Sylvain Wiltord was once Arsenal’s record signing. He joined Arsenal in 2000 for a club record fee of £13 million, just weeks after scoring the injury time equaliser for France in the Euro 2000 Final. Big things were expected of the Frenchman, who was Ligue 1 top scorer as he led Bordeaux to the title in 1999. He was supposed to the fox in the box. The man who, at 26, could guide young French winger Thierry Henry.
He became an invincible, and was immortalised in Arsenal history with the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford which saw Arsenal win the league, in Manchester.
He is the 9th most capped French player in history, and 8th highest goal scorer. With 2 Premier League medals, 2 FA Cups, 4 Ligue 1 titles, a World Cup runners up medal and a European Football Championship winners medal in his trophy cabinet. He certainly had a stellar career.
However, it is a career that never really reached the heights it was perhaps expected to at Arsenal.
Signed amongst a lot of hype, having scored that goal in the Euro 2000 Final, it had looked like we had finally replaced Ian Wright (At that point we had not been down the Lane, to tell the Tottenham scum).
Wiltord’s Arsenal career wilted as Thierry Henry grew in stature.
In 2000, having had a year to settle, Henry was beginning to show glimpses of the great he would become. On the other hand, Wiltord very quickly became a bit part player. Back up to Henry upfront, covering on the wings.
31 goals in 106 league games. Over the entire 4 years, he ended up with 49 goals in 175 competitive games. Over the same period, Henry got himself 125 goals, in 208 games. He was certainly in the great man’s shadow.
However, despite never reaching the heights that was expected, he was still a fans favourite.
Always dependable, he rarely had a poor game. When Henry was out injured, he was still a threat up front. When Ljungberg on the left was out, he did a job on the right wing, making up for a bit of lack of quality with always putting in a shift, never complaing about being played out of position.
He was never the best crosser, could not beat a man with skill, and was not a great finisher, but he would never stop running. And with a bit of pace and strength, on his day, he could be a threat. He ended up being voted Arsenal’s 33rd Greatest Player.
What makes me reminisce about Sylvain Wiltord is the performances and development of someone else in the squad, who reminds me so much of the Frenchman.
Now Danny Welbeck has a lot of good attributes. He is strong, he is quick, he has a high work rate. But he often lacks quality. His ability to beat a man is often negated by getting the ball stuck between his feet. His passing can be wayward, and his shooting leaves a lot to be desired.
But this does not mean he is a poor player.
Like Wiltord, he will become a good squad player. He does have the class to lead the line on occasion, as he showed against Galatasaray in the Champions League and on occasion for England.
Sylvain Wiltord went throughout his career averaging 1 in 4, with his appearances in on the wing reducing what would have probably been a 1 in 3 striker record. Danny Welbeck is currently hitting very similar statistics.
Welbeck reminds me so much of Wiltord. The way he is perhaps not quite good enough to be 1st choice striker. The way he can cover on the wing. The way he will miss chances then score others. They play in a very similar manner.
As long as Welbeck keeps his head down, continues to work hard for the team, takes his chances when they come, and does not become a big time Charlie, he will have a career at Arsenal.
Danny Welbeck will never become the next Thierry Henry, but he could become the next Sylvain Wiltord.