This post is based on a conversation between one of the Arsenal Arsenal regular contributors and two individuals loosely connected with our club. It took place before Sunday’s game against Manchester United.
I would not normally pass on unsubstantiated comments, but Carlito11 (the AA regular) is a mature and responsible informant and he believes there is no reason to doubt what he was told.
In Carlito’s own words: “I had an interesting meet up pre-match with a couple of youngish foreign lads who were both qualified UEFA coaches and, more interestingly, mates of one of our first teamers. They divulged (but were keen not to be leaking) that our captain is not particularly well liked in the dressing room and is seen as thinking himself better than the others.”
At this point, if you object in principle to the reporting of second hand intelligence, then I understand and I expect you will stop reading.
But what struck me about Carlito’s information was how plausible it felt, for two reasons:
- Cesc’s demeanour and body language has been quite negative at times this season. He has not looked as if he is enjoying his football. In fact, sometimes he looks like he’s carrying the world on his shoulders. I know this is not scientific, but it’s my gut feeling from having watched him over several years.
- The much talked-about mental fragility of our team this season seems, to me, to betoken some sort of inner conflict within the squad. If the players were united as one, I believe they would fight harder for each other. I realise I am speculating here, but, again, it’s a gut feeling.
If it’s true that at least some of the players do not like Cesc it’s a pretty sad state of affairs – and maybe gives some extra weight to Arsene Wenger’s comments last week that the captaincy had been a burden on him.
Not that it’s essential to like your captain. I don’t suppose many of the Manchester United players liked Roy Keane when he was captain, but they certainly respected and feared him and would do what he told them.
My worry with Cesc is that his teammates probably don’t fear him either. Presumably they respect him for his footballing abilities (and for being a World Cup winner) but is that enough?
This has been a strange season for our captain, coming after a summer of constant speculation about his desire to move to the Catalonian National Diving Team followed by that WC win.
People have been quick to blame his demeanour on a desire to be elsewhere. I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I believe he is passionate about Arsenal, and even more so about his manager.
But maybe it’s another reason why he has seemed remote to his colleagues. What might seem arrogance to others may just be preoccupation or distraction. I would be surprised if Cesc really feels himself to be better than his teammates – but it’s a problem if that’s how it seems to some of them.
Either way, if this reported issue has any grounding in truth it is incumbent on the manager to deal with it. We thought we had rid ourselves of most of our dressing room squabbles with the departures of Adebarndooor and Wee Willie Gallas.
My solution (it’s easy being an armchair quarterback) would be for Arsene to persuade Cesc to relinquish the armband next season to concentrate on his own game.
I mentioned in comments at the weekend the most famous example of this strategy working: in 1989 Ian Botham gave up the captaincy of the England cricket team after 12 straight Test defeats. His next Test as an ordinary member of the team? Against Australia at Headingley, where he almost single-handedly destroyed the Aussies on the way to recapturing the Ashes for England.
Crucially, Cesc would have to give up the captaincy, not have it taken from him. We want him to be at his best for us and we certainly should not want him to leave. I keep reading comments about how Arsenal should cash in and sell him this summer.
If he really, really wants off, then maybe that’s fair enough. But if we can keep him we should – and here’s why:
Our win rate this season in EPL games in which Cesc started: 62% (with 24% draws and only 14% losses).
Our win rate in games Cesc did not start: 43% (with 36% draws and 21% losses).*
We need Cesc because we are better with him in the team.
But we also need to be united in the dressing room.
Harmony is not just a hairspray. It’s also an important ingredient of most successful teams.
RockyLives (with thanks to Carlito 11)
* I included the game in which Cesc went off injured after 14 minutes in the list of games he did not start.