One of the consequences of lockdown, or just this last year we’ve all experienced, is that I have watched less football than I used to. Plenty of Arsenal, obviously, but not as much of other teams and other competitions – which is a bit odd considering there’s more football than ever on TV.
I don’t know if it’s an attention span thing, something to do with heavier investment in Arsenal, or just a feeling of saturation – over-saturation even. I find myself keeping an eye on things via Twitter, and if there’s a goal or an incident I need to see, I go look it up. It’s surprisingly easy to find those moments, thus is takes some of the onus off watching games live.
Football for the Twitter generation, I guess. I don’t know if I can be classified in that way, having grown up at a time when there were about 3 live matches per year on the telly (and that was only when there was an FA Cup final replay), but my viewing habits have certainly changed during the last 12 months or so.
I did watch football last night though, as Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick at the Nou Camp as PSG beat Barcelona 4-1. Obviously I have little time for a club owned by a nation state whose obscene wealth has done so much to distort the transfer market, something which has an impact on every club, but what a night it was for the French striker. There was something about doing that on the pitch that Lionel Messi has graced for so many years that felt significant.
Messi has been the best in the world for so long, by some distance the best player I’ve ever seen, but at 33 he’s heading towards the end of his career, in a Barcelona team that isn’t so much experiencing the end of an era as the implosion of one. Sucked into a financial black hole from which they, in their current form, may never come out of. Messi opened the scoring with a penalty but within five minutes Mbappe slammed PSG level.
His second came when Gerard Pique, another player for whom the time has come, made a mistake, and the finish was clinical. As for the third, Barcelona were caught on the break like Ronald Koeman’s Everton, Draxler delayed the pass perfectly and when Mbappe fired it into the top corner for his hat-trick, it was like someone had created the most emphatic finish by splicing together the best of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.
I can enjoy a player doing this because it’s really irrelevant to us. I don’t mean to say I like that fact, by the way. Imagine we were in the Champions League and worrying about what Mbappe might do to David Luiz if, somehow, we beat Bayern Munich and made it beyond the Round of 16? That sounds like a fun, if somewhat implausible, scenario. However, we’re some distance from there, and I’d posit that if and when we do make it back to Europe’s top-table, Luiz won’t be an Arsenal player. As such, it’s just nice to be able to watch a sensational footballer do sensational things.
It’s why, despite there being good players in the Premier League, my admiration of them can only go so far. Sure, Jimmy the Striker is a hot shot and he’s scored four in one game against Sp*rs, that’s amusing, but in the back of my mind is the worry about what he might do to us. My distaste for players scoring against us and celebrating against us has an impact on how far I can go in terms of appreciating their talent. This is true of players who play now, and those who played in the past. They exist in a particular category in my mind, and they will never escape it.
This was actually the subject of a paper in The Scientific Journal of Science in which esteemed sociopathicpsychologist Professor Godfrey Twatschlock outlined The Theory of Teddy Rooney van NistelKane in great detail. It’s available to download as 64 page PDF here, but I’m sure you all understand the nuts and bolts of it based on the title alone.
To my mind, the purity of football can only be fully appreciated when we do it (not often enough), or when someone else does it in a competition far, far away when it can’t possibly hurt me. Like the video clip doing the rounds this week of the lad in Iran (I think) doing a somersault then launching a long throw 70 yards down the pitch. Sensational stuff … unless it’s being done by some absolute bastard flinging the ball into our box to shatter the nerves of our defenders as we ask our smallest player to mark a 6’10 bloke who could score 70 points a game in the NBA.
Which is to say Kylian Mbappe doing that last night, twisting Barcelona’s DNA inside and out on their own pitch, exists in that place where I can just enjoy it. It’s not simply the talent and execution of a brilliant player doing brilliant things, but the misery it inflicts on a club who have inflicted similar on us down the years. What goes around comes around, and now is the time to insert this image for maximum impact:
Right, Arsenal train at London Colney this morning before flying to Rome to play Benfica. There’s a press conference later, so we’ll cover all the stories over on Arseblog News, including the latest team/fitness updates, and we’ll preview the game here tomorrow on the blog.
Until then, take it easy.