“As I’ve said before… Song Billong’s in a Job Centre”
November 29th 2006
“Alex Song to score 12 and named best player of the tournament but I want Egypt to capitulate utterly and bow down at Song’s feet like he is a manifestation of Ra.”
February 9th 2008
How times change. The former quote occurred at half-time on one Internet forum during the defeat at Fulham in a season of mediocrity which the Cameroonian embodied in the eyes of several fans. While Song did not live up to the expectations of one Gooner in the Africa Cup of Nations final, having hobbled off injured, he did however deserve the praise lavished upon him throughout the tournament, since he entered the fray at half-time, 3-0 down against the side who was to defeat his country once more to secure a consecutive Cup victory.
It was always true that Song had promise, with several European giants interested in him, after his exploits with Bastia, where he displayed raw talent, aggression, strength, technique and vision for a pass. Having signed permanently after a loan, Song made his mark in the Champions league game against Thun and made a few appearances throughout the season, including near the end of the season in the build up to the Champion’s league performance. Yet by then, the youngster had been used to criticism from his own fans, of which the majority had made a snap judgement condemning him to the level of Igor Stepanovs, analysing his performance on the basis of screaming ‘blue murder’ at any mistake.
His ‘lazy’ facial expression may have given fresh material to those obsessed with aesthetics, as Senderos among others has discovered. Many used the loan to Charlton as a sign to confirm that Wenger had realised what they had claimed to see since his first appearance for the club. Once again Arsene proved them wrong as Rigobert’s nephew played a pivotal role in the side, displaying his technique in less pressured circumstances, and great tenacity, marking Wayne Rooney out of the game on one occasion.
Ultimately, he was unable to prevent Charlton’s downfall, yet he had portrayed a plethora of abilities, perhaps changing the view of some cynics, but question marks remained over his ability to survive at the top level. This season, the answer came with a resounding overall performance in the Carling Cup. Having scored his first (very odd) goal against Liverpool, the previous year, this year he caused the more optimistic among pundits to liken his playmaking qualities from the back to that on one Franz Beckenbauer. A perfectly weighted through-ball to Eduardo at Ewood Park highlighted this aspect of his game, along with the composure to attempt a back-header with Santa Cruz lurking.
Versatility is a key reason of his importance to the Arsenal squad, playing in his preferred position against Steaua Bucharest, making key tackles and sharp passes, and a defensive solidity with aggression rather than the more reactive Gilberto. Julien Laurens of Le Parisien compared him to Michael Essien, also a former player of Bastia. Having changed Cameroon’s fortunes adding a creative edge to a side full of brawn, he has now introduced himself to the international stage, having been named in the Best XI in the tournament.
Arsenal fans will now relish his return from injury as we now fight on two fronts, with a reliable replacement if another defensive crisis occurs. Song provides the Arsenal with another attacking dimension in midfield. With the mental strength to succeed at a top club, and the technique, physique to match, Alexandre Song is here to stay. Trust this precocious youngster to fight for a claim in the first XI next season. For the rest of this season, I wonder how vital a role he may play as we attempt to get our season back on track.