Some stories are universal.
There is a genre of modern ‘talkie’ filmmaking that has its origins in a much older story. Younger readers may well remember the modern 1960 motion picture The Magnificent Seven, directed by Mr. Sturges and starring among others the Arkwright-a-like Mr. Yul Brynner. This film was in itself a remake of Mr. Kurosawa’s 1954 film Shichinin No Samurai or The Seven Samurai.
You know the plot: A ragtag bunch of misfits must come together to protect their village, which is under attack from a gang of scurrilous bandits. None of your fellows know how to fight, so one must leave to hire a group of mercenaries who are willing to defend the village for the pittance you can pay. This story goes as far back as Aeschylus’s play Seven Against Thebes in in 467 BC.
The plot is pretty predictable, but always fun.
Last Tuesday evening, Arsenal Football Club re-enacted this story. Please find below the opening scene, set on Mike Arteta’s first day as Head Coach back in December, just before Christmas. I have used nicknames rather than real names, for example Michael Arkwight is known as ‘Mikel Arteta’.
THE ALMOST MAGNIFICENT ELEVEN
EXT. PRACTICE PITCHES AT LONDON COLNEY. COLD.
Supposedly professional footballers in red and white are trying to pass the ball to each other. Head coach Mikel Arteta is pacing the turf, brow furrowed, and shouting highly technical instructions to them. A large car pulls up. A suited, older man emerges from the back passenger seat.
Hey Buddy. Looking good. Just wanted to drop by and see how you were
getting on with this high quality squad.
He taps his cigar out onto the grass.
Mr. Kroenke. How lovely to see you.
Listen, Mick. I’m gonna let you in on a little something. You know how we don’t
have any centre-halves? It’s not by accident.
You’re all fools. You know that? I’m not interested in winning anything. That’s why I hired Emery. Winning? [he spits] It’s for losers. I’m interested in tapping this money keg. Arsenal fans are fools. All soccerball fans are fools. They’ll still buy tickets. They’ll still buy Ryo Miyachi undercrackers. And you see what I do this transfer window and all transfer windows until the end of time. The best you’re gonna get is an overpriced trinket from the Kia Joorabchian bootsale.
But we need a centre half, Stan. You promised.
You’re not getting one. You’re gonna lose to Chelsea in January. And I’m
going to freeze transfers. And I’m going to make you keep Mustafi. See ya, kid. And good luck with this gang of goombahs.
He gets back into his chauffeur-driven car and drives off.
[shouts] FREDDIE. I NEED THE MASTER FOLDER.
Freddie Ljungberg scurries over with an A4 folder. Arteta opens it.
Well now, what do we have to work with on this impossible task.
He opens the folder.
Talk me through everyone, Freddie. Goalkeeper?
No problems there boss. Solid. Saves thirty or forty shots per game.
Let’s move onto the defence.
The goalie’s really good. Absolutely no problems there.
Centre of defence? Tell me about Mustafi.
In goal we have a real professional. One of the best.
David Luiz. Reputation for brain fade in a match. What’s he doing now?
He seems to be trying to balance a training cone on his nose.
We don’t really have one. Looks like we’re going to have an academy winger there.
Nope. Bellerin’s out for months. Might just be ready for the Chelsea game in January.
We’ve got a bloke who told the home crowd to fuck off, he was the captain, by
the way, a David Luiz tribute act with a bit of a superiority complex who came from the French second division, he’s funny though! Plus a little fella who doesn’t know if he’s supposed to be a number 10 or a number 8 or a number 6.
And up front? Talk me through it.
There’s a bloke who gets £350k per week but doesn’t take shots or play away
any more, there’s a fella who couldn’t hit a fat kid with a cricket bat at the moment, an eighteen year old who came from the Brazilian fourth division and a bloke we paid £72 million for months ago but still seems to be “settling in”. And Aubameyang. He’s good at least. So it’s him and the keeper, basically, they’re at the required level. The rest… Hmmmmmmnnnnyyyyeaaah.
Well at least we’ve got a funny one, a lunatic who does the right thing in the
wrong place, the wrong thing in the right place, do we have a shell-shocked veteran?
Yes, that’s Sokratis. He’s just over there beating up that car.
And is there a clever one? These films always have a clever one.
Bellerin. They call him the junior professor. But he’s injured.
Hmm, well I’m sure his intelligence will come in handy on his return from
injury. And what’s the esprit de corps like? The morale? When backs are against the wall what’s the response?
Do you see Ozil over there, holding a dandelion and weeping?
It’s sort of like that.
The middle of our film is devoted to exploring the growing relationship with our ragtag band of players, as they eventually become something approaching a coherent fighting force. And then we see our battle against Chelsea, with our 18 year old fourth division player running seventy yards to score, and our invalid of a right back curling one in with his wrong peg to win a miraculous point. Our parable about the triumph of community and collective action finishes and the curtain comes down. A magnificent result against a bitter and evil enemy leaves the audience more than satisfied . They fight on.
And they may just get close to the ultimate prize: Selling Mustafi.