As anyone who grew up in the Thatcher years knows, there’s nothing like a foreign war to deflect attention from your troubles at home. The duly elected Leader of the Free World(TM), George W Bush, took the concept one stage further by creating the nebulous foreign enemy “terror”, who was always there when you needed him. A military Bunbury, if you like.
Ahead of this weekend’s home game to Arsenal – so crucial for both teams – it seems that the beleaguered Arsenal centre-half William Gallas, once such a favourite at Stamford Bridge for being the perfect rapier to accompany Terry’s battleaxe, has had a crack at a similar tactic.
I won’t get bogged down in the mess that surrounds his problems at Arsenal, mainly because it’s difficult to see the case in favour of the former Chelsea number 13. Suffice is to say that he’ll have some work to do in winning the Gooners back round after his open criticism of Robin van Persie and his 60s-era sit-in.
On the eve of this high-profile encounter, then, what does our Billy choose to do? Why, reopen the debate about his departure from his first English club, that’s what. As seasoned Gallas-watchers will recall, he left for the princely sum of Ashley Cole, with a few quid accompanying him on his journey to N5. In the wake of the acrimonious transfer, Chelsea took the unusual (and let’s be honest, rather unpleasant) step of announcing that Gallas had threatened to score an own goal should the club not grant his demands for football elsewhere.
Horror of horrors. It’s the sort of thing you’d imagine some hysterical freak of emotional engineering – di Canio, perhaps, or even Drogba – saying. Not Billy, though. He always seemed so quiet. So introspective. Bit of a loner. Just the sort of things that the neighbours tell ITN while the police are uncovering a mass grave 3 doors down.
2 years on, of course, and our cousins up in Highbury and Holloway are finding out just how hysterical young Gallas can be. Choosing to announce one’s feelings via a French magazine is usually a sign that something’s rotten in Dijon (it’s a trick Drogba’s used more than once). It’s occurred to me that there must be something particularly soothing and reassuring about the presence of a journalist from, say, France Football or Sport Aujourd’hui. Otherwise these footballers might just have to unload their worries on their mates.
Getting up to date, I’ll print the quote from Gallas in its entirety, just so we’re all clear about what’s at issue.
“It’s taken time, the negotiations. I’ve just come to the point where my heart is no longer at Chelsea. You’re going to put me on the pitch, OK, but if the heart is not there and I’m not concentrating I risk making errors, errors that I’m not used to making. We could let in a goal, so lose a match stupidly. This is what I said.”
Big question, this one. After all, José always said that you couldn’t keep a player against his will; if he truly wanted to leave, you had to come to terms with that. By the same token, I find it a little tricky to have sympathy with someone who is remunerated so handsomely and is called upon to do one thing and one thing only, surrounded by players who have been his teammates for 5 years. And, just as an aside, there’s another quote in there about the cash that might well slip under the radar.
“No one knows how laughable their offer was” says Billy, referring to the money Chelsea put on the table to keep him at the club. Does this remind anyone else of a certain fullback “swerving off the road” at his negligible £55,000 a week? After all, Billy’s on £90k now. That’s over £4.5m a year. Presumably not so laughable.
Some people will see Gallas’ comment as a symptom of the man’s sensitivity. And yes, we’ve all been stuck in jobs where we didn’t feel comfortable and no amount of money was going to make the difference. Even £4.5m a year. Some people, conversely, will feel that there’s a very very thin line indeed between “I’ll score an own goal” and “You’ve distracted me so much I’ll probably make a game-losing mistake”. The answer, as always, is somewhere in between, and probably has as much to do with Ricardo Carvalho’s arrival at the club and Mourinho’s natural preference for his protégé.
Whatever the genuine truth behind Gallas’ remarks, he has almost certainly guaranteed himself a hostile reception tomorrow from fans that once genuinely held him in their hearts. We’ll never forget the good times, Billy. Especially that goal against Spurs which, lest you forget, you scored coming forward from your hated left-back slot. But I’m guessing that, this Sunday, we won’t be chanting your name much either. Well, not without a few choice words attached. Which really is a pity.