Lower League football: A lesson for Arsenal


I never envisioned I’d be singing “QUE SERA SERA, WHATEVER WILL BE WILL BE, WE’RE GOING TO WEM-BER-LEY, QUE SER SERA” this season. But I was in full voice on Sunday. OK, so it wasn’t with Arsenal, but with local boys Dagenham and Redbridge, who showed the steel and desperation of a scanty club wanting more than anything to shine during their 15 minutes of fame. Live on Sky Sports, The Daggers trampled Morecambe 6-0, leaving them just 90 minutes from a League Two playoff final at the national stadium. As a supporter of Arsenal and the Premiership, it’s always interesting to watch lower league football and I have spoken about the small Essex (pub) team before on here, but please don’t think I’m trying to sabotage this blog with more talk of them; it just offers an honest and different perspective.
The major disparity with Dagenham players compared to Arsenal’s lot, is knowing that every game they play is crucial to their future as a professional player. Each minute for a Dagenham player is a chance to be noticed by a slightly bigger club in say League One or possibly the Championship, and if the scouts aren’t watching, then the whole weekends performance packed into a three minute highlights show on a Saturday night is the best exposure sometimes gets.
Game to game seems less important for the likes of Abou Diaby, Denilson, Tomas Rosicky and a handful of others in north London who have been at their inconsistent best this season. One minute the fans are hailing Samir Nasri as the perfect operator for when Cesc Fabregas is crocked, the next week the same people are asking, where did Nasri disappear too? A better offer for a League Two player might be just around the corner, as it is I guess for any Arsenal player, but in today’s sphere it seems to come much easier for the player of a higher calibre, say William Gallas. In the modern game, some players are fashionable for hopping from club to club. Its no surprise then when the New Of The World uses Emmanuel Adebayor in a goliath transfer rumour story involving Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, as ran at the weekend. At times though, the players give themselves that reputation, not the tabloids.
Gallas can pretty much hold the club to ransom: either Arsenal pays him wages of £80,000 per week or he finds football elsewhere on his destined amount. If only Danny Green had that choice, or Josh Scott, or Paul Benson. But they don’t. Perhaps Gallas has worked harder all his life to get to where he is, or more likely he was just gifted with the talent to make him a world great. Still, seeing how Dagenham responded to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of having their name chanted on national television helped me to understand that that same motivation is missing in the Arsenal players. They take the limelight every week, and writing headlines one Saturday might just be enough to satisfy their sense of self for the ensuing month. That was the feeling this season anyway. While those at the bottom persistently work hard for any significant financial gain, those at the top can pick and chose, making loyalty something to behold and increasingly rarer in football today.
Perhaps I’m being harsh, especially on Gallas, who displayed a consistency lacking in others this season and seemed to find an added incentive with new central partner Thomas Vermaelen. Despite this though, it appears all too easy for Gallas to move away from the club and find bigger money, and repetitively frustrating to watch one of our more experienced players not appear committed enough. He is devoted when he plays; it’s fair to say he always has been, even when a few nuts and bolts in his head came undone. We could say Gallas is committed to his football, just not to Arsenal in the same way.
Why is that, and can we say he is following the same path as Matthieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb? What was it about them that left Arsenal fans feeling so unfulfilled, or was it them who felt that same emptiness from the club within? You could start by saying at least Gallas has had what you could call a career at Arsenal, where the other two haven’t. A quick glance at the stats however, and as it stands Gallas and Flamini have both played 102 games in north London red. Hleb comes third with 89 caps.
Still, Flamini and Hleb definitely saw their best days in the Premiership. It was with Arsenal they made a Champions League final appearance and since leaving have seen their level drop from peak best to simply rotation men. Hleb is back where he started at Stuttgart. Gallas is different though, because if he does leave Arsenal now, then sadly I’m of the opinion his best days were playing for Chelsea under Jose Mourinho.
His mates were there. He’s always said the players at Arsenal are more like colleagues. Nasri says there are three or four people he doesn’t even speak to. This can never be healthy. Football isn’t any ordinary job and neither is a sporting profession that aims for unified success. I can’t believe people who claim a team need not fundamentally get along well because they are professional enough on the pitch to be winners. No, as the England cricketers showed yesterday, it’s very much about sharing in your colleagues success and wanting to win for each other as much as yourself. There aren’t too many regular office jobs where this is commonplace and Sunday was a day choc full of unity and concord, leaving the impression on me that this is still Arsenal’s biggest problem.
Gallas I sense, will leave bound in the frustration of Arsenal, which got to him as it did to all those who prematurely left before: that tentative sensation that winning things at Arsenal wont happen with the club still so unripe. Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy and commitment to invest in youth just hasn’t rubbed off on certain older players. Is that down to Wenger not convincing them enough about his ideals? If so, either it’s a case of not putting blame on those players who do jump ship. If you fall into the group who shout abuse at that player as he leaves the Emirates for good, then you might want to ask Wenger to give more of a chance to people like Phillipe Senderos, who seemed more than dedicated to the club and just as fresh in potential – like the next guy.
The heat was turned up another notch of Fabregas’ future with the club yesterday, although unlike Gallas and he is not seeking the money yet. Then again, they are two different players at different stages of their careers: one young with riches to come his way in the future, and one with time against him looking for a ticket to a luxurious retirement. For Fabregas his first love is Barcelona and understandably so. For now, I’ve seen enough of the lower-league footballer in Cesc to believe he has a successful future with Arsenal first. I have seen his loyalty and his Dagenham and Redbridge-like drive, enough to say Fabregas has a lower league dedication to his club, on the wages of a Premiership player. So, I urge you to get down to your local Non-League team and see by hand. It’s a refreshing experience and who knows, you might just find yourself down Wembley Way after all.

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