How Different It All Could Have Been
You may well be aware that unconfirmed reports are emerging this season that William Gallas has been stripped of the captaincy and has not travelled to Manchester for the game tomorrow. Ordinarily I would like to wait for the veracity of these reports to be verified before commenting in this way, however, I've got to be up for bloody 5am tomorrow to go to Manchester myselfand by the time I get back I imagine the subject will have been somewhat exhausted. I should probably also point out that a lot of this article will deal in unabashed conjecture informed by three years of me reading between the lines. I should also point out that this article may cause gross offence to some of you as it will contain praise for Philippe Senderos.
The first thing to get the mind racing is, presuming the reports are true, what is the manager's contingency plan for the captaincy? Arsenal is not a side particualrly blessed with leaders, Gallas and Silvestre are our only outfield players in excess of 26 years old. Some reports suggest Almunia, others Cesc, but with Cesc suspended tomorrow others speculate that Clichy will be given the armband for the first time. I think possibly the best course of action for the manager would be to appoint Almunia until the end of the season, or if he is a bona fide first choice, possibly Silvestre. They would be experienced no risk interims capable of taking the mantle until May. I would hope that Wenger would have a quiet word with either Clichy or Fabregas, whoever he deems to be the best long term choice, inform them that they will be full time captain from next season and allow them a few months to prepare away from the spotlight and the controversy that currently resonates around the position. That's my two cents worth anyway.
But once I had tossed that salad in my mind and solved Arsene's problem for him (it's o.k. I don't charge for the advice Mr. Wenger), it got me to thinking how different things could have been, the roots of this problem lay in 2005. Once the deal had been brokered to sell Patrick Vieira Arsene had to decide who to appoint as Arsenal captain. Ashley Cole ruined his chances with his midnight liaison in a London hotel, Dennis Bergkamp could not play every week, Sol Campbell had lost his place to Philippe Senderos, who finished the campaign having not seen his team's net ruffled in ten consecutive games for Arsenal and Switzerland. Arsene has since confirmed, as I suspected at the time, that he thought long and hard of giving the captaincy to the exciting Philippe Senderos, who seemed to be demonstrating the sort of leadership that earned him the nickname 'Swiss Tony.' (I have no compunction admitting that he was my first choice). Something strange happened during that pre season, Arsene took Philippe Christanval on trial and played him in a few pre season friendlies. After a few moderately impressive performances, Wenger released Christanval telling the press that he had enough central defenders. So why did he take Christanval on in the first place? My thought at the time, and this is only my inference, was that Sol Campbell wanted to leave the club, with Senderos in the frame for the captaincy, it essentially would have cast Campbell asunder on a permanent basis. Christanval I believe was a contingency plan whilst he convinced Sol to stay. (I reiterate, only my interpretation, in the words of Thom Yorke, I might be wrong).
Wenger ended up appointing Henry the same week that he released Christanval. Henry turned out to be an uninspired choice as skipper, foisting yet more responsibility on the top scorer, set piece specialist, penalty taker, top assists maker and club focal point. It clearly did not sit well with Thierry who was already considering his future with the club. In the long term, I think the armband accelerated his decline at the club. Meanwhile the 2005-06 season saw Sol Campbell endure a torrid time, culminating in an alleged mental breakdown and subsequent disappearance during a home defeat with West Ham. Senderos meanwhile, manned a defence that went unbreached for ten consecutive games as the club went to the Champions League Final. Senderos was dropped in Paris, but went to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and not only scored, but also manned a defence that did not concede a goal in open play in the whole tournament. (They were eventually eliminated on penalties following a 0-0 draw). Whilst Henry and Campbell proved not to be up to the job, Senderos was proving himself time and again at the top level of professional football.
Senderos was injured in Germany and missed the beginning of the following season, Gallas was bought in and Wenger never showed the same faith in Swiss Tony again. Senderos went on to make mistakes for which the supporters castigated him, but I am not entirely sure he has made more mistakes than Toure or Gallas in the last two years. What is clear is that without a run of games, no defender can hope to assert himself on a team. Silvestre's first couple of games were car crash stuff, horrible performances, but slowly he has looked more assured. Arsenal's best form last season, offensively and defensively, arrived when Toure went to the African Nations Cup, conceding 0.9 goals a game, compared to the season average of 1.1 goals a game without Senderos. I can't help but wonder how different it all would have been had if Wenger would have stuck with his gut that this domino effect might never have happened. If only Arsene had taken my advice back in 2005.LD.
P.S. Now watch as Gallas appears at Eastlands tomorrow with the captain's armband and this whole article is rendered irrelevant.