Monday, July 22, 2024

The weight of 10

Morning all, a quick Saturday round-up for you.

There’s more on Emile Smith Rowe who, Mikel Arteta reveals, asked for the number 10 shirt. I like this. I’ve seen people talk about the weight of that shirt, the responsibility that comes with it, and especially how it might be a burden right now at a club like Arsenal. We’re in a period where the number 10 has to make a difference for us, but willingly looking to take on that role is something I think is really encouraging.

Speaking to the official site about his desire to wear 10, Arteta said:

That shows you the ambition and desire. I prefer players who ask for more than maybe they can take but if they believe they can do it, don’t put a limit on it. When he asked me and asked the club that he would like to get that [10], okay, let’s go.

We talked a little bit, we discussed it and he knows the consequences of that, but he feels prepared to do it and if he is prepared to do it, then I am going to be right behind him to try to make him as comfortable and as happy as possible to do what he wants to do.

To some it’s just a number and it makes no difference, but in football I think there are specific numbers which have some weight. What would you give for a outstanding number 9, for example? The classic striker’s number. Alexandre Lacazette has been better than some who came before him (Perez, Park, Baptista, Jeffers etc), and scored some excellent goals, but given the transfer fee and his overall goal return, it hasn’t been as successful as you would have hoped.

Elsewhere it might not mean as much, but at Arsenal, 14 has a special place because of what Thierry Henry did in it. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wanted it for that reason, and while last season wasn’t up to scratch for myriad reasons we don’t need to go over again, his goalscoring record until then was more than commensurate with the status that number has.

At then there’s 10, the one that comes with the most expectation of them all. It isn’t just a number, it’s a position. Not just any position either. You have to create, you have to score, you have to help your team control the game, be the fulcrum in the attacking third, and – just not just that – you kinda have to do it in a specific way. You can be good and functional, but you will disappoint people who want the 10 to play with style, verve and panache. You’re the player who will help get people off their seats, provide the OOOOHs and AAAAHs as you do something magical, and that’s because of who came first.

In the modern era Smith Rowe is following in the footsteps of Dennis Bergkamp, one of the greatest players to ever play for the club; Jack Wilshere, the most anticipated youth prospect to come from the Academy in a long-time, and still the most naturally talented until the emergence of Smith Rowe/Saka; and it while didn’t end well for Mesut Ozil, at his best he was a sublime creator, with a gifted left foot who ticked every box in the number 10 check-list.

So, those players add even more weight to the number he asked for, not to mention the fact Smith Rowe has do it in a team whose greatest weakness is its lack of creativity and a paucity of goals. On the one hand, perhaps it makes it easier because the bar is set low and every improvement will feel greater; but on the other that comes with its own pressure. Even back in 1995, Dennis Bergkamp was labelled a flop (admittedly by some people who should have known better), when it took him some time to get off the mark after his move from Inter Milan.

Obviously the circumstances for Smith Rowe are different, but so too is the media landscape where 24/7 discourse creates a merciless environment for players, managers, and clubs. Everything is under the microscope, everything is a GIFable or a potential meme, and there’s layer of punditry which is based almost entirely around making your voice heard in the crowd. To do that you shout as loudly as you can and you don’t say things which might be reasonable or intelligent, you provoke, you cause outrage, because that then causes engagement. It’s sad that we live in a world where people are quite prepared to invite invective and disdain upon themselves simply to feel relevant in some way, but there we are.

For the most part, those are things that for Smith Rowe should be on the periphery of his football career. There will be people around him to insulate him from some of it, to put it in perspective, and to keep him focused on what really matters, but as we saw with Bukayo Saka after the Euro 2020 final, there’s always a way in for the nastiest elements if they really want to have a go. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the reality that is football these days.

So, for me, Smith Rowe looking for 10 can only be encouraging. He wants the responsibility, he knows the weight of the number, and he has the character to take it. He could have chosen something else, something that comes with a bit less expectation, but he went all in on the heaviest number of them all.

I can’t sit here this morning and predict that he will do it ‘justice’, but the mere fact that he asked to have it gives him a much better chance.

Right, that’s your lot. Have a great Saturday, more tomorrow.

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