Whether a player from another era would thrive in the modern game used to be our idea of fantasy football. Then the Telegraph brought actual fantasy football to the masses and the argument faded; the cold, hard world of statistics killed the real fantasy in football.
Anders Limpar in his peak would thrive today. Not only that, he’d be a perfect fit at Arsenal right now. “I was like 99 per cent going forward and one per cent going back,” the Swede told dot com ahead of this weekend’s ‘Legends’ match against Real Madrid for which there are tickets still available here.
The difference is that back then he had Nigel Winterburn, who was a defender. He had some attacking instincts, of course, but George wanted his back four to defend which they as players, relished. Nutty according to the Swede, “made me look good”. It’s easy when his ethos was “Don’t worry about the defence, just go and attack and I’ll take care of the rest” according to Limpar.
When he arrived at Arsenal, Limpar was genuinely unknown. All we had of him was a fleeting glance at the 1990 World Cup; no wall-to-wall coverage of major and obscure leagues and certainly nothing was known of Cremonese, his Italian club at the time.
I’ve yet to see any footage of his time in Italy although I confess to not looking very hard. It’s hard to think the Arsenal scouting network back then knew about Limpar before the World Cup so he was a rare signing: a player spotted at a tournament which actually worked.
Gary Lawrence wrote an excellent piece on the original Super Swede a couple of years back, which is available here. That’s just one of many outstanding posts in the ‘Highbury Heroes’ series he pens.
One Misplaced Word From a Yellow Card
Players being spotted at tournaments is a recurring theme at the moment. Granit Xhaka’s ‘Albanian eagle’ celebration against Serbia caused a stir with FIFA and he’s apologised for it this week (again). Xherdan Shaqiri will be ‘protected’ claim Red Star Belgrade when he plays for Liverpool in the Champions League. Shkodran Leader Mustafi
The ‘consequences’ of their actions manifested in Stefan Henchoz’s view that Xhaka wasn’t ‘Swiss enough’ to become the next captain of the national team. Personally, I wouldn’t select Xhaka as a captain for temperamental reasons. You can’t have a leader who spends an hour a game looking over his shoulder for a second yellow card.
Henchoz chose to highlight the nationalism that is only a short step away from Chelsea fans forty-odd years ago who refused to celebrate a Paul Canoville goal because of his skin colour.
Xhaka apologised this week for his actions. He spoke of “the enormity of insults and hatred” he suffered. Mesut Özil understands where Xhaka is coming from, with his situation resurfacing, echoing in Toni Kroos’ criticisms of Leroy Sane.
During his time at Arsenal, Xhaka shows glimpses of being captain material. However, the over-riding sense is a player whose short fuse will hamper the team at some point. You never know when that point is either. Unai Emery showed he won’t tolerate this at Chelsea. Hooking Xhaka as he threatened to leave us with ten men sent a clear message to the midfielder. We’ll see if it was received next time he walks the disciplinary tightrope.
He reminds me of Steve Williams, an Arsenal midfielder in the 1980s. Similarly combustible, Williams was capable of landing a 70-yard pass on a sixpence but also of finding himself in hot water just because the day ended in a ‘y’.
Unai on the Future, One Foot in the Past
Xhaka suffers at Arsenal to some extent from being played in a role for which he isn’t best suited. The Swiss isn’t a defensive midfielder; he is a midfielder with some defensive qualities but his mindset isn’t like Torreira, for example. The Uruguayan is a ‘destroyer’ with a creative streak. His first thought, however, is protecting his goal; Xhaka’s isn’t.
That difference is crucial and one why Torreira’s omission from the XI baffles. There’s an element of adaptation which Unai Emery touches on periodically and Gilberto Silva refers to. A run in the side could bring the same advantage to the team the Brazilian’s influence brought a decade ago. He was a player who rarely grabbed the headlines but his absences were cruelly felt.
Torreira could have the same impact. At the moment it’s supposition. However, the gaps between attack and defence beg for a defensive player. If a struggling side such as Cardiff can score twice against us, we have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the game.
To be fair, everyone involved with the first team acknowledges that so perhaps Torreira’s time is coming. One thing is certain: Unai Emery is his own man. Price tags and reputations count for nought, it’s all about getting the job done.