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Men’s Football The bi-annual soap opera of the Premier League

LAYTH YOUSIF discusses January’s deals, winter break and the rise and fall of former Arsenal Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

SO, how’s your transfer window been?

The bi-annual soap opera has been stealing the headlines during the Premier League’s midwinter break. 

If you’re an Everton fan, you’ll probably be excited by the prospect of new boss Frank Lampard and the loan arrival of Dennis Bergkamp’s son-in-law, Donny van de Beek, from Manchester United.

Even if, to this observer, the £40 million fee the Goodison outfit forked out for Dele Alli seems vastly overpriced. 

Equally, if you’re a Newcastle supporter, you’ll be looking forward to welcoming Bruno Guimaraes (via a cheap dig at Arsenal) as well as Geordie Dan Burn’s return to north-east England from the south coast.

Let’s not forget River Plate’s Julian Alvarez signing for Manchester City. The deal might be a slow burner, with the 22-year-old being loaned back to the Argentinian side until the summer, but the talented South American Footballer of the Year’s arrival onto the Premier League scene promises to be an exciting prospect for City fans and neutrals.

Not to mention in analysing how his presence will affect Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. 

And as for former Gunner Aaron Ramsey avoiding the prospect of signing for Burnley, by heading further north to Ibrox, there will be a certain amount of satisfaction from diehard Gooners at Ramsey swerving what many call the new Burnley, in favour of playing under another ex-Gunner, Gio van Bronckhorst at Rangers. 

Which brings us onto Arsenal. And former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's move to Barcelona this week. 

Firstly, can I just say thank to Aubameyang for his form during the height of the pandemic, specifically his goals that guided Arsenal to the 2020 FA Cup. 

It was a wonderful spell of effective attacking verve during a troubling time for us all off the pitch — with the memorable 2-1 victory over Chelsea at an empty Wembley in August of that year meaning the Gabon striker indelibly marked his name in the club’s history. It also earned him a lucrative new contract. 

And that’s where the trouble started. While no-one is exempt from the vagaries of form, underpinned by the fact that class is permanent, his fall from grace has been startling. 

And while no-one knows exactly what went on between him and his boss Mikel Arteta, prior to Covid, I can testify to the number of times his colourful Italian supercars raced past my motor on the Hertfordshire lane that led us both to the club’s training ground: yours truly to attend pre-match press conferences at London Colney, Aubameyang for training. 

While he may not have always been late, the fact he was normally the last player into training spoke volumes. 

Again, it has to be stated that he had been dealing with having a sick mother. And as a dutiful son no-one can begrudge him visiting her. But where the problems arise is when he started to test the patience and empathy shown from his boss and from his employers. 

Aubameyang’s constant lateness — which saw him dropped from the squad before last season’s north London derby — allied with missing flights back from personal mercy missions, began to erode Arteta’s authority.

As captain, such a lackadaisical attitude was incompatible with leading a young team full of burgeoning talent, hungry for strong and responsible leadership from senior players.

Once the relationship broke down in early December, following a late missed chance at the end of a miserable defeat at Everton, Arteta had clearly had enough.

And while Aubameyang dissolving his Arsenal contract to earn a permanent move was the best thing for both parties, his subsequent comments have added fuel to the fire. 

His puerile condemnation of Arteta during his first public outing as a Barca player demonstrated a complete lack of self-awareness and a refusal to understand the basic concept of leadership. 

Whining when things didn’t go his way and steadfastly refusing to analyse his own less-than-stellar behaviour when it came to the non-negotiables that Arteta holds dear — and, yes, that includes timekeeping and a level of performance that was so lacking — underlines that for some individuals, a misplaced sense of entitlement rates far higher than a team ethic. 

In a team environment, such a poor attitude can be toxic, not to mention tedious, in continually having to deal with it as a boss. Coaches coach, just like editors edit. The clue is in the name. If you can’t accept that fact, then something has to give. 

For Aubameyang, sadly, toeing the line was something he simply couldn’t accept. 

I watched The Invincibles and I know what makes an outstanding player. And it isn’t just talent. It’s application. It’s temperament. It’s motivation fired from deep within, not a lucrative salary. And it’s hard work and an ability to listen and take on board informed instruction, not to mention learning from your mistakes. 

As someone who has watched Arsenal week in week out for 40 years I wish him well in La Liga — but the fact is that it’s Arsenal FC not Aubameyang FC. 

He’ll find the concept the same in Catalonia, not least because with Barca’s new-found budget, it will certainly be interesting to see how he copes if the Nou Camp giants sign Erling Haaland over the summer from Borussia Dortmund — ironically Aubameyang’s alma mater.

However, that issue, just like Aubameyang, is no longer Arsenal’s problem.

For no-one is bigger than the team. In any club, in any sport, in any job, in any profession.


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