Granit Xhaka, at the time of writing on international duty with Switzerland, has been under some scrutiny given some comments he’s made lately. He said the following in an interview with Swiss newspaper Tagablatt:
“I’m very ambitious, I want to take the next step, Arsenal does not have to be the last stop.”
This has caused a bit of a stir online, and yes, the views of those online aren’t always well-considered. However, this is just my interpretation of what he said. He is ambitious, and he holds every right to be. Moreover, he wants to win the biggest trophies – again how is this wrong?
But then he did say that Arsenal doesn’t have to be the last stop.
If this means he wants to leave, or will leave, then it’s moot. However, it does mean that he will take any move possible to achieve his ambitions.
It also relates to not taking his points out of context.
In short, I feel he is saying that he is open to staying, but we must meet his ambitions, which is fair. We’ve seen the cost of players who felt we haven’t met their ambitions – look at Sanchez, Nasri, van Persie, or even Cesc to some extent.
Van Persie notedly said that the club didn’t meet his ambitions – and he realised them with Manchester United. Any good employer, ideally, should want to ensure their players’ career dreams. If they don’t, then they will leave. I believe this is what Xhaka is alluding too, but we shall see. I don’t think he is outright stating he wants to go – but more generically speaking about his overall career ambitions.
I believe Xhaka is a good player and he’s clearly not rubbish.
He is a leading player for Switzerland, which has done well in recent tournaments. However, his form at Arsenal has been mixed. This has been his best season at the club generally, but then I feel in part his billing when joining the club and the midfield balance around him hindered him.
He’s not a DM, and as most know he’s a regista. Deep-lying playmakers need a specific balance to perform ably. Andrea Pirlo, arguably the greatest regista of them all, had Gattuso and others of his ilk for much of his career. Xhaka, with Torreira and Guendouzi beside him, has prospered with being freer to move into advanced areas.
We’re one of the biggest clubs in the world, though clubs like Man United, Real Madrid, Barca, Juve, Liverpool, and Bayern are bigger.
Would he really fit in there? Possibly, though I cannot see him playing there. I’m not sure he would be on Zidane’s radar, nor would Valverde or Allegri be in for him. I base this on the fact he hasn’t excelled with us – though I admit I could be wrong here. Barca signed Vermaelen, Song, and Hleb from us, and whilst Song and Hleb were capable, Vermaelen in my view wasn’t up to it.
So stranger things have happened. But the biggest clubs generally those on stellar form – Ronaldo at Real Madrid was before he joined Juve, as was Coutinho at Liverpool pre-Barca move. Xhaka, in my view, hasn’t done enough to warrant a place at a giant.
Sentiment and loyalty
Paul Pogba made some similar comments last week about transfers, where he said that Real Madrid is a dream though he is happy at Manchester United.
Now, he like Xhaka didn’t say he wished to leave.
Though he merely expressed an ambition, without directly stating that he wants out.
I believe ultimately that fans view things too much in romantic terms. Players don’t care for clubs in the same manner as fans do, and for them it’s just a job. They may have a soft-spot for clubs they did well at, or who gave them opportunities, but a footballer is a job as much as a doctor, teacher, lawyer, or plumber. It’s about personal gain and self-advancement, ultimately.
Ian Wright (Wright Wright) was on the True Geordie podcast a month or so ago, and he said that he respects Palace for giving him the opportunity to progress, though Arsenal is his dearest footballing love. This makes sense, since his rise in football is well-known, given he made his debut for Palace relatively late at 22. He evidently achieved true heights with us, even though Wrighty has said he used to watch Millwall as a kid. Some club legends were fans as children, such as the Nevilles of Man United, though Cantona wasn’t.
It’s often said that the only loyal party in all of football are fans, and this is correct. Players come and go, and only the club remains.
If, and yes if in this case, Xhaka does wish to leave, it’s his full prerogative. Though I’d just await the next mid to come in, and he, in turn, will leave.
The only true permanence is the club, ultimately.
Context is also apparent here. The media may spin it to mean Xhaka wants to go, or he could have been speaking more generically.
An interesting point is that Xhaka said this vis a vis his upbringing:
“There is praise, but in his opinion, I always have room for improvement. My motivation is that my father once said: Granit, that was great! So far this has never been the case. That only spurs me on more.”
He clearly has a hunger and drive to do more, and this has been instilled by his father.
So if we’re just a stepping stone for him, we possibly shouldn’t take it personally.
If Pogba can use Manchester United, a bigger club than us, as a potential stepping stone, then it can apply to many if not all.
It just means that we cannot ignore players’ human side and that football to them is their livelihood. And like all vocations, they wish to make the best of it as they can.
If Xhaka does leave soon, so be it. But then he can help us get top four or win the Europa League before he does, and I’ll wish him well if he wants to move on.