Talent Is Never Enough

This is not just the summary of how Arsenal wasted their chance of becoming Premiership Champions for the 2007/08 season. It is a literary reminder of one of football’s most important lessons: talent is just not enough if any player or team wants to stay on top of their game.

When Thierry Henry (popularly known as Igwe in this part of the world) left Arsenal at the end of last season, many thought that was the end of it for Arsene Wenger and his young guns. For many die-hard fans, it was like trading a nuclear weapon for 21 Kalashnikovs. Undoubtedly, Henry had been the arrowhead for Arsenal’s strike force since 1999/2000 and replacing Arsenal’s highest goal scorer of all time was sure not going to be easy. But Igwe made a striking statement after his move to Barcelona to join (on paper) the dream team strike force of Eto’O, Messi and Ronaldinho. He said it was the right time for the likes of Adebayor, Fabregas and Van Persie to shine and really come of age.

His words were like a prophecy. Over the season, Fabregas cemented his towering reputation with sublime footballing skills that exceeded his age. Adebayor proved his critics wrong, by scoring more goals. At the last count, it was 21 Premiership goals; an impressive feat for a player who, for all his Arsenal life, has endured criticisms from fans and critics alike. At one time in the season, the Togolese forward was even the Premiership joint top scorer. Others like Sagna, Clichy, Almunia etcetera, have also proved their mettle. The young Gunners showed the world that Henry’s departure was not their end, but the beginning of a new phase; the budding of new talents and the harnessing of potentials. Arsene Wenger boys became men with Henry’s exit. Nobody gave them a chance in the 2007/2008 season. But, they shocked their critics and rewarded their loyal fans with how well they handle the season. After a slow start, even Eduardo, the new Gunner on the Block and the Croatian who single-handedly destroyed England’s Euro dream at Wembley, took off like a bomb. His presence in the Arsenal strike force pumped more goals into their season’s tally, until his horrific injury. Being Premiership’s top team for many months didn’t come on a platter of gold. The Gunners worked hard for it all the way to the top and paid the price, until they lost steam when it mattered most.

Maybe they forgot. Or maybe Eduardo’s horrific injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the year, got to them. Maybe like Wenger hinted recently, it was a combination of tough luck and bad refereeing decisions. There would always be many maybes. But like a pack of cards in slow motion, the Gunners began to crumble in the Premiership title chase. Match after match, they dropped points like hot irons (in between, they beat Champions’ League holders, the almighty AC Milan, 2-0 in the Italian’s own backyard). Manchester United, their closest rivals, took up the challenge and dethroned them from the top. Even Chelsea, who had been at the tail end of the chasing pack all season, finally overtook them, with just seven matches to go. After then, the script played itself out. Liverpool painfully ended their remaining hope for silverware, in the Champions’ League quarter final.

No doubt, Arsenal plays the most enterprising football in the Premiership. They have one of the best coach and most skillful players and in the world. But, let’s face the fact: it takes more than just talent to make world champions, be it in the Premiership or any other competition. Just like teams like AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester United have shown in the past, talent must always be stewed it with the vital extras: guts, grits, continual development of the skills factory, and a whole lot of faith, character and determination to win against all odds; it makes any team worthy of conquest. These ingredients have not been in the right mix in the Arsenal squad for years. Every team that wants to champions should have these qualities in abundance so that they can draw from the well whenever the occasion calls for it. Champions always give the extra when matters most. During Arsenal’s draw-streak, even Fabregas noted that they should have won some of those matches they drew. Arsenal has an abundance of talent in their squad, but the coach must learn how to mix it with these extras if they really want to become champions. The other things Arsenal needs to strengthen the team are these: world class defenders and an all out striker in the mould of the Thierry Henrys, Didier Drogbas and Fernando Torres’ of this world. Wenger has to review his policy and blend his squad with experience available on the transfer market. It would give his squad of young talents that extra bite and motivation.

This is not taking anything away from the talented Arsenal squad or belittling the achievements of Arsene Wenger. They have all done well. Maybe tough luck had its part to play after all. Remember how Chelsea almost fell apart when Mourinho just left? But the Gunners pumped up their adrenaline to succeed against the odds when their Special One (Thierry Henry) left and got all the way to the top. Nobody can take that way from them, they showed some determination. After all, nobody gave then a chance of getting this far and they did. Their doggedness despite being a man and two goals down in the first half to win in the second against Bolton Wanderers by 3 -2 shows that at least the Arsenal have developed some fighting spirit character, they just need to toughen their skin. All said and done, the Gunners deserve applause for all they have achieved.

Probably someone close to Arsene Wenger should have reminded him that the Premiership was not a 100-metre sprint, but a marathon race. But, let’s forgive the professor. Sometimes, in football, things like this happen. It was de ja vu again for the highly skilled French tactician. Remember how Arsenal lost the title to United in the 2003 season? The way and manner they lost steam this season was reminiscent of what happened at the tail end of that season. But that was their stepping stone to winning the Premiership title the next season. Yeah, you guessed right: the season of the Invincibles; an incredible unbeaten run of 49 matches. Maybe the Gunners can pull it off next season. They have long deserved it.

Written by
Arukaino Umukoro
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