Sorry for another lengthy gap in between articles. Inspiration does not arrive to order sadly and I don’t like to write ‘stuff’ just for the sake of it. Today’s musings are a reflection on several issues in the modern game and have in a way been prompted by the apparent standoff between Arsenal and our third longest serving player of those at the club! Yes you read correctly Theo Walcott who joined on the 20th of January 2006, now Song and van Persie have gone is only preceded in to the club by two other current 1st team squad members. This revelation is surprising as it has sort of crept up on us. The gradual clear out or walk out over the past 3 summers leaves Vassiriki Abou Diaby as, in theory Arsenal FC’s senior citizen. Dear Abou joined 7 days before Young Theo on the 13th of January 2006. I am being a tad harsh on Johan Djourou who amzingly signed in 2003 but in reality he is not pushing for a first team slot at present and has no minutes at all this term.
English football has traditionally rewarded player loyalty to a club by the laying on of a testimonial match and here is the Wiki definition:
Clubs typically grant testimonials to players upon reaching ten years of service with a club, although they sometimes are given to players with less service as they approach retirement. These matches are always non-competitive. Typically, former greats for the club are invited to participate, either in the match itself or the surrounding festivities. For especially prominent players, some all-time greats of the game may be invited, or the opposition can be a national team. Alternatively, if a player is strongly identified with more than one club team, the testimonial may involve the player’s current and past clubs. All proceeds from the match go to the player; depending on the country, the income may be tax-free to the player.
Of course the tradition of the testimonial was a noble one devised to reward footballers at the end of their short career, as they had such a limited earning period ahead of a long retirement from the game. This was however when player’s wages were not so high and loyalty was common place. This being the case the fans were keen to turn out in good numbers actually wanting to, believe it or not, further line the pockets of their heroes, who they had cheered from the stands for 10 years. Sone younger supporters/readers may not even be familiar with the idea. Nowadays wages in the top divisions are so high that in some cases the average fan cannot relate to their current heroes in the same way and the players certainly don’t need the tax free cash sum to set themselves up in a new career, as was the case until the Premier League era.
However there should be a place for testimonials and it was the ever popular ex Arsenal striker Niall Quinn who in 2002 set a welcome precedent when he donated the whole £1 million raised at his Sunderland v Ireland match to 3 children’s charities in Wearside, Ireland and India. I personally feel it is fabulous for the higher division footballer of today, who earns so much to use this wonderful footballing tradition to give something back to youth football, inner cities or other charity projects. Something I should add the AFC are renown for. If the money raised goes to a worthy cause and the event gives fans a chance to pay tribute and say goodbye to a loyal servant of the club where is the harm?
The question is will we ever see an Arsenal player in the current era be at our club for 10 seasons as a professional? Are we likely to be turning up to the Emirates in 2016 to show our appreciation for 400 odd games from Theo Walcott as we did in our thousands to send off Dennis Bergkamp? I cannot do justice to what an occasion like saying farewell to the ‘Iceman’ meant as I was on holiday but the BBC report paints wonderful picture.
Will we ever again see an occasion as we did in May 2004 when an Arsenal current and returning legend team took on an England X1 providing a fitting final curtain on the phemomenal unbeaten season for Martin Keown? Indeed can you imagine present England stars giving up their time?
For those again not fortunate to be there please have a quick look at this comedy footage of the legendary Mr. Keown missing a penalty and subsequent rebound at Highbury. Rob Green obviously had not read the script!
Without labouring the point is it awfully likely that in another 4 years we will witness Abou ‘Huggy Bear’ Diaby journeying to the ground on the Piccadilly line for his own testimonial to play Real Madrid, as the wonderful Lee Dixon did in November 1999? I think not don’t you? (Thanks to @The_Zama for below image.)
No the reality is that the rewards are so great, agents so active and the hunger for wealth and success so huge that the age of player remaining loyal to one club for 10 years seem a distant memory. In the George Graham years and the early part of the Wenger era there were many such Gunners. In addition to those mentioned above we can add Paul Merson. Paul Davis, Nigel Winterburn, Dave Seaman, man of the moment Stevie Bould and of course Tony Adams. In addition the great Ray Parlour was due a testimonial but settled on a severance package to facilitate his move to Boro in the summer of 04. Shame as the player who has appeared more for Arsenal in the EPL than any other, that truly was deserved!
Indeed my research may not be perfect, but I will not be far off when I say that there are currently only 11 players currently plying their trade in the Premiership with more than 10 years service and their current club. Just in case you are intrigued the players are as follows:
Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, Manchester United. John Terry and Frank Lampard, Chelsea, Steve Harper and Shola Ameobi, Newcastle United, Jamie Carragher and Stevie Gerrard, Liverpool, Tomy Hibbert and Leon Osman, Everton and Andy Wilkinson at Stoke. So basically only 6 of the 20 clubs have player of testimonial service and beyond. Astonishing when you think that our 1998 Double winning side had 5 in the starting 11 on it’s own! ( yes the back 4 plus ‘Big Dave’.)
