Saturday, August 18, 2012

Alex Song and the Ultimate Betrayal of Arsene Wenger's Youth Project

I remember quite vividly Alex Song's debut for Arsenal. We were coasting through the final minutes of a relatively routine home win over Everton in the autumn of 2005 when Arsene decided to introduce the slightly mysterious loan signing we had made that summer. Song ambled around the pitch for a few minutes, and repeatedly gave away the ball. It was hardly an auspicious debut, and I remember thinking that the young player looked hopelessly out of his depth. But, given that it was only a little more than a year since our league triumph in 2004, Arsene had a considerable amount of goodwill in reserve, and few were going to question his judgement when it came to young players.

Fast forward about a year, and Arsenal are playing Fulham at Craven Cottage. Despite only having a handful of first team appearances under his belt, Arsenal had turned Song's loan into a permanent transfer in the summer of 2006. Yet this was, to my knowledge, his first league start. Song was destroyed that evening by, of all people, Luis Boa-Morte. Again, the young Cameroonian looked completely out of place in the Arsenal line-up. The Arsenal fans in the away end (or at least a good deal of them) chanted "we want Cesc Fabregas" repeatedly, and Song was withdrawn at half-time. Most thought that we wouldn't see him again.

A loan move to Charlton in January 2007 seemed to mark the beginning of the end to Song's odd Arsenal career. Instead, it was perhaps the start. Song impressed while on loan at The Valley, and began to slowly insinuate himself into Wenger's plans the following season. After Philippe Senderos was destroyed by Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final, Song was drafted in to play at centre-back at Old Trafford in a pivotal league game in April 2008. He, to my surprise, acquitted himself quite well, despite our 2-1 defeat, and his stock rose considerably among Arsenal fans.

In the summer following our last serious league challenge under Wenger, we lost Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva. Coupled to the loss of Lassana Diarra in January 2008, Arsenal fans fully expected Wenger to buy a defensive midfielder in the summer of 2008. Instead, we bought Samir Nasri, Aaron Ramsey, and Mikael Silvestre. Opportunities were given to Song, Denilson, and Diaby in the central midfield positions that season, and Song slowly began to show why Arsene had persisted with him for so long.

During the 2008 to 2010 period, Song showed that he had the potential to become a world-class defensive midfielder. He kept thing simple. He had a knack for reading the game. He knew that laying the ball off to Fabregas was usually the best idea. And he gradually grew into a solid part of the Arsenal starting XI.

I'm not sure at what point something changed, but from 2010, Song began to get ideas above his station. Particularly during last season, with Areta's arrival and Cesc's departure, Song frequently began to go walkabout, spraying hollywood balls around the pitch (with mixed success, whatever his successful through-ball tally says) and generally leaving the defence exposed in a way he had never done previously.

There was, in short, a progressively growing sense that Song was a wanker; that he seemed more concerned with being the team's maestro than ensuring that the team, y'know, actually won. The arrogance that had grown with his game bloomed in the absurd 3-3 draw against Norwich last season, where he simply could not be bothered to track back and cover the defence when the game became stretched, directly contributing to perhaps two of Norwich's goals.

Now, Song may well have been told to play in an more attacking manner by Arsene last season. But if you see your team is being overloaded in defence, you help out. You don't shrug and walk off, as Song did on at least one occasion during the game against Norwich.

This is all a big way of saying one thing. In my opinion, Song would not be a top-flight player were it not for Arsene. Wenger plucked Song from relative obscurity, and stuck by him after a series of disastrous performances, which led a majority of the fan-base to question why the hell he was at the club. Thanks to Arsene's faith, Song grew into a pretty decent player. But, perhaps in part to the faith that was shown in him, Song's ego then grew to a size that could no longer be kept within the confines of the Emirates stadium.

After the match today, Arsene said, "He [song] expressed a desire to go to Barcelona."

Let's just consider that for a moment. After everything Arsene had done for Song, he turned round and agitated for a move this summer. Based on a number of accounts, Song's agent has been hawking his player around Europe, despite Song having three years left on his current deal. Moreover, Song's attitude in training has been extremely poor, according to multiple sources.

This is, in a a microcosm, both the fatal flaw and the ultimate betrayal of the Wenger youth project. Like all beautiful ideals, it relied upon a fundamentally optimistic interpretation of human nature. Wenger believed that after carefully nurturing his young charges, they would turn around and reward him with loyalty. Instead, why don't we ask van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri, and now Song what their definition of loyalty is.

Football is a game that is obsessed with short-term thinking. Song's agent wants his commission. Young players at Arsenal want the rewards of success without having achieved it.

