Which is why I want to single out Manuel Almunia for a round of virtual applause (more of him later).
Not all players can guarantee the affection of supporters once they have moved, but they can guarantee a degree of respect.
It’s not that hard. All they have to do is avoid the short list of “DON’Ts” that should be pointed out to every departing player. For the more stupid ones (yes Adebayor, I’m thinking of you) it could, perhaps, be stapled to their forehead.
This is the list:
DON’T p*ss down our backs and tell us it’s raining (in other words, don’t lie about “ambition” when everyone can see you just want to fill your pockets). You know what? We can understand that. We like money too and most of us would find it hard to resist a job move if someone offered to triple our salary. We’d respect you more if you were honest.
DON’T tell us how your vision of the club’s strategy is different from that of the manager and the people who run the club. You are someone who makes a living from kicking a piece of leather while wearing shorts and long socks. Clausewitz you are not. Let’s leave strategy to those who know what they’re doing, thanks very much.
DON’T, on leaving, talk about how great it is to join a “big” club. If you think Arsenal is not as big as any club in the world then, during your several years with us, you clearly never took off your headphones or lifted your eyes from your smartphone to absorb the history of football’s greatest club. The history of Arsenal is the history of football. You can, if you are lucky, leave Arsenal and move sideways. You can never leave and move up.
DON’T badmouth the club, the fans, your former team mates or the manager. If you want to go, just go and keep your mouth shut. Coming out with periodic, self-justifying swipes at your old club just tells us that you are still desperately insecure about your move and, probably, filled with self loathing.
DON’T ever score against us.
OK, that last one’s a bit hopeful, but you never know…
Some of the departed have managed to exit while retaining our respect. I’m thinking of the likes of Gael Clichy and Kolo Toure, who just got on with their careers and never felt the need to criticise the club that made them or the fans that supported them.
Others – you don’t need me to name them – went through the Exit door with all the grace and elegance of Jo Brand off the high board in the diving pool.
There is a third group, about whom people have mixed feelings: the departure of Cesc Fabregas, for example, may have been a slap in the face for the manager who gave him so much support, but it was long heralded and, since he went, Cesc has said nothing but good things about Arsenal.
Robin van Persie also clearly went for the big payday. With his injury record I can’t really blame him and, one ill-advised statement aside, he at least conducted matters privately. He will not be forgiven by many just for going to Manchester United but I doubt you will ever hear him criticise Arsenal, Arsene Wenger or the Arsenal fans.
Finally, back to Manuel Almunia.
Manuel’s contract expired this summer and he joined Championship side Watford as their first choice goalkeeper.
For most of his last two years at Arsenal, the Spaniard knew he was out of Arsene’s thinking for the Number One spot at The Emirates. And that he had, indeed, lost the spot to someone young enough to be his son.
He also knew that a large proportion of the supporters had serious reservations about his ability to be Arsenal’s custodian. He was likened to Manuel from Fawlty Towers, ridiculed for his mistakes and lampooned on the internet.
During all this time – and despite all that provocation – he never complained, never bitched, never criticised the club or the manager.
I know the cynical will say “why would he? He was getting paid fifty grand a week for doing nothing.” But it’s not Almunia’s fault that Arsene tried to make him the Number One after Lehmann left and paid him accordingly.
Many other players, in Almunia’s situation, would have been disruptive and difficult, leaking stories about their dissatisfaction and moaning to team mates.
Almunia did none of that.
This is what he had to say in an interview recently: “It was really difficult two years ago… because I expected to play more, and better. The last year wasn’t very difficult because I accepted my situation; I went to training every day, I enjoyed the football and staying at a nice club.
“I was trying to teach the young goalkeepers because I knew it was my last year so I did try to enjoy one last year at a big club.
“I believe I left Arsenal as a gentleman and people know that.”
I love the humility of these quotes – particularly the acknowledgement that despite wanting to play more, he also knew he should have played better.
He probably knows he did not quite have what it takes to be the ‘keeper at a top four club, but he had one very decent season for us and some very fine games. Rather than remembering Manuel for his mistakes, I will remember him for his performance in the first half against Barcelona in 2010.
Manuel, good luck at Watford and thankyou for being such a dignified servant of Arsenal.