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Mathieu Flamini broke my heart

BY STEPHEN ASHERS / @stephenashers

When I was young I was a Manchester United fan – well kind of. It just so happened that when I was growing up and learning my football, my midfield partner and best friend was called Roy. As he was a United fan, he came to be nicknamed ‘Roy Keane’, while I was labeled ‘Steve Bruce’. At the time in Kenya there was very little coverage of the Premier League, except for a few snippets via the BBC and our local newspapers. Our allegiances were as a consequence wishy-washy at best.

Fast forward to around 1996 or 1997 and television station STV started broadcasting free live EPL games in Kenya. My younger brother came home one day very excited saying he’s watched the greatest football match EVER. He said it featured an English team who had to be the greatest and they were called Arsenal. Even more amazing, he told me they had a coach, Arsene, who was named after the time. How romantic I thought to myself. I was a bit skeptical though, from what my friend Roy had told me, United were the greatest…

I endeavored to watch an Arsenal match all the same. I cannot recall anything about the opposition or about the match as a whole but fell irrevocably in love with the Arsenal - the romantic, entertaining team whose coach was named after his team. I may not have endearing recollections of Gunners games from the seventies and eighties; I didn’t even know Arsenal in 1989 and have no memories of Michael Thomas and his famous goal. All my love for the club is centered on the Arsene era, and from this I draw my inspiration for my entry to the Memory Bank.

It’s actually not centered on a specific Arsenal moment, but on the period covering the rise of Mathieu Flamini. The era of the ‘invincibles’ had past, Vieira had departed, Cesc had risen, but despite a promising partnership with Gilberto the little Spaniard’s midfield partnership was stuttering. The trophies had dried up a little, we’d lost a Champions League final…and then Flamini and Fabregas had THAT 2007/08 season.

Going back in time a little bit, I remember reading about our signing of Flamini and how he had refused to extend his contract with Marseille so he could move to London. He wasn’t really a flamboyant player, but my respect grew for him as I watched him play match after match out of position in the run to the Champions League final. I decided I liked him; this raw, long haired, non-nonsense, cowboy looking player had something Arsenal about him.

When Ashley Cole came back from injury and replaced him in the starting line-up for the final, I was as crushed if not more than he must have been. That summer I read an article with him in the Arsenal magazine where he reflected on the defeat in Paris and how he needed to improve. I told my brother there and then that Flamini would become an Arsenal legend in the mould of Keown and Adams. He scoffed.

After Gilberto was rested following the Copa America in 2007, Flamini got a prolonged chance to prove himself next to Fabregas at the start of the news season. Steel was needed to complement Cesc’s silk and although Diaby had been touted as Vieira’s natural successor as a box-to-box midfielder his injury meant his compatriot was the man to take up the task. My brother groaned, but again I told him to watch the rise of a legend. The rest is history…it just didn’t pan out quite how I planned.

I loved Flamini. The passion, the running, the tackling, the defending at all costs, the rabid shadowing of opposition players – he had it all. From the chess game against Milan at the Grove, to the master class at the San Siro, from his 25 yard belter against Newcastle to the way he screamed at teammates. Week on week he would cover 14 kilometres in midweek and then do the same again at the weekend. You couldn’t help but admire him, especially as Arsenal were top of the league and had just progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. We were definitely winning the League and the Champions League that year.

Then Flamini got injured in THAT game at Anfield and we crashed out of Europe. It was his last game for the club. The season then unraveled, as the side crashed and burned and by May Flamini opted not to re-sign his contract and moved to Italy on a free.  

For all the joy I experienced watching Flamini achieve his potential, he broke my heart. He totally symbolized the Arsenal team during that season. Written off from the start, sheer determination and endeavor gave rise to hope. The ultimate failure subsequently broke hearts. I’ll keep the good memories, but I’ll always wonder what could have been had he chosen to stay at the club…


Reader Comments (3)

Great article.
Agree totally. Oh Flamini, 'what could have been'. He was great with Cesc in midfield but it was his left back deputizing that won him my love. ........... And then he left.
I suppose we should have know how it would be after now he left Marseille, but I feel my regret aint just for what Arsenal lost, but that Flamini lost out too. He had an opportunity to build such a career and profile at Arsenal but for whatever reason (money/impatience/better weather) he moved on. While Arsenal consoled themselves by buying another Marseille prodigy, Samir Nasri. So everything worked out well in the long run (oh my poor heart).

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter@teathemirates

Agree. I even found myself saying "hey, this new boy Song can run and tackle properly in a Flamini style". Then I figured out how deep the mark has been made. I believed in him. We did, my friend.

Thanks for sharing.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNelson

I loved Flamini too. I thought we'd resign him at various points too. Great article.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGoddard
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