Before we get too involved in the new season, I felt it necessary to remember the last, and for a trio of top players, their last at football’s highest level.
During the last campaign, it was announced that Edwin Van Der Sar would hang up his gloves, fittingly in the Champions League Final, a competition he has won with two different clubs and in which he now holds the record for the oldest ever player to appear in the competition’s finale. And the Dutchman’s career records don’t stop there. Holland’s most capped player is also the first player to keep 50 clean sheets amongst Europe’s elite, along with holding the record for the longest time without conceding during the 2008-09 campaign. The list goes on, and goes to fuel the thought that this was one of the finest goalkeepers of his generation and possibly the history of the game. His loyalty is unquestioned given that he spent almost a decade in Holland with Ajax, in which he wrapped up honours in the league, cup and in both the then UEFA Cup and Champions League. Along with that VDS has also received the European GK of the year award four times, first in 1995 when the likes of Seaman, Schmeichel, Peruzzi, Koepke et al were all playing, and then again in 2008/9/10 seeing off the Iker Casillas and Gigi Buffon’s of the world, only adding to how highly regarded the Dutchman is. It would have been only fitting for such a great keeper had he won the World Cup last Summer with Holland, or had made his last appearance on the winning side in the CL final, but then he has become a victim of the times, with Spain and Barcelona steamrolling through everyone. That however, does not take away from his career in which he played for the top teams in every country he went to, albeit a slightly odd restbite in West London for Fulham, making one think that may have been the end. But he made the move nonetheless citing the ‘warm and friendly atmosphere’ as the biggest reason for the move, and Fulham will be glad he did having helped to provide the experience and quality between the sticks, that enabled the Whites to remain a top flight club. And having pretty much honoured his 4 year contract there he was off to United for the modest fee of 2m (who wouldn’t take that nowadays?!) where he provided the backbone for more Premier League and European success. One of the games likeable characters, it is with great pleasure that I witnessed almost his full career, making him without doubt one of the best players of my generation.
But the Champions League Final at Wembley was not just the last game for the lanky Dutchman, it also said goodbye to one of its nation’s great players in Paul Scholes. Say what you like about the ginger maestro but he was part of the Old Trafford golden generation and the fact Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, possibly the finest players in the world at present, all wanted his shirt at the final whistle, shows the influence Scholes had on the game. Part of a dying breed, Scholes only ever played for the one club in his professional career, and won pretty much all he had to with them, notching up 10 PL titles, 3 FA Cups, 2 CL’s and a FIFA World Club Cup to boot. Much like Edwin, mentioned previously, his international honours didn’t quite match that, although if some England fans are to be excruciatingly desperate they may mention the Le Tournoi victory in 1997, although that tournament was remembered more for the spectacular bending free kick talents of Roberto Carlos against France. Unfortunately Scholes didn’t play much of a part in the England set up in recent years, having been constantly played out of position, which is a shame given that the reputation rather than the performances of Gerrard and Lampard were picked ahead of him. Asked to come back for South Africa last year, Scholes rightfully declined and he was asked way too late, and like the rest of the squad, would not have seen his reputation benefit had he gone. The one criticism of Scholes? The man couldn’t tackle. But to me that’s a moot point. That wasn’t his strength. That’s not why he was picked. It’s like questioning why Zidane didn’t produce more slide tackles, or why Messi isn’t dominant in the air, or why Van Der Sar’s strike rate is so poor. He was picked because of his vision and creativity, and that is what he will be remembered for… along with some stonking goals.
And now the most recent player to hang up his boots is 2006 World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro. One can be forgiven for not knowing much of the Italian’s recent exploits given his spell in Dubai for Al Ahli (for the footballing history no doubt) although I still think he is worth a mention as one of recent history’s top defenders. Unlike the previous two, despite playing for Real Madrid, Inter and Juve, the Champions League eluded Cannavaro although he was decorated with football’s highest international honour, leading the World Cup winning Italy squad of 2006; an added triumph to the country given the controversial match-fixing scandal that plagued the national league at the time. Not one to be detached from scandal, Cannavaro was linked with suspicion of drugs in 1999 before being cleared, as the substance he was ‘seen’ to be injected with was not a banned substance. He also failed a drugs test in 2009, although charges were again dropped following backing from his club at the time, Juventus stating it was an exceptional case, and that the player had not taken performing enhancing substances. Controversy aside, Cannavaro is undoubtedly one of the great defenders in Italian history, one which includes greats such as Baresi, Costacurta, Nesta and Maldini, with Cannavaro actually taking over from the latter as the most capped Italian player of all time.
So whilst we mull over whether David De Gea may make the grade at United, or Scholes can be replaced at Old Trafford by Modric/ Nasri/ Sneijder, or how Italy can rebuild an ailing side, it is only right to pay tribute to those players who have created these conundrums, influenced the game at the highest level, and have now played their last competitive matches. Thanks for the memories guys, so long, and farewell…
French playmaker Samir Nasri, has come out and said that footballers are already paid huge wages and that his next move is more about winning trophies, something he has failed to do in 6 years at senior level. Whilst I appreciate his sentiment in what is a clever move to show that he is not holding his club to ransom for a big payday, this is a bit of a smokescreen as one would know oh-so-well that he won’t be taking a pay cut to leave the Emirates. All being said I don’t think money is the reason Nasri is leaving the Emirates, and I don’t really think Arsenal fans can begrudge him the move.
