“What Fergie did next: Five years on from his ‘retirement’, United legend still puts on his shoes every morning so he’s ready to work”, screams the Heil headline. They ran out of space before they could scare the living bejesus out of you with the rest: “…out, he says lustily as he stands stark b*llock naked in front of the mirror admiring himself.”
No wonder Arsène can’t retire.
You can’t help it, even though you know that your head is going to fry like an unused extra from Scanners. It sucks you in, drags you into the darkest corners, and before you know it, WHAM! Tentacles envelop your limbs and the clickbait headline’s work is done.
I was caught thus yesterday. “Arsenal star Per Mertesacker accused of ‘disrespecting’ the club after saying he’d rather sit in the stands than play“; you can’t help but look, can you? Has someone broken ranks? Is Wrighty putting the cat among the pigeons once more? Did Thierry do something which makes him even more hated on the sunshine bus?
No, it was Dietmar Hamann, which in itself was a disappointment.
“He is still under contract with Arsenal and says that he has no more buck and likes to sit in the stands. He is still paid by the club and has a responsibility.
“I find that disrespectful to the fans, his team-mates and the coach.
“The club is up to its neck at the moment and then you have one of the captains who sits down and says that he no longer wants to play for the club.
“Whether he is the right person to give young players values such as identity and loyalty next year, I have my doubts.”
It’s at moments like these, you find out how much football pundits actually watch.
While Hamann would have a point ordinarily, had he seen Mertesacker’s performances this season, he’d understand where his compatriot was coming from. That he hasn’t retired is down to two things: one, we a bit thin on the ground with central defenders, and, two, there might be another Wembley in him. He might be able to dredge a performance of the level of last season’s FA Cup final.
More likely, Wenger needs his influence to calm the febrile atmosphere which passes for a harmonious dressing room these days.
Hamann misses the point of Mertesacker’s words. It was recognition that his race is run, knowing he can’t physically match the pace of the modern game nor does he have the will to do it anymore. A player admitting that, showing that searing self-awareness in public is as rare as hen’s teeth.
There’s a typically huge leap without any semblance of logic from Hamann over Mertesacker’s suitability for an academy role. “Identity and loyalty”; I doubt anyone knows what Arsenal’s identity is anymore. We’re a global business with a fading force in command, overseen by a toothless board, backed by a hands-off, money-driven, success-shy owner.
That’s an identity but not one to be proud of.
Gone is the Arsenal of yore, a pivotal part of Islington’s daily life. Businesses live off the back of the matchday trade, but like all top-flight clubs, it is no longer the hub of the community.
Tell me about identity. Some only recognise ‘Arsène FC’ where football didn’t exist before October 1996. Another generation can’t conceive of nights like 26th May 1989 because of an “Agueroooooooooooo!” moment; broadcasters and football itself, don’t want to have a history pre-1992.
Finding an identity among a fractured fanbase is beyond the needle in haystack territory.
Years ago, winning medals drove a player. Now, it’s how quickly they can acquire a fleet of ‘supercars’ and a sixteen-bedroom mansion. It’s a mentality where “look at my wad!” rules the roost. No different from any other walk of life in that sense; football is, after all, big business.
As for loyalty, it’s a distant memory for football. Arsène tells us he’s been loyal to the club every time his future comes up. He turned down every big club in the world through loyalty to Arsenal. Or fear of not having as secure a future or total control over every aspect of the club.
Is it loyal to meet with another club while deciding what to do with your future? Hearing what they say, knowing you’ll be sacked in two years; is that loyal? Or is it maybe a little bit looking after number one rather than the selfless endeavour as it’s usually portrayed?
Loyalty in football belongs to a bygone age.
So forgive me if I find something honest in Mertesacker’s words. Forgive me if I found it honest in the most treacherous of industries. Forgive it I find it brave that he admitted he wasn’t up to the role anymore.
We could do with a bit more of that around the club.