It can be tough being a young player at Arsenal. Thrust into the limelight at an earlier age than those at rival clubs, they are subject to instantaneous judgement, to an often brutal degree. Some thrive, able to cope with such a high pressure environment at a young age, maturing quickly and gaining experience unavailable elsewhere. Some find it much tougher.
What other top club, in the current environment, would give the captaincy to a 21 year old? Few would give players the opportunity to play a hundred games by that age, let alone give them the armband. But Cesc is a shining example of what can be achieved by bringing the future into the present.
The danger is assuming every player should be like Cesc, and ripping them to shreds when they fail to reach those unfairly high standards. I don’t spend a lot of time reading blogs of other clubs, but I would hazard a guess that no other set of fans tear into their squad as much as we do ours. And it isn’t just the internet writers, it is the paying supporter, and the journalist reporting for the morning papers. All fall into the trap of lambasting a 20 year old regular while giving a 23 year old elsewhere an easy ride because of their ‘inexperience’.
More recently, there has been a trend of criticising a player because of their mental deficiencies. Fabianski is the most recent example – by all accounts he is nothing short of stunning in training, showing all the promise of a man who has the world at his feet. But a few bad matches and all you see is ‘he doesn’t have the bottle, sell him’, or ‘he’ll never been strong enough to play for Arsenal’.
Utter nonsense. There seems to be a notion that a player cannot improve their mental ability as they can their technical, that if they don’t have the requisite mental strength as a 20 year old (or a 24 year old keeper, which is equivalent) then they never will, which is garbage of the highest order.
Put it this way – I am approaching thirty – do I behave in the same way as I did at eighteen? Do I go about my working day with the same approach? Of course not. At eighteen I lacked focus and drive, and I certainly didn’t have the confidence in my professional abilities that I now possess. I could never have sat in a meeting of high powered executives and told them bluntly what I felt they were doing wrong. That comes with time.
Had I started a blog at 18, you can be sure I wouldn’t have had the commitment to keep it going three years later. I was something who got halfway through everything.
In short, I have grown up, and the process never ends – in ten years time, I’m sure I’ll be looking back on this period of my life and chuckling at how little I knew. It is the same for everyone.
Football is no different – player mature, they gain mental steel, confidence and an assured calmness that comes with age. If you don’t think they can overcome mental barriers, look no further than Diaby and Song, two players who not so long ago were facing heavy criticism for an apparent laziness on the field. Prior to his Charlton loan spell, you could not find a single fan who believed Song would ever possess either the physical or mental attributes required by a top club. Now look at him. The same is true of Diaby, whose renewed purpose has won over doubting fans.
The list is easy to extend – Eboue was the victim of the most extreme kind of fan reaction before turning it around. But as soon as one figure of ridicule wins us over, we move on to another target. For Song and Diaby of 2008, read Denilson and Bendtner of 2010. And Walcott. And Vela. The list goes on.
I struggle to understand why a player who has all the required technical and physical attributes can still find their fledgling career written off by the media and their own fans because of a lack of nous in their brains. Fabianski is the perfect example – completely devoid of confidence, he is a liability at the moment, as Eboue was during his worst moments as an Arsenal player, but does that mean he should pack up his gloves and find another career?
Surely it is in our interest to believe that as our players mature, those mental frailties will fall by the wayside, and their technical proficiency will shine through. We have seen it in Song, Diaby and Eboue – why not Fabianski, Vela, Walcott and Bendtner? We’ve seen the flashes of brilliance from them all, we know they are capable.
The law of averages suggests that they won’t all make it. Phillippe Senderos was unable to overcome his inability to deal with setbacks, and was moved on. He won’t be the last.
But equally, Song will not be the last to prove us wrong. Cesc may only be 22 himself, but he is a truly exceptional case – you cannot realistically expect a player to be the finished article by that age. Don’t let the success of a few taint the abilities of the rest.
Give them a chance, let them prove us wrong. After all, that’s what we want, isn’t it?