I wouldn’t say Nasri is the finished article; he had a fantastic first half of last season, but like his employers lacked the punch at the business end of the season and faded away into nothing. But he is only 23 years of age and that is bound to come eventually. A look at his Arsenal teammate Cesc Fabregas shows how far a player can come on, given Fabregas’ starring role in an Arsenal side who were expected to suffer when the likes of Vieira and Henry had moved on. Gooners will say he is not quite the finished article and needs to give Arsenal and Wenger the loyalty they deserve as they can nurture him best. I agree with this in part. Staying at Arsenal under Wenger for another year or two would benefit the Frenchman, and develop him further, given that this is the first campaign in which he has shown the true quality that prompted his 15.6m signing form Marseille. However the timing doesn’t work for the Gunners. It’s best to sell their man now and recoup most, if not all, of the fee paid for him, and even make a profit, than lose him on a free next year.
And one would think Nasri signing a contract is unlikely due to his lack of interest in a big payday and moreso for trophies. And who can blame him? Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup, and a couple of League Cup Finals and the Champions League in 2006 haven’t really looked like they will anytime soon. The problem for the red half of North London seems to be the same every year. Pre-season predictions from ‘experts’ in the last few years, have always had Arsenal as the favourites to drop out of the ‘Top4’, yet they seem to surprise everyone by making a surprising rise to the summit. This normally implodes around February, most notably in the last few years in games against Birmingham, and the season kind of fizzles out from there. Meanwhile, young Nasri has to watch as Man United churn out title after title, Chelsea normally get in a couple of trophies every two years, and now Manchester City and their big-spending owners seem to have followed in Roman’s footsteps and begun their trophy haul. Meanwhile, Arsenal are still playing the prettiest football in the land, and its a shame they never win anything.
Funny enough, it is the three above-mentioned clubs that have all aired their interest in Nasri, and I think all of them qualify as having higher trophy aspirations than Arsenal. If he moved to Eastlands, it sounds like Nasri would be joined by French teammate Gael Clichy as his 7m move is expected to be finalised. Clichy will no doubt be used by the media to describe the ‘Emirates Exodus’ although in all truth I think many Arsenal fans will be glad to see the back of the defender who for all his rampaging runs forward and numerous assists, is prone to a mistake and has given away plenty of penalties in his 25 years. Still I think at 7m its good business for City who could do with a left back, and its good business for Arsenal, with Kieran Gibbs a like-for-like replacement waiting in the wings.
Whether City would be the number one choice for Nasri remains to be seen as the transfer seems a perfect fit for the current Champions. With Scholes retiring, United are calling out for an attacking midfielder with a bit of flair, and with Sneijder over-priced and Spurs unwilling to let Modric go, Samir is the best shout. It would be the best move for him too. He is a player who deserves to win trophies, and has put in a good, if what frustratingly inconsistent shift at Arsenal. But he has given the club some good years and will seemingly make a profit for them too.
And his departure will undoubtedly send warnings out for Arsenal fans who will also expect to see club captain Cesc Fabregas leave the club this summer for his boyhood side Barcelona. Moreso in Cesc’s case, Arsenal fans cannot begrudge the man who has given 8 yrs to the club, the chance to move to one of the biggest clubs in the world and undoubtedly win more trophies than he would of in North London.
The worrying time comes with what’s next. Jack Wilshere was superb last season, and Aaron Ramsey returned from injury well in the latter stages of the season. But they will have to replace one, if not both of their playmaking midfielders. But one has to be nervous about how the club do this given previous experience. Had Arsenal invested more in the past and offered better deals to players over the years to join the club, they may not have found themselves scrabbling around to offer Nasri a bumper deal in a desperate bid to keep him. Had they spent a bit more money they may have brought in the missing pieces of the puzzle which would mean players wanted to stay and the club might be more successful. Had they offered Mathieu Flamini a contract 4 years ago, they may have shored up the centre midfield position for the coming years. Had they invested in a world class centre back to strengthen the defence with Thomas Vermaelen, then Arsenal may not have leaked so many goals. Had they immediately searched for a world class goalkeeper the minute Jens Lehmann left the club, there may not have been so much chaos in the three years that followed. Had they looked for another top striker to bag 20+ goals a year once Henry was moved on, there may be more penetration in the Arsenal front line.
But instead there was a policy of youth and value. Arsenal waited for youth, and got lucky in the development of Alex Song to provide a defensive perspective to the midfield. They got lucky that Johan Djourou was in fine form last season, although his previous inconsistencies don’t fill anyone with confidence. And they went with youth and cheap options with Koscielny and Squillaci last summer – two players who may struggle to be first choice anywhere else in the country. Wozjiech Schezny appears to have emerged as a prospect for the future, but needs an experienced hand to aid his development, and that is no excuse for putting gooners through the calamitous years of the Almunia-Fabianski show. Then there was Wenger’s Walcott project in which he looks to take a quick young forward and make him the next Henry. Arsenal fans will argue that there are plenty of top players in the team, but is it honestly a title-winning side. There are too many inconsistent performers in Arshavin, Rosicky, Diaby, Walcott, Eboue, Bendtner etc. whilst key players such as Vermaelen and van Persie look increasingly like the treatment room will be their home from home each year.
I think the Nasri situation highlights a big problem at the Emirates, and this summer will prove to be the biggest in Wenger’s Arsenal reign…