Since the day the wayward shooting Gervinho left for Roma, Arsenal’s starting eleven has not had an African born representative playing in any position. Now I know that the club has some coming through the academy, and if you wanted to be truly technical, there are a few in the team of African descent, but I’m focusing on the starting eleven of our current squad.
Gone are the days where we fielded the likes of Kanu, the ill mentioned Adebayor, cult hero Emmanuel Eboue, Alex Song, Christopher Wreh, Lauren, Kolo Toure, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Kaba Diawara, Kwame Ampadu and even Marouane Chamakh. Yet deeper questions remain, but who or where will the next African star come from to play for our great club who, over the years has had a brilliant history of cultural diversity and being one of the first English clubs to give players of different backgrounds a chance to showcase their talents.
One of my closest old mates, who now lives in Australia told me, he and his brothers supported Arsenal because they were one of the first clubs to bring in black players. Being a person of Jamaican heritage and growing up as a child in the rough, racially immature 70’s and 80’s in London, he always told me it was so wonderful feeling accepted at Arsenal games through the likes of Michael Thomas, Gus Caesar, David Rocastle, Ian Wright, Chris Whyte, Viv Anderson, Kevin Campbell, Paul Davis and so on. And even Rapahel Meade, who’s son Jernade Meade went on to play for Arsenal too, if only for a brief period before moving to Swansea.
Being white myself, I can’t begin to explain or understand how racial abuse or any thing like that would feel, but my mate sure did, and that’s something he shared with me as a friend, a person he could trust. But I could definitely see the joy in his storytelling about the days when going to Highbury was safe and entertaining, as he recalled, Arsenal fans were more welcoming than most. Another reason he felt connected to the club.
But in the now, we look across our squad, where are our African born stars? Sure, world football is a little lacking in African star power, so where will that next player come from? Arsene Wenger was very influential in bringing in African players, especially French speaking Africans as we know. So why now do we not have any?
Did the pain of Emmanuel Adebayor, or the major flop of Gervinho cause him to look elsewhere? I can’t say I know what happened to Alex Song on the inside, but rumours were he wasn’t the easiest to deal with at the club, nor his management. Arsene Wenger would often turn to French players of African descent, and now we only have Francis Coquelin to call upon for that.
Samir Nasri was another one, born of Algerian parents, but grew up in France, he too caused Arsene hurt. Does Arsene feel betrayed by those he helped bring to stardom? I don’t know I should be the person to ask that. It’s not like Van Persie or Fabregas didn’t turn their backs on Arsene too.
Yet it’s not without rumour that we didn’t make a play for Serge Aurier before eventually deciding on Mathieu Debuchy. But that could have been down to a number of factors, not just where they are from. That would be a naive thought on my behalf. One reason I wrote this article is that, so much of the past had been glittered with victory and trophies, and Africans born players were right there at the front line of our success.
As you know, I’m not African myself, but I do look forward to the day where players of all nationalities, religions and beliefs are standing side by side holding up more trophies for our great club. Arsenal has always accepted people of all walks of life, and I hope that will always be the case, even if we aren’t blessed with African talent today.
Jake also writes about Arsenal on his own site, The Loaded Cannon – go check it out!