Only joking! 🙂
During my way home from London, on a long train journey to the south of Scotland, I had the pleasure to read the special edition dedicated to Johan Cruijff by Voetbal International, the best Dutch football magazine which has been going for as long as I can remember. JC14 was a great character and many believe he is as great a Dutchman as the immortals Rembrandt and Van Gogh are. This is of course some claim, as I doubt we will still study and talk about Johan’s performances and football philosophies, in say 100 to 500+ years from now, as, no doubt, we will still do about the great works of art, vision and minds of those giant painters. Then again, who really knows what makes people immortal and continue to be remembered centuries from now?
One of the things that stand out about Cruijff was his urge to tell people what to do: to teach them, to correct them, to improve them. He would do this with regards to absolutely anything he was dealing with, from telling his fellow players how to hold the billiard cue to telling astrologers how to read horoscopes. On the pitch, either as a footballer or later as a manager, he would constantly talk to his fellow players and tell them what to do, or how to do things better. He did this in such a way that his team mates would accept his advice and, as many have stated in the Voetbal International I read, his fellow players became better footballers as a result of it.
Cruijff was also the kind of player who would lead the team on the pitch: he was the embodiment of the total football philosophy and his feet were firmly on the steering wheel. Cruijff was not just there on the pitch to create and score goals, although they were of course very important and he produced many hundreds of them; he would also direct the play and get involved all over the pitch. Cruijff was always the best player on pitch, in every aspect; and above all, a true, natural leader.
As David Winner put in the Guardian Weekly recently: “He [Cruijff] influenced events on the field not only as a preternaturally gifted and original player, but also through his habit of making major tactical adjustments during a match without reference to the bench.”
And that brings me to Arsenal and a topic we all care and have opinions about: on-field leadership. Many are pointing fingers towards Arsene for letting the PL title slip once again this year, and to me this is not totally unreasonable, but I have also missed the on-field leadership once more this season.
Some reckon Arsene does not value leadership very highly and that he expects all players to play with maturity and control. This is of course fine when things are going well, but when the proverbial hits the fan(s), we need a character on the pitch who can adjust the tactics. Actually, even when things are going well, we need a player on the pitch who can sense that a change of tactics is required and is then able to execute it. For example, we have been pressing hard to get a goal and we finally got it, and rather than keep doing the same thing to get a second, sometimes it is better to sit back a bit and invite pressure and for us then be able to pounce back on the break and get the second goal that way.
For me that person has to sit in midfield, and ideally in the double DM pivot. This would be one for Rambo to pick up but I am not seeing enough progress in his leadership ability to say he should be our captain and become our team leader and organiser. I can see a lot of potential in Elneny but reckon it is too early to give him such a big responsibility. He is very good in making us tick allover the pitch, and it’s an absolute joy to watch him read the game and make an art of doing important things look so simple.
The two players we have missed a hell of a lot this season are Santi and Jack. I have to admit that I did not think we would miss Santi as much as we did, but we did. Either can play in the hole behind the CF, or, even better, next to the more conservative midfielder: le Coq as the Wall, or Elneny as the omnipresent force. Both are very talented, technically gifted and intelligent footballers: they can read the game, can make tactical adjustments and have the communication skills to lead the team.
I reckon Arsene underestimates the importance of leadership on the pitch and puts too much trust in the collective sense of responsibility and leadership ability. It is time for a strong, unchallenged captain who has the skillset, and respect of the other players, to lead the team throughout the 90 minutes of each and every game. Whether it is Jack or Santi, I don’t care, but let’s give either of the armband and make the other the depute.