it, often saying “I wasn’t thinking that at all”. It isn’t a language – it is a set of movements that might, or might not, tell us what the other person is thinking. Parents can get it right with unsophisticated children, but with adults… it is not always so easy.
But this time, I rather think we could get the idea. Gabriel really didn’t want to know, Alexis was very keen to lighten the atmosphere, suggesting it was not he who was the disrupter.
And now we know why. It seems the whole team finally got fed up with his antics, his gesticulations when substituted, his petulance in throwing his wrist protector to the ground for someone else to pick up.
He is of course an utterly brilliant player, and a man who apparently has done a lot for the poverty stricken area in which he grew up, but as has been clear with his time with Chile, he is a player who has to do things his way. He is the genius, he knows. Like so many geniuses, it is all about me.
That isn’t that unusual of course – many geniuses are people who cannot and will not accept advice and guidance from others. In many regards that is the nature of the genius.
But with football there is a problem, because whereas the genius painter, composer, poet, novelist, sculptor… all work on their own, producing the works that only they can develop, the genius footballer is more like the genius actor or dancer – he or she has to contain the genius to fit into the broader sphere. If the genius writer produces work that is way beyond the understanding of most people at the time it is written,(and that’s been my regular excuse I must admit) then the only person to suffer is the writer, living in poverty until the world catches up with his vision.
But the genius footballer, actor or dancer, needs to be understood at the moment of his genius, because he needs the rest of the team, the rest of the cast, the rest of the dance troupe, to understand what he is up to, in order for them to play their parts. They may be subordinate to him – he is the ultimate star – but he has to be in keeping with them, part of the team, part of the ensemble.
And that is the problem; the problem for Alexis and the problem for many other brilliant footballers before him. One player, no matter how brilliant, cannot make a team. He still has to be part of the team. It is no good if he can see the perfect pass into space if the man to whom he is passing the ball can’t see the movement. It can’t all be about him. Think of Bergkamp – an utter sublime genius, but it was not centrally about him – it was about him within Arsenal. Always.
We’ve had the suspicion that Alexis only wants to do things his way for some time. His insistence on playing for Chile even when injured, his insistence on never being substituted, even when it is clearly for the good of the team, to allow others (perhaps recovering from injury as in the case of Danny, to get a game.
Team player and genius don’t always fit together, and I suspect it is a problem that will continue to haunt Alexis whatever happens to him in the months and years to come.
The latest from the Arsenal History Society
We are currently 90% of the way through the most detailed review of Arsenal in the 1930s (the era that made Arsenal into one of the greatest teams) ever written. The latest articles are
- August/September 1938/39. The start of the end.
- George Hunt: the first ever player to move from Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal
- Arsenal in the summer: 1938. The Nazi salute; the world record signing.
The Arsenal History Society publishes numerous series of articles exploring different aspects of Arsenal’s history. You can find an index to all the series to date on the Society’s web site