Premier League is back this weekend, at long last. Arsenal play Stoke City at home on Saturday morning. In the States the game will be televised on NBC Live Extra at 10 a.m. ET. Here’s hoping that Arsenal put their dodgy home form behind them tomorrow.
Now that the transfer window is closed, we can think about what might have been….and many Arsenal fans are. Most of the line of obsession is about who we wish we’d gotten that we didn’t get: Cavani, Benzema, Draxler, etc. Today, I’d like to focus on a different what-might-have-been scenario.
About a month before the transfer window closed, Chelsea’s captain John Terry made a bit of a splash in the media. In an interview, he addressed how opposing fans feel about him.
I’m sure that if I was in their team, they would love me in their team because I’m one of those players who gives everything to the cause.
The reaction of most people was, shall we say, a bit uncharitable. Terry, at 36 one of the oldest starting players in the Premier League, is also one of the most despised players, representing a club that is also among the most disliked. The reasons he is disliked were introduced in my post, Cats must also fail. Womanizing, bar brawls, adultery (one incident allegedly with a teammate’s wife), a notable racial incident, unsavory on-field incidents, more. A veritable decathlon of bad behavior, personal and professional.
The question of whether he’d be loved by the supporters of another team for which he became a player is almost certainly theoretical at this point. No Premier League team is looking to sign Terry at 36, even though he is still relatively solid in his role. There just can’t be much more in him. But let’s say he was nearer the prime of his career. Would the supporters of another team welcome him in their team, warts and all?
Arsenal fans faced a similar scenario during the summer 2013 transfer window when Arsenal made a bid to buy Luis Suarez. Suarez was playing for Liverpool and was at that point 4 matches into serving a 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. The previous season, he’d served an 8-match suspension for a racial incident. (This was all well before he did some World Cup biting of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in 2014 that produced an even more substantial suspension.) That he was a villain was beyond dispute. But that he was the best striker in the Premier League at that time was also indisputable. Liverpool fans clearly had no problem overlooking his substantial blemishes. (You saw what my young associate, Laurie, had to say about Suarez here. Suarez was a big reason he became a Liverpool supporter.) Could we learn to overlook them? Have to say the prospect was difficult. We needed him and yet I hated him. Ultimately, we never had a need to complete the compromise of supporting him, because he never materialized at Arsenal.
The closest thing to a test of this I’ve experienced as a fan is when Cuauhtémoc Blanco joined the Chicago Fire in 2007. Blanco was a Mexico national team player with a reputation. In his prime he had been a gifted midfielder. He was also known as a flopper, a simulator, and an arguer of referee calls. At the time he came to the Fire, we were attending the matches regularly and we groaned when we heard we were getting him (and the LA Galaxy were getting David Beckham.) But within a few moments of him entering the field, we were smitten. He was balding, had weirdly short little arms, looked like an accountant, not an athlete. But his vision: He saw things on the field transpiring that no one else saw. He made an immediate impact. He was so smart and so elegant. And such an ass. But he was our ass, and we loved him for it. We would sell all of his flops, excuse him his whining about the referee, laugh at him pantomiming that the referee required eyeglasses. When he left the Fire in 2009, the team was never the same. It was never as much fun to watch and the team was never quite as good without him. It’s still not, all these years later.
I had never heard the old saying “Trust the art, not the artist,” until Bruce Springsteen quoted it, allegedly referring to Bob Dylan. Said the Boss, “I think that’s true. I think somebody can do real good work and be a fool in a variety of ways.”
I can easily trust Bob Dylan’s art and not worry about him as a person. He never played for Chelsea or Liverpool.
For some reason, it’s easier to trust the art and forgive the artist when he plays for your own team and impossible when he doesn’t. We never had to contend with supporting the antics of Suarez to enjoy the beauty of his talents. We didn’t get Edinson Cavani, Chief Apologist for Suarez, in the recent transfer window, so at least for now we are bereft of his striking power.
But John Terry was probably right. Alas, we probably would love him if he was on our team.
I’m delighted that we will never know for sure.