Towards the end of the Stoke City game, as interest in the match waned as we sat comfortably 3-1 up, the conversation amongst the fans around me turned to the return of Mathieu Flamini. That he was potentially the signing of the season.
Anyone who follows me on twitter would have seen me tweet after the game:
‘Mathieu Flamini – Had we spent £20million on him, we would be talking about how we’d solved our midfield problem.’
Whilst Aaron Ramsey has got the plaudits for his goals, and Mesut Ozil the hype for his price tag, it is Mathieu Flamini who has quietly been starring for us in the middle of the park. Adding the steel that we have missed, doing the dirty work and getting up other players noses. The joke going round Twitter is that it has taken us 4 years to replace Mathieu Flamini. And we have done that by buying Mathieu Flamini.
Whilst Spurs went and signed Etienne Capoue and Paulinho for £9.5million and £17million respectively, we got in Flamini, for a free transfer. Having already played for us, it was written off as a nothing transfer. But his performances this season have been as good, if not better, then the two Tottenham players. It just highlights, it is not about spending big money, it is about signing the right players.
His performances have been exceptional since he joined. The bite in the tackle. Not giving his opponents a minutes rest. Driving himself and the team forward. He has also become a leader in the middle of the park.
From the moment he stepped off the bench against Spurs, coming onto the pitch and barking orders, the mentality of the side seemed to shift. No longer would every player not give 100%. Despite only having been with the club for a few days, he was the leader on the pitch. To highlight this further, two examples against Stoke.
The first is rumours that, having got fed up with Jack Wilshire continually being kicked to pieces, he turned round to Stoke Marc Wilson and threatened to blind him if he fouled the young Englishman again. This type of aggression and sticking up for your team mate has not been seen since the days of Patrick Vieira.
Secondly, in the 2nd half when Serge Gnarby had been left in a heap, the referee played on as we had the ball. Once play had broken down, Flamini was straight in the ref’s ear, reminding him of the foul and demanding a booking for the offender. The ref promptly dished out the punishment. At this point, I turned round to those around me and said ‘that reminds me of Steven Gerrard.’ He has returned to Arsenal as a leader.
And that makes me wonder, had he not left Arsenal, would he now be the King of the Emirates?
He left us after in 2008 after 4 seasons and 153 games. He was an integral part of the side. The following season, Cesc Fabregas was named Arsenal captain. Had Flamini of stayed, I am sure it would have been him, and not Robin Van Persie, who would have become vice captain. After all, at that point he would have racked up nearly 200 games.
When Cesc left us in 2011, it would have only been natural that Mathieu Flamini would step up and become Arsenal captain. 27 years old, been at the club for 7 years, over 300 games played, a central midfielder. He would be the perfect choice.
He would then be sitting here now, in 2013, not as a free transfer, but as a man who is beginning his third season as team captain, beginning his tenth season at the club, with over 400 appearances. He would be captain fantastic. He would be King.
He himself must be wondering why he left us. With being captain, he would be on vastly superior wage’s then he is on now. When re-signing for us in the summer, he agreed £50,000 a week. My bet is had he not left, he would be on twice that. By leaving, he has lost his chance to increase his earning potential, as well as being club captain and a potential legend. I wonder if he regrets it?
On the other side of the coin, he has returned to Arsenal as a better player. Whilst this has to do with him being 4 years older, 122 games for AC Milan has improved him. And look at the central midfielder’s alongside him whilst in Milan:
Mark van Bommel
These are amongst some of the best midfielder’s of their generation. OVer 4,000 career games between them, 429 international caps. You could argue that playing with these, AC Milan became a finishing school for Mathieu Flamini, and, with out his move to AC Milan, he would not be the same player he is today. His move highlights how much a player can improve when he is playing, training, every day with better players – it is something Arsenal should learn from, stop selling senior pro’s, let them teach the younger ones.
The signing of Mathieu Flamini is as much inspirational as it was accidental. Arsene Wenger himself has admitted that when he started training with us, there were no plans to sign him. However it is clear that his mind soon changed as our lack of interest in central midfielder’s over the summer showed that in Wenger’s mind, he was thinking ‘is there someone out there better than Flamini.’
He may well of lost his chance to become Arsenal captain, or an Arsenal legend, but if he continue’s in his current manner, he could become an Arsenal great.
Mathieu Flamini – The Man Who Would Be King