COMMENTARY | On April 8, a historic clash ensued between two English Football titans: Arsenal and Manchester City. Although both are powerful top level clubs (despite what the “pundits” have been saying about Arsenal), the similarities stop there. Not only have they been experiencing opposite fortunes as of late, but they represent different ideals, philosophies, and paradigms, to the point that one team’s victory over the other can completely change your idea of how this world works.
Manchester City represents everything that we’ve been taught to despise in our culture. Unbridled spending, limitless wealth, and colossal player egos all come together to form an entity that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth regardless of the team you choose to follow. Add a touch of distasteful Saudi Oil money, and voila!, you have the group of mercenaries we call Manchester City. Many of their players are the divas of soccer who obscenely flash their wealth, philander with prostitutes, and do whatever else they please. What’s even more discouraging is the fact that many of these individuals were the franchise players of their former teams, adored by fans and idolized by their youth players. They could have had the chance to lead a legitimate squad and be forever remembered by their teams. Instead, they left their teams only to get a pay boost, get lost in a player rotation system stacked with superstar players, and absorbed into the flamboyant culture that only an eight-figure salary can bring you.
Arsenal on the other hand, represents the underdog that society can’t help but root for. Although the team doesn’t have the most flamboyant sporting personalities in its lineup and doesn’t have a Saudi Arabian sugar-daddy backing unlimited spending, it has consistently managed to finish top four in the league, run a sustainable business, and give the BPL’s financial behemoths a run for their money. Although it’s the only team in the league that has been a net seller of players since 2000, it has managed be one of three BPL teams to win the premier league since the 90’s. On top of that, they have a benevolent coach unconditionally devoted to the team who delivers results despite financial constraints (an almost alien concept for most top flight teams). They also have players who work together, fight for each other, and sublimate their ego’s for the greater good of the team. When Arsenal are firing on all cylinders, they’re poised, graceful, and display a level of class that only decades of prudent management and meticulous youth development can bring.
While the storybooks you read as a child teach you that the “Arsenals” of this world will always emerge victorious, the opposite is often the case. The “Manchester Cities” of this world continue to pop up to thwart your most sincere endeavors. You know that Uni you desperately wanted to attend, but lost your spot to a kid whose parents are donors? You just got “ManCitied”. You know that job you spent 4 years preparing for, only to lose out to a kid whose dad is friends with the CEO? You just got “ManCitied” You know that girl that you fell in love with in high school, only to lose out to a guy who drove a nicer car and lived in a mansion? You just got “ManCitied”. I think you get the point.
A year and a half ago, Arsenal boasted a wonderful squad consisting of many players who either rose through the youth academy (Jack Wilshere), or were purchased at such a young age (Cesc at 16) that Wenger could solely be credited with their development. All of his painstaking investment and youth development seemed to come to fruition as many of his youth prodigies were reaching the peak of their physical and technical development. However, the 2010-11 season ended in total heartbreak, as the 4 trophies they could have easily won slipped through their grasp. During the summer, I could not help but think, “They had so many unlucky breaks, but look what they can build upon. All they need is that ONE additional transfer, and the league is as good as theirs.”
But that’s when they got “ManCitied.”
Two of their starting eleven were lured to Manchester with the promise of higher pay and the prospect of trophies purchased with Saudi Oil Money. After getting crushed in the transfer window, our Arsenal began the season in disarray and discontent. As an Arsenal fan, you had to endure many taunts and injustices over the next few months, most notably being Nasri’s “I left Arsenal to win trophies” speech, and ManCity’s “He’s going to be a blue” song about van Persie. Those Blues actually had the nerve to proclaim that they’d steal our beloved Captain and Talisman with the promise of money and silverware. What hurt the most was that the fear was quite real for Arsenal fans, and provoked an apprehension that they would get “ManCitied” once again.
Fast forward till today morning, and the picture was drastically changed. Arsenal was enjoying a great run of form (21 points from 24 possible), and City’s run for the title was threatening to sputter out. City, with their lofty trophy-purchasing dreams slipping out of their grasp, needed victory from Arsenal. Arsenal needed to solidify their UCL position (which was threatened many times this season), and drive the dagger into the title dreams of this mercenary beast.
Although I could describe the match in detail, you have a gazillion match reports you could read, including the one from Arsenal itself.
In a David vs. Goliath match (financially speaking, of course), David came out swinging, but luck was not on his side. If I had a Euro for every narrowly missed chance, I’d end up with lot of dollars. After being so tantalizingly close to scoring on numerous occasions, I could not help but wince as the ball either hit the post, got called offside, or fell victim to some other ridiculous incident.
And then, the miraculous happened: Man City stole the ball in their back third, made a pass, and then another to some bench warmer from Roma, but Arteta stole it. He dribbled forward and the center halfs began to squeeze in. And then, BOOM! He pounded it in from 25 yards, and the Man City defender Lescott accommodatingly moved out of the way to let it fly past Joe Hart for the goal. The moment it sloshed through the net, the stadium erupted. Unlike van Persie’s unlucky call from the ref, THIS goal could not be counted offside. It was pure beauty. You could see what it meant to the Arsenal fans.
Arsenal Won. The mercenaries were undone, and became the second top team (remember Tottenham?) to lose their title hopes after playing on Arsenal turf. The former Arsenal players who “left for greener pastures” could not help but feel sheepish for being outdone by the very team that they abandoned over the summer.
This game is more than just a result. It is an earnest call to all you “Arsenals” out there. This is a call to all of you with the passion, spirit, and talent to succeed in a world where the financial hand you’re dealt is usually the deciding factor. Never stop fighting the ManCities at the top who falsely draw security from a paradigm that financial endowments equal success. If you keep fighting, you can only get “ManCitied” so many times before you claim your rightful place at the top.