My daughter asked me yesterday “who is the worst football player you have ever seen”? This isn’t normally a question you mull over, we see lists and lists of top 10 best players ever but never a list of top 10 worst players.
Frimpong, I told her. “Why was he the worst?” she asked. Because he was an idiot and he just ran around kicking people.
And that got me thinking, that clearly my own team’s players weren’t the worst ever. I changed my story. Dan Smith, I said to her. “What made him the worst?” He went in two-footed on Diaby, broke his ankle, ruined his career. He was worse than Frimpong. Dan Smith, the guy who is now selling CCTV in Australia, and who recently had a bio done in the Star where he revealed how his tackle had scarred him for life. He was a very poor footballer.
I’m a pretty terrible footballer. I actually told her “me” when she first asked. Then she clarified that she meant professional footballers.
My most recent development as a footballer is that I will sometimes just take a shot. Like dribbling in from the left, tight angle, and I’ll try to power one at the keeper. It’s a pretty silly shot. But afterwards I always turn to my teammates, who are groaning, and say “yeah, but what if?” It’s become a running gag. Whenever they take a bad shot, I just say “what if?” And we all have a laugh.
It keeps the football fun, man, and football should be fun. Except when it’s really serious, then it should be really serious. Like “Mourinho staring at the camera claiming he never complained about injuries and saying that other managers always cry about their injuries” serious.
Arsenal’s Europa League adventure has a complete what if air about it. For example yesterday against Red Star Belgrade, Arsene Wenger started the following “what if” lineup:
- Debuchy – normally a right back, played right center back in a back three. His first Arsenal start since his last annual appearance in November 2016
- Elneny – Normally a center mid, played at center center back. This was an amazing choice because Elneny’s strengths are his stamina and his passing and his weaknesses are his defending, aerial duels, and his strength – Wenger basically negated all of his strengths and exposed all of his weaknesses. But what if playing him here improves those weaknesses?
- Holding – normally a right-sided center back, played at left center back
- He then started three youth team players, all under the age of 20, to play in Arsenal’s midfield – Nelson, Maitland-Niles, and Willock. That’s a huge “what if” call to play three untested young players in the engine room of your team. I know that they have all played before but away to Belgrade on a European night is a vastly different experience to a match day against some English team in the somniferous Emirates Stadium.
- Wenger also started 6 English players in this match and both subs were English. I don’t pay much attention to this stuff because I don’t care about nationalities but I did notice it today and I’d be willing to bet that over the last 10 years Wenger has only fielded a team with 6+ Englishmen a handful of times.
- And then there’s the biggest what if of the all: playing Jack Wilshere in the #10 role.
Wilshere’s whole career has been a big what if. What if he’d have stayed healthy? What if Arsenal hadn’t landed Ozil? And now, the what if has morphed into “What if Wenger plays him a lot this season, what if he shows that he’s incredibly good (like we all thought he would be one day), and what if he leaves for free at the end of the season?” Or what if he re-signs for Arsenal but gets hurt next year? What if Jack Wilshere can only play 30 games a season in all competitions but he’s just really good in those 30 games? Or what if Jack Wilshere just turns some magical corner where he’s both great and healthy and he plays the last 5 years of his career at Arsenal, leading them to the title and into Champions League glory?
Four years ago to the day, October 19th 2013, Wilshere, Cazorla, and Giroud connected on a series of wacky chipped and side-foot-volley passes and scored the Match of the Day Goal of the Season for 2013/14. And then yesterday, Wilshere, Walcott, and Giroud make a similarly wacky, chipped, headed, overhead kick goal. Four years apart, Arsenal score the two most “what if” goals I have ever seen watching Arsenal. Both of them involve the most “what if” player I have ever watched.
I tend to score a lot of those “what if” goals. And since I’m not playing at a serious level at all (there are no practices) the whole point of what we are doing is to have fun. Maybe one day we will get a guy on our team who hates us taking “what if” shots. But until then, I’m just going to keep firing away, chipping, and trying something fun and creative. Why not?
These Europa League games have been a lot of fun to watch precisely because Wenger is giving chances to players he wouldn’t normally play and because those players are playing with a carefree attitude. But in the back of my mind, I worry that once we progress past this group stage, things will get all Mourinho serious and our beautiful what if football will be lost.
I hope not.
“What if” forever.
Wilshere goal of the season v. Norwich: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnh1O-TixbY
P.S. I want to thank the people who donated money to send directly to our friend Margarette in Dominica. I wish I could say that we collected thousands of dollars but we are a very small blog and only had a few contributors to her fund. We collected $170 and