This is the second article in
the series titled “The One That Got Away”, a series which basically sets out to
look at the players whom Arsenal have missed out on over the years.
Last time the focus was on Franck Ribery, currently a star player for
the reigning European Champions. This time around, I will look at Yann M’Vila,
the player who has probably had more medicals with Arsenal than any other
player in its long and illustrious history.
Born in 1990, M’Vila got his first introduction to professional
football when he joined the academy of ES Sains-Saint-Fuscien at
the age of six. Subsequent moves to Amiens Sporting Club (where he spent around
five years) and then a short sojourn through FC Mantes finally lead to young
M’Vila capturing the attention of the prestigious youth academy at Stade
Rennais. It was here at Rennes where M’Vila would go from being a young,
aspiring youth player to the player whom Marcel Desailly described as “having
the potential to be even better than Patrick Vieira” (Blasphemy!).
So what happened in the years between these two events? Well it was in
2007, after 3 successful years in the Rennes youth team, where M’Vila signed
his first professional contract that would run till 2010. While he spent his
first year establishing himself in the Reserves, his second year as a senior player at Rennes proved to be
troublesome, fraught with issues as both injury (requiring minor surgery) and
problems with the coach at the time (Guy Lacombe) combined to ensure M’Vila
spent the entire 2008-2009 season on the side-lines rather than earning
valuable match experience.
A change in coach and a string of strong performances for the U-19
French International team however helped to revive M’Vila’s fledgling career
and in August of 2009, the new coach Frédéric Antonetti declared M’Vila to be
central to his plans for the upcoming season. His faith in the 20-year-old
would prove to be well placed with M’Vila, barely missing a match from that
month onwards, going on to establish himself that season as one of Rennes’ most
In fact, it was his performances over the course of the coming seasons
that piqued the interest of some of the biggest teams around Europe as
Liverpool, Real Madrid and Arsenal became among the first teams to be rumoured
to be keeping track on the young midfielder’s progress, eventually
resulting in actual
bids being placed for the player the following summer as Arsenal sought to
add to the defensive side of their game.
Unfortunately it was not to be and although the player was EXTENSIVELY
linked with moves to the Premier League over the coming transfer windows, with
both dubious and reliable sources even going so far as to confirm a move to
Arsenal had been
(99%!) done, M’Vila finally earned his big move in January 2013 when he
moved to the Russian club Rubin Kazan.
So what kind of midfielder is M’Vila to warrant
such interest from Europe’s top clubs? Here is a video showing all of M’Vila’s performance
it is rather a small sample size from which to infer the quality of a player,
one can pick out certain key attributes that define a player’s approach to the
game. One of M’Vila’s is undoubtedly his passing and the sheer range
with which he seems to be able to pick out a pass.
Another of these attributes is the way in which M’Vila
constantly finds himself little pockets of space so as to nearly always be
available for a pass. In fact, Antonetti, his coach at Rennes, once joked in
response to a question about the Rennes’ fans booing M’Vila that he “touched
the ball so much that they (supporters) couldn’t keep up. It made me smile a
Furthermore, it is easy to see that M’Vila generally likes
to keep things simple: once he has the ball, he then moves it on quickly. In
this way, he is able to ease the pressure on those around him, keep the ball in
motion and as his position is usually as a defensive midfielder, often serves
as the launching pad for subsequent attacking plays.
Finally, M’Vila generally plays with remarkable composure and
discipline. This is truly made evident when you consider the real dearth of
yellow cards to his name despite having made around 130 appearances for club
and country. For me, this just reinforces his image as an incredibly dependable
player on the pitch with all the qualities that an ideal defensive midfielder
Unfortunately, it is his actions off the
pitch which provide the biggest question marks when considering M’Vila as a
potential transfer target with stories cropping up of attitude problems (with
his former Rennes’ manager Lacombe marking him as a “loose cannon”) and disciplinary
issues, culminating in a disastrous two-year ban from international
In conclusion, was M’Vila a bad player
to miss out on? I believe there are different ways of looking at it. On the one
hand, we have been missing a classically defensive-minded player ever since
Arsene decided to hold off on replacing Alex Song. In my opinion, M’Vila would
have been an ideal replacement for Alex Song.
On the other hand, Mikel Arteta, who was trusted by Arsene
Wenger to fill the gap left by Song, has gone on to become one of the Arsenal’s
most important players. If M’Vila had arrived, where would have he fit into the
system? Would he have perhaps competed with Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere
for the two central midfielder roles? It is unlikely, at least to me, that he
would start ahead of any of these players.
Therefore, I believe it isn’t too much of a loss. While
many critics would say we lack a defensive midfielder, a real “enforcer”-type
player, I’d argue that the resurgence of Ramsey and the shrewd re-signing of
Flamini has been more than enough to provide cover for the injured Arteta,
meaning M’Vila isn’t, and probably never really will be, missed.