In the end, Wenger's youth project has achieved almost none of the objectives it sought, except that of keeping Arsenal in the Champions League. Instead of producing a generation of players who had been developed together, and who would thus have an unbreakable team bond, it has fermented a group of egomaniacs, who care about themselves above all else, owing to the unshakable belief in their own ability that Wenger gave them.

Arsene obviously deserves better than this. He is a visionary coach, hampered by his own idealistic view of sport, art, and the world. Who knows what Song's future career will bring. But he has acted disgracefully this summer, and betrayed his mentor. Good riddance not just to him, but to all those who betrayed the faith put in them by Arsene Wenger.

30 comments:

Sam Drew said...

Good piece, agree with what you say through-out. Good riddance indeed.

Anonymous said...

Well written. I remember when Song was struggling, he refered in an article as Arsene Wenger being a father figure to him. As his ego grew, he stabbed Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC and Arsenal fans in the back.By the way, Arsene Wenger's youth project was succesfull in that it allowed Arsenal FC to build and pay for a new Stadium.

Anonymous said...

Why do we allways blame the player for going! We need to take a look at the people who are allowing them to go!

Anonymous said...

this is really true they betrayed the man seriously song of all people i cant believe this life we are in it really painful and i am sure wenger is really in pain for what song did he will not come out and say but it really painful rvp and song have betrayed him

Anonymous said...

Arsenal will still be a huge club without Song, but will Song be a huge player at Barcelona? NO one player is bigger than Arsenal FC.

gooner50 said...

Good article. But don't forget that Darren Dein has been heavily involved in turning the heads of some of our best players. DD has hecome a very skillful parasite.

Conor said...

Great piece. I was also at that Everton game in Highbury in 05. Who would have thought, after all the support and nurturing he was given by his 'father-figure' - especially when many of us fans had turned against him - that he would stab this person right in the proverbial back. Sad.

Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading articles regarding this wonderful football club all day, and this is clearly the best one. It’s spot on, accurate and analytical. All I can say, is good riddance at the end of the day no one and I mean no one is bigger than the football club.

Anonymous said...

do me a favour you lot surely cant be bothered about song leaving hes fucking rubish thats why arsenal have been so poor all the shit wanna leave dont they realise its them that failed think back to viera come on see the difference

Emeka Onyedum said...

Is time God will bless wenger with his faithfulness upon his young player.at least 1 or 2 trophies to laugh with. God bless Wenger and his players this season.amen! Good article.

Anonymous said...

Arsenal fans.....get over yourselves! Football players have a short career and want to win things. You can't blame RVP and Song for wanting out. They want silverware.

Anonymous said...

Funny you all blamimg the player. Song still have 2-3 years left on his contract so it's Arsene and his Board that wants to sell him.. And you know why, Because they have spent around 36M this season on buying players and they need to balance it some how - so they sold RvP 24M and Song 15M and Vela 4M.. Yay we made 7m profit despite we bought 3 players in this transfer window.Arsenal FC is a great Club but people managing it is only after money and profit- it;s a FACT- no ambition. Even Arsene, he is one of the highest Paid managers and in fact none of the Arsenal FC palyers are/were getting paid as much as Arsene.Before, it was all about youth [policy and thats why we cant win something, team is not menatlly amture enouf and all that crap.. and now it's all about the fair play -when that will apply we will be fine. For fuck sake, we will never be fine if we sell our Captain every year..

Anonymous said...

Yeah, so if they want trophies then why can't they stick with it and win something first before clearing off?

Anonymous said...

Rubbish...wenger's contribution to song's progress does not mean he owns him.Song did not submit a transfer request and hiding behind 'his desire to leave' is a cop out for AW.Barely 3 days after angrily declaring that song is going no where and is on contract,he is sold for a hefty fee.C'mon man,this club is strictly about the bottom line and the 'trophy' word is a front.Arsenal is a selling club and ofcourse lack ambition ...no one knows it more than the players.I won't be surprised to see Kos and even walcott head for greener and silver pastures soon.Since the club has switched priorities from winning to banking,there is little desire for top players to hang around underpaid and trophyless.It becomes easier for other teams to make an offer which wenger and the money board are all too happy to take despite their dubious public show of resistance.To think AW is counting on duds like Diaby,djourou or Ramsey to win anything is foolish.Every season is another drama that must be unsettling for the players of a once-great team now considered the harlem globe trotters of football.

Paul said...

Good stuff.

There is no way that Arsenal wanted to sell Song and RVP. there is no point in dismantling your own project. Further more why would he try to get a player in? That makes no sense at all. The player asked to go, that's the deal.

blink said...

Great Article. As stated Song was no longer doing enough defensively & i am not too bothered hes gone. Ive often however wondered over the last few years if Arsenes philosophy of developing players footballing ability & playing the 'beautiful game' can lead to a mindset of being too good to do the 'dirty work'

Anonymous said...

