Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday January 30 2009
Back in November, William Gallas made a rather incendiary speech revealing what many of us could already see manifested on the pitch, crystallized in Emmanuel Adebayor`s thrusting forehead towards Nicklas Bendtner last January. The internecine nature of the current squad is an open secret and it would appear that one player has been affected by it to the point that he requested a transfer at the beginning of the January transfer window. While Kolo Toure`s request was flatly rebuked, whispers have still been abound up and down press corridors regarding the Ivorian`s future at the club. It is clear that Toure has been some way off the rumbustuous form with which he ahs associated for some time. The question I want to get to grips with is how far he has a future at this club, particularly as he was once again demoted to the bench on Wednesday following the return of William Gallas- a player he clearly cannot stand the sight of.
Soviet dictator Lenin once remarked that a lie told often enough becomes the truth, and so has that quote been embellished in this situation, popular conjecture says that Toure`s loss of form coincided with his six week sojourn to Africa for the African Nations Cup twelve months ago. But the truth is that Toure`s form deserted him some time before that and well before the bout of malaria he contracted in the summer and the subsequent huge weight gain that appeared in symbiosis with his condition. The truth is Gallas` negative effect on Toure the footballer predates his spat with Toure the man following the gut wrenching 2-2 draw at Villa Park on Boxing Day. Though on this occasion, Gallas can hardly be blamed. The truth is Toure has been off kilter since the move to the Emirates and the signing of William Gallas. Toure blossomed in the Arsenal side under the tutelage of Sol Campbell, a strong commanding centre half who had the authority and know how to organise his backline. With Campbell`s subsequent breakdown at the back end of the 2005-06 season; the manager once again paired Toure with Senderos- undoubtedly the best centre half pairing the club have had since 2004. At the back end of the 2004-05 season the pair did not concede a goal in ten games when played together and played in the F.A. Cup Final shut out against United. With Campbell on sabbatical, Senderos and Toure then marshalled the Gunners through the knockout stages of the Champions League, unpenetrated by the likes of Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Trezeguet and Riquelme. Wenger looked to have found the centre half pairing that would concrete the club`s defence for years to come. Senderos, the strong, commanding centre half whose lack of pace was complimented by Toure`s pace and valour.
That summer, Gallas was signed and Toure and Senderos were never the same players. At the crux of the Ashley Cole saga, with a player of Gallas` quality up for grabs, the manager would have been mad not to go for him. Indeed, I was incredibly enthused about his signing. But in retrospect, it seems Gallas unwittingly took some of the harmony from the team well before any misquoted missives to the press occurred. Toure and Gallas never really worked as a pair, Senderos went to a World Cup and came home without conceding a goal in open play, but he also came home with his shoulder in plaster. Gallas had displaced him and Senderos` confidence seemed to suffer. Wenger had tried to turn Toure into a leader but it didn`t work, Toure has neither the composure nor the authority to lead a backline- as aptly demonstrated in the final minutes of the 2007 Carling Cup Final, he simply is not composed enough to be a leader. Wenger turned to Gallas for the captaincy, but like Toure, Gallas needs an imposing aerially dominant centre half alongside him to flourish. Toure`s form since the summer of 2006 has subsequently been patchy, and in February 2008 when he returned from Africa, he went from unconvincing to really quite bad. The notable weight gain of the summer months robbed him of his chief asset, the blistering pace with which he is blessed. So what does all of this mean for Toure`s future, the player himself would appear convinced that it lay away from N5 but I am not so sure.
Firstly, Gallas is 31 and has probably talked his way out of the exit door in the summer. Quality defender though he is, he is a blight on team spirit and good sides are always worth more than the sum of their parts. The other option, Silvestre, is also in his 30s and is frankly, not very good, not very fit and somebody who panics and flaps far too much for a player of his respectable experience. Time is on Toure`s side and his long term prospects have to be better than the garrulous Gallas or the shaky Silvestre. Toure needs to repair his confidence, that much is clear. One might think at a glance that in the long term, the partnership of Toure and Djourou could be complimentary enough to have legs on it. Though questions abound about whether Djourou, though physically imposing, has the requisite experience to be the shouting, balling presence Toure would need alongside him. Personally, I would like the manager to take a serious look at Senderos again in pre season and decide whether he still thinks Big Phil has the mental faculties to reignite that partnership again. But regardless, I still believe there is a future here for Toure if he really wants it and the manager`s flat rebuff of his transfer request would connote that he feels the same. Whilst notions of club values and loyalty are becoming increasingly antiquated in the modern mercenary game, I genuinely believe the current squad lacks a real core of "Arsenal men." This is elucidated in small gestures, not applauding travelling supporters in Kyiv and Everton, no longer lining up in the centre circle and applauding all four sides of the ground as Arsenal teams have done for every single game since the 1930s. These are small things which set this football club apart and make it special and too many of our players don`t realise or appreciate this. Toure is an exception I feel, someone who has taken this football club to his heart and that`s a valuable commodity too. Toure still has a lot to offer this football club and I believe we still have a lot to offer him. It`s down to him if he wants it.LD.
Date:Friday January 30 2009
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