SAFETY - confused

When the news reached my ears that Arsenal would finally be crow-barring open the dusty vaults, taking out a wodge of crisp fivers and getting in a striker and a defensive midfielder, I must admit that I was struggling. You see I heard we were after Diarra. I rejoiced that it might be Malian international Mahmadou Diarra. Nope. “French answer to Ghanaian, Chelsea’s Michael Essien”, Alou Diarra, he of exactly half an hour in a Liverpool shirt before playing for nearly three different French clubs as a loanee? Uh-uh.

Or maybe Didier Zakora of St Etienne? Was he the player that former gunner Gilles Grimandi had been wooing in Ligue 1. Guess again. Perhaps the newspapers meant the other Diarra – Lasanna? No, he’s off to Chelsea. But aren’t we in a tug of war with the great bottomless blue sea of roubles for one of the Diarra’s?. Sorry, you’ve got that backwards.

We finally heard that it was French Under 19 Captain Diaby, not Diarra, upon whom we were about to blow our wad. His first name was not Alou, but Abou. I’ve had this problem for a while (what you might call footballers name dyslexia). There were two Edu’s and we got the other one; two Juninho’s and we didn’t get either of them. For half a day in August 1996 I actually thought we were getting Christian Vieiri! But it was Vieir-a that we have been so desperately trying to replace.

His departure caused the first consternation I can remember amongst the Arsenal management team; that they might not have a full house and that the flop (and maybe even a river card) might have to be relied on.

All of the above-mentioned Diarra’s, and Diaby himself, are six foot plus defensive midfielders of African descent playing their football in France. If Vieira is the model - and Claude Makalele is the exception that proves the rule – then one can be forgiven the idle suspicion that there is of some sort of cloning operation going on among the African nations. These guys are all tall, strong, comfortable on the ball, assertive tacklers, good headers and adept passers in the Paddy mould.

Well-known impotence expert, Pele, famously said that an African nation would win the world cup by the end of the twentieth century. He may have gone off a bit prematurely, but perhaps we are finally witnessing a flowering of talent from that mysterious and beautiful continent. More than 800 African players now play in European professional leagues, not to mention the huge number of second generation Africans turning out for European nations. South Africa hosts the World Cup in 2010 (not a moment too soon) and Africa held its first ever FIFA congress in September last year. The recent African Cup of Nations was the most watched tournament in the Cups history.

The new difficulty is not telling our new players apart form their comrades by the similarity of their surnames. It’s having a moments of brain-itching deja-vous watching them play. The resemblance of Diaby (even having the correct number of syllables for a similar song) to Paddy may be down to the demands of the modern game for those physical attributes in midfield I’ve just mentioned. But Adebayor’s “separated at birth” likeness to Kanu though is a different and very uncanny matter. Strikers can be made out of all sorts (short, tall, thin, fat – keep scoring goals and we don’t give a monkeys what you look like), but very few warrant the accolade “Kanu-esque”.

Peter Crouch might lay claim, but he is just a very lanky git with better than average feet. Kanu had the mark of genius and it remains to be seen whether our Emmanuel can emulate that. Kanu had the mark of genius and it remains to be seen whether our Emmanuel can emulate that.

So far he appears to have one key attribute – the ability to bundle in a goal off of some part of his body. I note with interest that he also runs with the ball as if he is about to fall over but doesn’t – like he has two centres of gravity and can choose which one to employ. That is certainly reminiscent of the great man. And the physical resemblance is uncanny – even down to not being able to decide what to do with his unruly hair (Kanu settled on plaits in the end).

The only measure of a striker is goals though and it’s what can make a striker the loneliest man in the world. Defenders and keepers have their unions. Midfielders are judged on their teamwork and combinations. Some support strikers augment a front man and perhaps contribute enough to call the end product a “pairing”. And there are the very gifted payers who you want as far forward as possible because they have the time to make choices and the ability to carry out their will – as a description “the man in the hole” seems derogatory really. But the out-and-out striker is judged on goals, first, last and always. In Glengarry Glen Ross you saw that no matter how much of a team you might create, in a sales force the buck finally stops with you and how many condo’s you shifted.

Strikers are the door-to-door salesman and compare themselves to their peers not to their mates. They want to be top and they want to be recognised as top. I don’t envy any striker pushing Thierry Henry for a berth . But I admire anyone who wants to take on the challenge and has the self-belief to think they could inherit the sable, sceptre, crown and the legacy of Arsenal’s greatest ever striker. Being a bit like Kanu will certainly help us to allow him some time. Scoring an audacious individual hatrick of astonishing alacrity against Chelsea wouldn’t hurt either.




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