Important note: I have written this article back in May and opted not to publish it then. The reason for this was because at the last possible minute I found out the manner in which Flamini left Arsenal in 2008 – by allowing his contract to run out and seeking pastures new and more glorious at AC Milan. That broke the heart of most our fans, as the Frenchman was a very good player in 2008, one who also formed a formidable pivot with Cesc Fabregas.
However, the recent rumours of Flamini being on his way to Galatasaray created yet another shitstorm (there’s no milder word here, sorry) among our fans: the abuse and mockery reached unprecedented heights. So I decided to go through with my initial idea.
At the end of November Mikel Arteta suffered his second severe calf injury and the Arsenal fans went into overdrive: the only option left was Mathieu Flamini. Blame was apportioned accordingly: Arsene Wenger got his fair share for not bringing in an enforcer during the summer and consequently overplaying Arteta, Arteta himself was accused of “being old and not up for it anymore” (which returned most to the first point) and, finally, Flamini’s flaws were digged out and ruthlessly dissected.
The subsequent results did little to soothe the nerves: two narrow wins over West Brom and Southampton (the infamous banner appeared after the former) and then a loss to Stoke, which led to an even more infamous incident at the train station. 4-1s over Newcastle and Gala followed, as did a 2-2 draw against Liverpool, but it was only after the emergence of Francis Coquelin as a potent force that Arsenal fans were able to set their minds at ease.
Around mid-January a rather old culture resurfaced: a culture of mocking and ridiculing Mathieu Flamini. People were enraged every time he made the bench, they openly expressed their hate in all kind of polls (speaking of polls, you do know we are ruining the Internet, right?) and demonstrated signs of unrestrained joy at the thought of Flamini’s inevitable departure from the club in the summer. Some even counted days to the occasion.
I kept my thoughts on the matter to myself. Firstly, I knew Flamini’s contract was due to expire in 2016, simply because it was announced in 2013 when the Frenchman signed a 3-year deal. Secondly, I didn’t want to join in the outpouring of hatred and feared I wouldn’t be understood if I backed Flamini.
During the media day (or whatever it’s called) Mathieu stated the bloody obvious: he has one more year left on his contract. My fellow writers Dave and Darren were there to reflect on the situation. You can read their posts here and here respectively.
What was the reaction among the Arsenal faithful upon receiving the news that Flamini could stay? That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, more hatred. This time I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer.
I asked myself as a simple question: “Why? Why such hatred?” and I’ll try to figure it out here.
Is he a bad player?
Granted, he’s not the greatest player that ever lived. But he’s not the worst either. He is, first and foremost, a team player. He’s ready to plug any hole that needs plugging. Even over the course of these two years he played at DM, LB and CB.
Mathieu is also the engine that never stops, never gives up and is (almost) never injured. Moreover, he’s a leader. Some ridicule his clapping and shouting, but the reality is, I’ve seen very few players at Arsenal do that recently. Most choose to ignore the fact Flamini must have a point when shouting: he’s an experienced player who understands what is going on on the pitch far better than most Arsenal fans think. He’s earned his right to shout and point.
Admittedly, Flamini is a worse player than either Arteta or Coquelin. He’s not such a slick passer to displace the former and not such a good sweeper to be prefered to the latter. However, he did his bit to the best of his abilities when called upon. Flam did his job, worked his socks off for the team every time and I distinctly remember he had a good half a season last year, snapping into tackles and committing cynical fouls when needed.
Is he a bad person?
“If you look at the stats we nearly won every single game since February
“It’s a situation I accept. Competition makes you better, but there’s not much to say when the team is winning every single game.”
How’s that for humbling? Has Flamini thrown a tantrum he is not being picked? Has he asked to be sold? Can you recall one occasion when Flam criticized the manager or the players? I don’t mean constructive criticism. He’ll always say “We had a bad game” when it was the case. But he never said things like “I disagree with the direction the Club is going” and didn’t go on strike to be allowed to leave for Barcelona.
In short, he comes across as an honest and hard-working chap, who, by the way, is also a kind of cheerleader. Like Santi or Sanchez.
Then why all the hatred?
One can say the contract situation in 2008 is responsible for the hatred: Flam left us at a bad time in not the best way possible. However, I think most fans just use it as an excuse to beat Flam up with. There are sensible fans who don’t like Flamini and/or the way he left in 2008, who, oddly enough (ahem) didn’t take to Twitter and say just how much they hate Flamini.
The flip side of this of course is that Wenger agreed to offload him to Birmingham for £3 Million the summer before. A deal which the player rejected then to find himself in the team due to a long-term Gilberto injury. His superb ensuing partnership with Fabregas prompted Wenger to desperately offer him a new deal which he declined but one could argue he was only showing the same lack of loyalty and respect that had been shown to him the previous summer.
Another possible explanation is that Flamini just became the latest scapegoat in a long line for Arsenal fans. People in general (not only our fans) tend to search for a reason behind events, a smoking gun. The entire first half of the campaign Arsenal faithful were searching for one. And those who search always find.
Bar Sanchez and maybe Oxlade, not one player escaped the wrath of Arsenal fans. Szczesny? Error-prone. Ospina? Unconvincing against Southampton. Chambers? Shit right-back and defender in general (let’s overlook the fact he made 25 appearances from August to December). Mertesacker? Useless snail. Monreal? The culprit behind every successful attack down the middle. Ramsey? Glory-hunter in attack. Wilshere? Forever injured. I’ve seen people blame him for McNair’s tackle! “Oh, he shouldn’t have held onto the ball for so long”. Cazorla? Most were adamant the Spaniard is past it and needed to be sold. Until he grabbed two consecutive Player of the Month awards. The list can go on.
Only those who didn’t feature escaped the outpouring (though people accused Wenger for not giving Poldi and Campbell more minutes. Wonder if they still think he was wrong on that front, eh?)
That’s where I run out of possible explanations. I struggle to understand how Flamini can attract almost universal hatred when he rarely does something wrong. In fact, he seems to genuinely care for the club. And people were out in force saying he shouldn’t have got an FA Cup medal. Saying he didn’t deserve it.
But then I struggle to understand many things. Like how you can clap Fabregas and boo Sagna at the same time. Or blame Ozil for shirt-swapping. Or want Song back.
It’s really sad. At times like these I don’t want to be associated with GoonerFamily.
I’ll leave it here. Hope I gave you something to chew on