Everyone who leaves is greedy and ungrateful and everyone who stays is the proper footballer and is loyal to the club...it's always the player's fault...isn't that a one-sided look on issues?
1) The club values a player - in this case a petty £15m
2) The club is willing to sell
3) The player is willing to leave - tell me how many players would turn down Barcelona when they come calling, I mean, no one really likes them but they are the best, better than Arsenal FC
4) No transfer request handed in so there's no concrete evidence that the player wanted to leave - I would actually like to know more about the credibility of these 'numerous sources' talking about his attitude in training
5) The buyer accepts valuation and the player leaves and a move is completed.
6) The fans descend on the player with all sorts of negative comments pointing out his weaknesses during his tenure - there is no such thing as a perfect player so ditch that approach ASAP.
*Why would AFC sell him so cheap with 3 years left in his contract?
*the player has left, that is the bottom line. Take the cash, get a better player and QUIT WHINING!!!

Anonymous said...

Everyone who leaves is greedy and ungrateful and everyone who stays is the proper footballer and is loyal to the club...it's always the player's fault...isn't that a one-sided look on issues?
1) The club values a player - in this case a petty £15m
2) The club is willing to sell
3) The player is willing to leave - tell me how many players would turn down Barcelona when they come calling, I mean, no one really likes them but they are the best, better than Arsenal FC
4) No transfer request handed in so there's no concrete evidence that the player wanted to leave - I would actually like to know more about the credibility of these 'numerous sources' talking about his attitude in training
5) The buyer accepts valuation and the player leaves and a move is completed.
6) The fans descend on the player with all sorts of negative comments pointing out his weaknesses during his tenure - there is no such thing as a perfect player so ditch that approach ASAP.
*Why would AFC sell him so cheap with 3 years left in his contract?
*the player has left, that is the bottom line. Take the cash, get a better player and QUIT WHINING!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the double post folks..

Paul said...

Nonsense, Song wanted to leave.

Anonymous said...

Song had 3 years left on his contract yet we couldnt wait to sell him.I dont blame him for going to Barca what player wouldnt?.I have nothing against Song he didnt spend years and years on the treatment table like wasters like Diaby and Rosicky.
The real criticism should be on Wenger

Anonymous said...

If Arsenal were winning Trophies, the attitudes would be very different. The main aim of a footballer at that level is to be in a trophy winning club. Materially, they have everything.

That is by two pence worth

Anonymous said...

Song was another player who made you realise what a great player Cesc was.For years he carried Song Diaby and Denilson.Song was never good enough just like Diaby(if he was ever fit) and Denilson werent but Wenger kept faith in them.
Its about time fans realise the only betrayal is by Wenger who has sacrificed trophies for profits

Anonymous said...

Actually Arsene's way of nurturing youth player is destined to fail. I am no expert to football and just speak in a layman sense, and look at, for example, Barcelona or Ajax's way of training youth players. in Barcelona you are just one of many talented youth and you have to fight for your place, and in ajax, as I once read in a Bergkamp's interview, the youth training system release unqualified young players every year.

And look at what we gunners do. Buy a youth player, tell them "you will be star someday", and give the player plenty of chance even they don't deserve that. these young "stars" don't even have to fight for a chance, unlike other famous youth traing system. they don't have to fight for a place and lack the determination to success (which is clearly reflected in this generation's arsenal youth players). no proper mentor nurture these young kids mentally or psychologically. can you, for example, find a photo that a 21 years old Bergkamp or Henry happily playing golf? no!!! but Ramsey at the age of 21 already cause Szczesny problem with a golf photo!!! Gunner's new generation, without making any success on the pitch, already pretend themselve to be a blue-blood!!! its worrying because if such critical non-football problem is not probably addressed with, we will be very difficult to get new stars from our youth system. 15 years and we only have ashley cole and wilshere (exclude any youth we buy from other team) is obviously a clear signal of youth training failure under Arsene's teneur

Paul said...

And why Isnt RVP on that injury list of yours? Hypocrisy!

Song has only just stepped up. But wait, these players were all in the same team and they did not win. Why not? Who is to blame for them failing on the field? All Wenger, innit?

You will appreciate him when he is gone, don't worry?

Paul said...

Why dont you offer Arsenal your services, since you know do much? If it is that easy why don't you go and manage a club instead of running your mouth?

Anonymous said...

It's not slavery. You can't force anyone to stay

Anonymous said...

Yeah, good riddance, We were invincibles before RVP and Song. We can be again after them. We didn't win because of them.

Ross said...

Brilliantly well written article I couldn't agree more. I feel sorry for Wenger but this is the world we live in, it isn't just in football.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how literally all the players that have left from the year 2007 constitutes a team that won us nothing ! The likes of nasri fabregas song and vanpersie! Yet they are looking to win it elsewhere.