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Hail the new Gus Caesar?

OPINION: Shkodran Mustafi, Arsenal's weekend-ruining defender, evokes memories of a former Gunners player who featured in Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch

02 May, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi

IN the collective cliché cartoon of north London, Arsenal fans sip lattes – it’s always sipped, never drunk, and it’s always latte, never builders’ tea – while wearing the retro 1971 double-winning (long sleeve) kit and romanticising about football by reciting life-affirming passages from Fever Pitch.

So, for the record, I may well be fond of a latte, and yes I have that kit, but today marks the first day – on column 2,121, probably – that I will quote Nick Hornby’s book.

I don’t do this every week. No, I spend my days trying to find creative but ultimately repetitive ways to tell you Spurs are inadequate, but I heard Tottenham are to be European champions so… P45 for me.

Anyway, Hornby. Perhaps the best-known passage in the book is not about winning the league at Anfield in 1989, but the life and times of Gus Cassius Caesar.

He must be in his 50s now, but back in the 1980s Caesar went down in unfortunate legend as one of the club’s worst ever centre-backs – a clumsy understudy to Tony Adams whose raw fragility was worst exposed when underdogs Luton beat Arsenal in the League Cup final.

He was hopeless. But Hornby wrote: “Think about it. At school he must have been much, much better than his peers, so he gets picked for the school team, and then some representative side, South London Boys or what have you; and he’s still better than anyone else in the team, by miles, so the scouts come to watch, and he’s offered an apprenticeship, not with Fulham or Brentford or even West Ham, but with the mighty Arsenal.”

He reasoned: “To get where he did, Gus Caesar clearly had more talent than nearly everyone of his generation (the rest of us can only dream about having his kind of skill) and it still wasn’t quite enough.”

But now Arsenal have a player who is arguably worse than Gus Caesar: Shkodran Mustafi, the weekend-ruining defender who must have cost Arsenal at least 15 points this season by conceding comical penalties and thoughtless lunges. Somewhere in a little Hessen town, there are people who went to school with Mustafi and chased his shadow around a playground, who won’t believe what I’m writing. Mustafi? Worse than Gus Caesar? But he was so much better than all of us. How terrible must Mustafi’s classmates have been.

On a stand near Arsenal tube station, there used to be a guy selling black stencil, retro red T-shirts with Gus Caesar’s name and some go-go stars. There’s affection for the legend because, despite being a rabbit in the headlights, Caesar was obviously full of effort.

In 30 years’ time, I doubt anybody – even in latte-sipping north London – will want an ironic Mustafi tee.

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