There comes a point in every footballer’s career where they’re faced with handling the business side of the sport. This aspect of the sport is something that’s played out behind closed doors (or, lately, in the confines of the manager’s residence) and every single word from key stakeholder’s quotes gets distorted, misrepresented and, most of the time, blown out of proportion. As someone who watches from outside of the main activity, I certainly don’t envy the players who have to step away from what they love doing in order to make sure their wishes, desires and ambitions in the sport are fulfilled through a mutual commitment in the form of a contract with the club that best provides these needs and wants. After all, you’ve trained yourself the majority of your life to make sure your talent lies on the pitch, not off the pitch.
For the past 12 months, you have set aside signing a contract extension with Arsenal for reasons that have been stated by sources in the media that you want to see how aggressive the club is in fulfilling your wishes, desires and ambitions to become a club that’s able to compete at the highest of levels. For a player of your otherworldly talent, this is completely understandable. You clearly shown, through your performances on the pitch, you deserve to be surrounded with players who are able to match your talent and desire to win competitions. And Arsenal have gained a reputation, both in the media and with players, that they seem to field weaker squads than what they’re capable of fielding; Arsenal, they say, have a solid financial footing at the moment and should be able to provide more players of exceptional talent than they currently do. I would find it virtually impossible that you haven’t heard this talk, and I would find it virtually impossible that one of the reasons you’ve held out from signing that contract extension, and why the rumor mill kicked into overdrive the past five days, isn’t because of this preconceived notion.
Here’s the rub: Since you signed with Arsenal in 2004, we’ve had some rather significant players leave the club. And after each player left the club, we never fell from the current level we were at before they left. We’ve somehow maintained a top four finish each and every season. As a result, we can draw up three possible conclusions: 1) The departing player didn’t have as much impact to the squad as previously thought; 2) Arsene Wenger is one of the best coaches in the world; 3) At the time, the squad we had in place was actually quite decent and the replacements for the departing players did a fantastic job at filling in for them. Of those three conclusions, I’m going to toss out the first one since only a fool would even attempt to start a discussion on where Cesc Fabregas’s value to the squad stood at the time of his departure (the same goes for Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Alex Hleb, Kolo Toure, Mathieu Flamini, Jose Reyes and, yes, Samir Nasri). Now imagine those players still with the club, alongside other key signings we’ve made in that time frame since the exodus of young, good players began. You’d have to be a fool to think Arsenal wouldn’t be competing for trophies, given that I think it’s entirely fair to say that point #2 above is valid. But each and every one of those players left for reasons they, directly or indirectly, stated were for sporting reasons: they wanted to win silverware.
And now we get to the fun part. Leaving Arsenal for sporting reasons – wanting to win shiny pots – is a convenient excuse to tell the fans when you, and the others before you, know you’re leaving for money reasons first and foremost. We all know that the club will not pay the kind of astronomical salaries that other nouveau riche clubs are handing out to new signings and they’ve made this very public. But if we’ve stated above that both Arsene Wenger knows how to coach and that there’s a large amount of data to back up the fact that the club hasn’t dipped in the standings after major departures, then it could be safe to assume that the very likelihood of winning things is around the corner – we just need to hold on to the players we have in place. That’s where you and your current contract situation come into play.
If you want to leave, that is entirely fine by me. I would rather have a squad full of players who are committed to the club than have our leader looking forlornly on the pitch. We saw in Adebayor and Cesc’s last seasons with the club that our morale and chemistry lacked on the pitch. Hell, the biggest lead-in to our away match at Barcelona in 2011 wasn’t that we held the aggregate lead going into that tie – it was the homecoming of our most important player to a club that were incessantly claiming ties to his DNA and the resulting silence that came from him, and we’d all sit here with the worst poker faces in the world if we tried to claim that sideshow didn’t affect our performance that night. I don’t even want to think about how this season would have panned out if Arsene made Nasri stay around our squad. That said, you showed in just one season how important you are to the club, as a rich source of goals and as a leader, a captain, and a mentor to the kids who are starving for this kind of guidance as they begin their careers. Think back to when you joined Arsenal; in training, you worked on drills alongside your idol, Dennis Bergkamp. Now it's your turn to be in his role. It's your opportunity to show players like Benik Afobe the ins-and-outs of being a top professional.
Again, though, if you want to leave, then leave. We will move on and we will find other avenues to get goals. But please do us all a favor and don’t lie to us. Don’t piss on our heads and tell us it’s raining. We're all grownups here, we know you would be leaving for double the money you'd be making here, so just explain that the coin was too much to turn down. You’ve won a FA Cup medal, in your first year at Arsenal as a sporadically-used substitute, so you wouldn’t be leaving for new challenges. You’d be leaving for money that is unsustainable in this sport, possibly to a club that is on pace to dilute the EPL into a one-club league. We have some of the greatest talent coming through our ranks in nearly a generation along with signings Wenger’s made that can best be described as atypical, considering his recent history, and you’re poised to lead them to heights we haven’t seen in what feels like forever. You are on a pace to make some talented sculptor start chiseling away at a large chunk of bronze.
I guess my question to you is this: What do you want your legacy to be? Thirty years from now, what do you want people to remember you for? Do you want to be remembered as a talented player who signed for the biggest payday before the end of his career and played a bit part in a couple trophies, or do you want to be immortalized as a leader who never backed down from a fight? You said that no matter what happens, you will always remain a Gunner for life, but you’re forgetting that true Gunners don’t leave the club when the challenge gets tougher. Do you want to be remembered as a captain who led a band of misfit kids to the greatest heights imaginable, or do you want to be remembered as a player who took the money and earned his trophy the easy way out? The club stood beside you as you fought injury after injury early in your Arsenal career, and they subsequently rewarded you with two contract extensions because they believed in you. I'm not saying you must repay their faith, but I think it would be a rather heavy slap in the face to everyone involved if you were to leave at the height of your career, after the club invested so much in a player based on his potential rather than his output. Listen, I don’t envy you because, again, your talent lies on the pitch, not off. Just please do some introspective thinking about your morals, your values and if it matches up with the people you have representing you. Good luck, God bless and I truly hope you will always remain a Gunner for life.