Why Arsenal fans desperately want their own Cyrille
OPINION: As Alexis Sanchez looks set to leave for Gunners’ rivals, supporters are left wondering whether anyone will ever stay long enough again to become a terrace hero
18 January, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Cyrille Regis became a club legend during his time at West Bromwich Albion
WHICHEVER side of the Wenger hokey cokey you are on – in, out – it’s hard to see the club’s recent dealings in the transfer market as little more than a shambles.
Players have been allowed to wind down their contracts without an obvious Plan B, there have been some poorly scouted recruits and a basic unwillingness to pay for a rock-hard defence.
At the same time, others have been allowed to collect handsome wages despite the downtick in Arsenal’s performance. Theo Walcott left for Everton on Wednesday, a rich man regardless of 12 years of unfulfilled promise.
A team of Invincibles – still the only Invincibles – has slowly, and painfully, sunk into a core of only four or five special players. The rest could be turning out for any side in the Premier League, rather than be protected for one supposedly interested in title challenges and elite European competition.
Of those five top performers, Alexis Sanchez will follow Walcott out of the door. At least he earned his keep, but the result is the same.
Promising players who failed to make the step up under the latter-day Wenger but were nonetheless retained with some faint hope that they would come good, while the manager has now persistently failed to convince his biggest super stars to stay.
It is admirable that Wenger seems appalled by the vulgar salaries and transfer fees sprayed around the sport, but it is hard to be saintly in this department when the club is one of the most expensive to support in terms of ticket sales for the supporters.
His frantic attempts to decode the transfer market, often towards the end of the window, come with a mitigating factor. How can anybody, even those cast as professors, really grasp what is going on when players and agents are seemingly out of control in terms of their fantasy figures?
Casually, they talk of people earning £200k a week, £250k a week, more, and we are supposed to compute that as some sort of reality. No wonder, then, there is no loyalty to any club.
It’s not just Arsenal who have seen players leave to play for rivals, in moves that would have been a rarity before football’s big money explosion.
Spurs will be similarly tested when Harry Kane works out that he is twice as good as players earning two or three times as much elsewhere. Even as an opposing fan, it would be nice if Kane didn’t desert. He could be, minus his youthful loan expeditions, a one-club hero, exactly the kind of thing all of us, as supporters, are missing now.
Fans want to be able to tell their kids and their grandkids of their favourite players without tailing off about how they then quickly went elsewhere or joined direct rivals. Sanchez himself seems to flit between an interest in playing for Manchester United or City, as if they are not arch-enemies.
It brings us to Cyrille Regis, gone too soon this week at 59 and one of football’s good sorts. Yes, he played for more than one team in the Midlands but here was a club legend for West Brom, who clearly loved playing for their team and still loved it after he retired.
Money? The guy was grafting as an electrician and builder when he was spotted playing in Sunday league, including such hallowed turf as Regent’s Park. He seemed grateful for a break, not expectant, knowing that there is talent in those rough and tumble weekend matches who will never be lucky enough to be spotted. He stood up to the racists, he won the Cup, he made a lot of people happy.
They sang his name at the Hawthorns, and wore the T-shirt long after he had stopped playing.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about, and why Arsenal fans cling, a little desperately, to the idea that Jack Wilshere will stay at the club forever and somehow deliver future league titles.
They just want someone to stay, someone for the back of their replica shirts, someone to love the club as much as they do. They need a player like Cyrille Regis, rather than the flash-bang-wallop of Sanchez – or Aubameyang, or whoever else arrives for such a limited time only.
Those days of terrace heroes may be gone, and we all are poorer for it.