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By Sir Hardly Anyone
In an article for The Players’ Tribune, Xhaka described the “pure hatred” he received from “supporters” when he was booed in the home game against Crystal Palace. “When I close my eyes now, I can still see their faces,” Xhaka is quoted as saying, in that article.
And although it may be much less of the case now than it was before, there are still some people who identify as Arsenal fans who think he should not be in the team, and should never have been in the team.
Indeed Sky Sports have been at the forefront of Xhaka hatred, with headlines such as “Arsenal must move on ‘liability’ Granit Xhaka to continue progress under Mikel Arteta, says Jamie Carragher.”
The raging hatred within articles such as that, backed up by nothing other than personal animosity, jealousy and a desire to make a headline, is of course what football journalism in England is all about. Personal opinion, self-aggrandisement, agenda following and a generalised loathing of foreigners unless they play for your favourite club, is the name of the game.
A simple question however always remains. If he is that awful, why have professional managers who have won trophies endlessly pick him, while ex-players whose only task is to pontificate on TV, and who have never managed, knock him ceaselessly?
And really that is an interesting mix. Wenger, Emery and Arteta all wanted him in their team.
Xhaka was signed in May 2016 by Arsene Wenger for £35m. Since then through three managers (four if we count Freddy) he has always been selected when available – knocking up anything between 29 and 37 league starts a season.
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Now I want to make it clear that I am very aware of the enormous amount of work that Carragher does for the most excellent of causes. 23 Foundation, Soccer Aid, Kingsway House, Cotton Street Project… all that is utterly fantastic and represents infinitely more for society and individuals than I have ever been able to do.
But why does he taint that superb work with these wild and whacky statements, the sole purpose of which seems to be to encourage people who identify as Arsenal supporters, to speak against the club, its players and its managers?
And why must he carry on spouting his nonsense, in what must be the fulsome knowledge that Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta, all quality managers, trusted Xhaka entirely?
Do these pundits really think that the only players who we should support are Englishmen who never make mistakes? Do they believe that teams can exist in the Premier League without a serious defensive midfielder whose job it is to break up attacks, and thus constantly be at the risk of yellow cards?
Have they not even pondered the possibility that Wenger, Emery and Arteta were right and these men who are just paid to put out personal opinion, backed up by no statistics or other broad evidence, are wrong?
And it is not just as if Xhaka only has one game to play. Under the manager’s instructions, he played in a slightly different position to accommodate Thomas Partey, and without Partey playing, Xhaka moves again. It’s not mentioned that often in the media, but it is there for those who want to watch. Likewise he adjusts his game when required to, to cover for Tierney.
Then again, now that Mohamed Elneny has suddenly come in from the cold this requires Xhaka to play a slightly different game and of course that led to his ability to get a goal. After that, seeing how disorientated and down the Manchester United players were, he changed position again, playing on the right for a while, much to the dismay of the disorientated opposition.
Such was the media fuss made about Xhaka a couple of years back he is not the captain now, but that hardly seems to matter. In fact, having Odegaard as the captain works slightly better as it means he has the task of running over to the manager when there is a pause in play to get the latest instructions. If Odegaard is late back to his position that matters far less than if Xhaka were to be late back. The media would go bonkers about his being in the wrong place as the opposition attacked.
It is impossible to know when the media will launch their next attack on Xhaka, but we can expect one soon. It is cheap journalism, and that’s what football reporting in this country is.
Thankfully, Xhaka ultimately had the strength to see those morons off.
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