Where has the magic gone?
Last April, one of the best writers of the last century passed away at the age of 87: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I first read the Columbian’s master pieces like ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and the phenomenal ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ in my late teens/ early twenties, and they opened a new world for me. Marquez’s books are very colourful and full of imagination and magic; a stark contrast with most of the Dutch literature I read back then. These were an introduction into magical realism for me: Marquez’s stories appear too fantastic, too dreamlike to be true, but he was just able to give ‘reality’ another dimension – a quality that only brilliant storytellers possess. As he put it himself in response to a question by a good friend of his:
“The way you treat reality in your books … has been called magical realism. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic of your stories but fail to see the reality behind it … .” “This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn’t limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs.”
After Marquez, I read a great number of Latin/South American literature: Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Joao Guimaraes Rosa, whose ‘Grande Sertão: Veredas (translated as ‘The Devil to Pay in the Backlands’) is one of the best books I have ever read: open this book at any page and read a few sentences and you will find it is pure beauty.
Adding beauty and magic to life is one of humans’ greatest gifts, but it takes a lot of effort and focus to do so, as well as being able to see and appreciate it.
By now the more impatient readers of Bergkampesque will be asking themselves: but what has this got to do with football? And my response to this is: everything and nothing. The quest for beauty – whether in football or life in general – is important to me, as it compensates for all the horror, sadness and injustice we get confronted with in our daily lives. Beauty is the brother of human warmth/love, and without these two what would life mean?
As a Dutchman, and in stark contrast to most of our 20th century literature, I was lucky enough to grow up with magical football. From the dazzling Dutch National team of Cruijff and Michels in 1974 to the Ajax teams in the seventies and mid-nineties, I have truly been spoilt by the beauty of (total) football.
Regulars on BK know that Dennis Bergkamp’s move to Arsenal – who for me, and I know many others, was the on-field personification of beautiful football – led me gradually to our beloved Arsenal. Dennis would not have become such a club legend without the guidance and football philosophy of Arsene Wenger. But this goes also the other way: without Bergkamp, Wenger would not have been able to implement his beautiful Wengerball with such impact and success rate.
Gradually, however, the beautiful vision and skills of the wunderkind from Catalonia, Cesc Fabregas, replaced Dennis’ mastery and conductorship. Around him, Arsene build another fine brand of football, which did not win us prices, but was always a joy to watch. We can only wonder what would have happened if Arsenal had been able to keep hold of its key players and strengthen the squad every year with one or two quality players, during the initial post-Highbury years. But winning is not everything, at least not for me, and I have great memories of how we played the game under conductor El Capitan.
Since the departure of Cesc our football has seldom been of the Bergkamp and Fabregas standard. There have been moments in games, and sometimes even whole games, when we played beautiful football. But it is fair to say, Wenger has been struggling to get us back to the standards we have become accustomed to over recent decades. I have no doubt he can get us there again: his passion and vision are as good as ever; but I am wondering how he can do it.
For me, Arsene needs a conductor in the middle, ideally in the ‘hole’ position. I have seen enough to believe that Ozil is a great player but not a conductor who shapes and commands the midfield. I have great hopes for Jack, the best young footballer I have seen in the game since Cesc, but I reckon he has not got the stamina/fitness yet to be a continuous force in our team. Ramsey is our ideal box-to-boxer but I don’t see him as a conductor in our team.
In order to get back to full-on Wengerball, with now a better chance to win something in the process, we need to add at least a DM who can pass the ball as well. I have written enough about this recently, so will not elaborate much further. Suffice to say, we need a player in front of our back four who can defend, has great stamina and physicality, allows his fellow midfielders to play higher up the pitch and can pass the ball well (enough).
But we also need to fill the hole with somebody who owns the area in front of the opponents’ ‘D’, all the way back to the middle line, and if Cesc is really willing to leave Barcelona……
Written by: TotalArsenal.
Be good to yourself.