In the business of blog writing, you obviously want people to read what you say. Therefore you have to write about something that people will be interested in reading. In the football blogosphere that usually translates into posts talking about the ‘Big Four’, the Champions League and the stellar names of the modern game’s multimillionaires – Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi…and weirdly enough, Julio Baptista (Sportboys’ most searched for player).
As this football season comes to an end, it is time to look back on those players who have been unheralded by the mainstream media. Sometimes it can be difficult to pick these guys out unless you have been watching a team week-in, week-out but over the coming weeks I will give a big-up to those that have caught my eye. There is no better place to start than with the team that suffered defeat this weekend, in part because they decided to drop their unsung hero.
‘We have only got one Song’
The man that started off this season as one of the most vilified of Arsene Wenger’s younglings has become in the past 10 games, the foundation of the Gooners’ resurgence. When Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto departed for AC Milan and Panathanaikos respectively last summer and Arsene Wenger decided not to buy a replacement, the defensive midfield position became Arsenal’s heralded weakness. Where was the bite, fight and might going to come from now to complement the finesse, vision and technique of Cesc Fabregas?
Alexandre Song (full name Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong, according to that trusted source Wikipedia) arrived at Arsenal from french side Bastia in 2006, aged 18 and with a hefty reputation. I remember laughing last season recalling the story that Alex Song had received his work permit to play in England (as a Cameroonian without enough caps for his country) because he was ‘an exceptional talent’. Despite being brought up by his legendary uncle, Rigobert Song, after losing his dad aged three (thanks again to Wikipedia) and gaining over 30 caps at Bastia as a teenager, Alex didn’t seem to be cut out for the pressure of first team football for the Gunners. Song didn’t seem to have a position, lacking the defensive awareness and positioning to play at central defence, while also lacking the dynamism that made Mathieu Flamini such a valued player in that position last season. Although he showed glimpses of class in a more advanced position while at loan on Charlton, Arsenal fans weren’t too enamoured with Wenger’s claim last summer that buying a defensive midfielder would ‘kill the chances’ of Song developing.
Filling the void
Denilson started this season as Cesc Fabregas’ chosen partner in the centre of the Arsenal midfield and although the young Brazilian has shown moments of class, he hasn’t offered the back four the protection it needs and continues to be known as a bit of a poor man’s Fabregas. Luckily for Song, Cesc Fabregas was sidelined for two months and perpetual niggling injuries for Abou Diaby opened up a berth. Since getting his chance, Song hasn’t looked back. He has brought much needed strength, tackling and aerial presence to Arsenal’s midfield alongside his natural composure, tidy distribution and impeccable reading of the game. Furthermore, unlike the archetypal Makelele player, Song is actual a threat when he goes forward (see his recent goal against Wigan).
It seems to me that Wenger has really improved his positional awareness and encouraged him to play to his natural strengths. Where he was once a lackadaisical player, now Song zooms round the pitch with intent. There is no doubt that Song’s performances over the past 15 games or so have contributed to Arsenal’s defensive tightness, forcing Gooners to eat humble pie (including the Sportboys and the Football Guy) and filling the terraces with chants of ‘we only have one Song’. So when Wenger left Song on the bench for Arsenal’s semi-final against Chelsea there were questions raised over team selection. The Blues proceeded to out-power and out-hustle Arsenal’s midfield. I am not saying that Arsenal would have won with Song in their side and I am certainly not suggesting that Song doesn’t have a lot to improve in his game but it can take a match like that to realise how important a team’s unsung hero can be.