The end of the 2006/07 season for Arsenal was pretty damm rotten for Arsenal. The passing was slick as usual but the team had a hard time scoring a goal. It was clear that the movement was good but in the final 20% of the pitch, the players seemed to stop and wait for the big star, Thierry Henry “to do his thing” and score a goal.
In the summer of 2007 Henry left and despite everyone saying Arsenal would suffer, the team – led by Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb, Robin Van Persie and Mathieu Flamini – played great flowing football and sat on top of the table up until February . So what happened?
Cesc explained in an interview to The Guardian: “Thierry is the best I’ve ever played with. There’s no doubt. But there was this other factor. He is Thierry Henry. When I came I felt I was low and he was high. It was a big difference and for a long time I was intimidated. When I had the ball I felt I had no choice but to look for him. I did this because, one, he is the best and, two, because I had the feeling I had to pass it to him.”
Same story happened a year earlier at Manchester United. Ruud van Nistelrooy (150 goals in 4 seasons for Man Utd) left and people left wonderring how Alex Ferguson’s team is going to score. However, the exact opposite happened: Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney stepped up and as Alex Ferguson said at the time: “We are now flowing”. Same happened in Villarreal when Juan Román Riquelme left and in Barcelona, when Ronaldinho left.
Sometimes, the dependence on one individual takes the confidence away from the others. Sometimes the biggest star turns into a black hole.
When a super-massive star implodes to create a supernova, the power of the star’s gravity becomes so strong that it warps the very fabric of space and time to create a “hole” that not even light can escape, ie a “Black Hole”. A black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational pull is so powerful that nothing, including whole planets, can escape being sucked in if they come within its reach.
There is a time in the evolution of a team when a football star turns into a black hole. He gets all the attention, sucks in all the important passes and his presence make it harder for the players around him to grow. And when he leaves, players step up. They can finally do so.
Will it happen again for Arsenal? Well, Robin Van Persie (154 goals in 11 seasons over his entire career) must be sold. Immediately. No Nasri/Cesc screw up like last year. And the money must be spent to prove RVP’s statement about the club not being ambitious wrong. His statement should be the motivational fuel for the players he left behind.
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