In fact the sad truth is that outside of these super club servants they are not even many that are close. The below table gives each clubs longest serving current professional:
|Club||Longest Serving Player/s||Joined date|
|Arsenal||Johan Djourou||2003 (Aug)|
|Manchester United||Ryan Giggs||1990 (Nov)|
|Aston Villa||Gabriel Agbonlahor||2005 (Aug)|
|Everton||Tony Hibbert/Leon Osman||2000 (Aug)|
|Fulham||Aaron Hughes||2007 (June)|
|Newcastle||Steve Harper||1993 (July)|
|Stoke||Andy Wilkinson||2001 (Aug)|
|West Brom||James Morrison||2007 (Aug)|
|West Ham||Mark Noble||2004 (Aug)|
|Wigan||Emerson Boyce||2006 (Aug)|
|Swansea||Alan Tate||2004 (Feb)|
|Southampton||Kelvin Davies||2006 (July)|
|Reading||Adam Federici||2004 (July)|
|QPR||Clint Hill, J Mackie, Sean Derry||2010 (Aug)|
|Liverpool||Jamie Carragher||1996 (Aug)|
|Tottenham||Michael Dawson||2005 (Jan)|
|Manchester City||Micah Richards||2005 (Jul)|
|Sunderland||Phil Bardsley||2008 (Jan)|
|Chelsea||John Terry||1998 (Aug)|
|Norwich City||Simon Lappin||2007 (Jan)|
So what is my point or conclusion from this reminiscing and this research? Well I am not sure I have anything earth shattering but a few observations and a few wishes for the future perhaps!
I began with what I termed some surprising news that contract rebel Theo Walcott and long-term injured and now rejuvenated Abou ‘Huggy Bear’ Diaby are our longest servants of those regularly playing. However Arsenal’s exodus or player turnover however is not so alarming, whatever the tabloids might have you believe. Arsenal are not necessarily any worse off than other top clubs when it comes to player loyalty and of course this works both ways as Alex Song found out to his cost. There are only 12 teams currently in the EPL with longer standing professionals than Theo and Abou and many of those such as Harper. Carragher and Dawson are not first team regulars. Including Djourou only the 6 sides have long standing professionals but sadly for Johan, like the above 3, he is very much on the extremities of the 1st team squad at Arsenal now.
I was also reminded of an article I wrote back in March of how it is always sweeter to see home grown talent win silverware with the club that made them. For those who missed it here is that blog as a GoonerDave66 bonus.
I would like to change direction with some wishes for the future. I hope to see some of the current crop of players see success and 10 years service in the might red and white. How many years will it be until we again see a packed house in the Emirates as we did to say farewell to another Arsenal great as we did for Bergkamp in July 06? We have waited 6 years to see another Gunner serve the best days of his career at our great club so who will be next and will they be from our current squad?
Well I am delighted to say that I actually feel there are multiple candidates in our present squad and I am confident that we will again see many current Arsenal players with 10 year testimonials and legend status. A bold prediction? Perhaps but perhaps not.
Jack Wilshere is candidate number one and perhaps top of most fans list. Arguably one of the most talented players in his position in Europe at a younger age than Fabregas and who has already stated on more than one occasion he fully intends to see out his career in North London. Let’s hope he does but I fully expect Jack to be with us in 2018 when he will have been a 10 year professional and still only be 26. I also belive he will be our captain at the time. Welcome back JW10!
Kieran Gibbs is another London lad who joined us when AFC Wimbledon left the City and another since turning pro in 2007 that has had his early years blighted by injury. However he is now turning in top level mature performances week in week out and let us not forget the last ditch challenge on the last day of last season that secured Arsenal Champions league football. Will Gibbs win silverware with Arsenal? Yes. Will he play for England repeatedly? Yes. Will he be at the Emirates in 2017? I should say so.
Wojciech Szczęsny signed as a professional with Arsenal in 2009 aged 19. He came to us a teenager but was already and Arsenal fanatic as a kid growing up in Poland. Just like RVP in Holland you may say but I think we all know that if you cut Woy in half he with have Arsenal FC running through him like preverbal stick of rock. In 2019 our young pole will only be 29 and arguably not even at his peak. Safe to say that if we stick with him Szczesny will stick with us and this lad really doew wear a Gooner heart on his sleeve.
Now here is one I would not have been confident in even a month back but I am happy to hold my hands up and say I was wrong. Step forward and take a bow Carl Jenkinson. The most improved player at the club grew up a Gooner and sat in the stands. Could he be at Arsenal in 2021 aged 29? Why on earth not? Should the FA step in before he plays senior competitive football for Finland? Yes I feel they should and once again I am delighted to eat humble pie and I am not alone.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain can for me be whatever he wants in world football in whatever position he chooses or is chosen for him. The sky is the limit for the Ox and with this core staying together Arsenal will be winning trophies again so why would these guys wish to leave? Alex will only be 28 when he has played for us for 10 years and could still grace the European stage at his peak.
Diaby or Walcott may surprise us yet, although I am certain Djourou will not and Aaron Ramsey, with more performances like his display against Manchester City could well be another candidate. Although Ramsey having only signed in 2008 would need to be with the Gunners in 2018 and I am not certain he will be. For now though I am feeling fairly positive that could well again see multiple 10 year testimonials raising money for worthy causes and as fitting tributes to future Gooner legends from our current ultra promising young core of 2012/13.
One last note on Theo. He wants to play through the middle and I have little doubt his pace and natural finishing would ensure he excelled there. However for Theo to be here in 4 years and be the first current player to see a testimonial I fear we will need to see a change of formation. Theo would thrive in a two striker system and he wants to be a club legend like TH14 but will Wenger be persuaded? I have my doubts but we may see him given a platform tomorrow night and best wishes to him if we do.
I guess I should finish with Theo. It would appear wants to stay and I hope he does in many ways but I am far from certain.
Until next time thanks for reading.
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