27 May 2013

Dr. Lewandowski or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Transfer

Okay. Apparently, barely 24 hours after losing to Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowksi may have pulled a van Persie and joined one of his former club's biggest rivals, a move that comes weeks after Mario Götze did the same. I'm sorry, but these moves have crossed a line for me. There's no other word for it than betrayal. Sure, both Lewandowski and Götze have known for quite some time that Bayern would win the Bundesliga. I get it. I don't understand how one and then both men rats could be counted on to give their best effort on Dortmund's behalf while at the same time entertaining talk of a transfer to a team that they would soon face on football's biggest stage. If either one can look us in the eye and honestly say, "yes, I can separate my future desires from my current obligations", I may have to offer apologies. However, my anger and, yes, despair at these moves make it heartbreakingly difficult to take anything these mercenaries say at face value.

It's enough to make me look at van Persie's move to Man U with magnanimity, with understanding, and maybe even sympathy. After all, Man U had come in second place last year and only on goal-differential while Arsenal lucked into third. For as much as we've vied with Man U, it's been a while since we can truly say we've gone head-to-head with them in the Prem. I can almost, almost, accept his move as one of a player nearing the end of his career. It still seems like the desperate gambit of a graying man. It paid off for him, so good for him, I guess. I still believe that staying at Arsenal might just have led to a similar result for us this year, but what do I know? By contrast, Götze's decision to move to Bayern, and that of Lewandowski should the rumors prove true, lay waste to the competitive ideal. Pardon my French, but where the f*#@ would sport be if each team's best player simply crossed over to join the best team in the league? Götze is 20. Lewandowski is 24. They have plenty of time to achieve. What the hell ever happened to looking at your rival, at the champions, and saying, "eff you. We're knocking you off next year"?

I mean, good God. I now find myself wondering if Götze's injury is legitimate or if it was some implied contractual term: "now that he belongs to Bayern, I'm afraid we must insist on protecting our investment. Therefore, I'm sorry to say, he mustn't unduly exert himself in the closing weeks. That's a good boy." As to Lewandowski, he hardly distinguished himself against Bayern on Saturday, earning a Gervinho-esque 6.58 from whoscored.com. How much of that average rating comes from him all but knowing that he'd soon be switching sides? How do his teammates feel after that loss (assuming that the rumors are true)?

Look. I know that players have a preciously short window in which to win trophies and earn money, but there's a limit. I still remember the Chicago Bulls of the late 1980s who, year after year after year, crashed out of the playoffs against the Detroit Pistons. No matter how transcendent Michael Jordan was, no matter how much his teammates improved, it seemed that the Pistons were always better. However, instead of switching sides, Jordan came back each year more determined, more ruthless, more skilled, until he and his teammates broke through, sweeping the Pistons out of the playoffs and winning the championship. Tell me that that trophy doesn't taste sweeter than the one that Lebron James "won" with the Miami Heat or the one that van Persie won with Man U or the many that Götze (and Lewandowski?) is/are sure to win with Bayern.

Come on. Really? If trophies are that easy to buy, what are they really worth? It's ridiculous. With enough money, you can amass enough players to win whatever the f@)# you want, but for what? When it gets that easy, how satisfying is it, really? How much of it can you really claim to have earned?  It's a crock of shite for all I care, and I don't care if I completely misused British slang just now. These lazy, self-indulgent bastards who believe that they're owed a trophy in their lifetimes can take a flying leap, for all I care. You got a trophy? Great. Good for you. Did you earn it, or would the team still have won it without you? Were you a great white, or were you a remora?

These short-cut taking simpletons have convinced me of at least one thing: I never wanted them wearing the Arsenal kit in the first place. You want the cheap and easy? Go play for Man U or Man City or Chelsea or whichever club is willing to rent the flavor of the month. I want players who are willing to dig in, get grimy and dirty, and get a little dirt under their nails instead of a weekly manicure and to look at the success of a cross-town or league rival and say, "They don't deserve that. That is mine. They may have it this year, but we're knocking them on their arses next year." Any player who is willing to take the path of least resistance is not a player I want in Arsenal red, trophies be damned.

In America, we have a folk-singer by the name of Utah Phillips. At one point before his death, he said to a room full of 16-year olds, "they're going to clear-cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit unless you learn to resist, because the profit system follows the path of least resistance, and following the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked." I worry that too many players are following the path of least resistance, choosing the quick and easy. Yeah, they get to where they want to go, but what have they become in the process?

I don't want the quick and easy. If it's true that Lewandowski has signed with Bayern, I never wanted him in the first place. He might then lack the grit and tenacity that I look for in a player. I want guys who look at the successes of others not with envy but jealousy: "you have taken what is mine, and I have no choice but to dedicate every fiber of my being to taking it back". Van Persie lacked that. Nasri lacked that. Götze lacked that. Perhaps Lewandowksi lacks it as well.

There was a time when I extolled the virtues of Borussia Dortmund (or at least of its players). They seemed to remind me of Arsenal of a decade ago, populated and led by young and hungry players looking to knock off the Titans. Now, however, I look at Dortmund's best and brightest and find myself doubting their character thoroughly and completely. If Götze or Lewandowski is eyeing greener pastures, I guess I shouldn't begrudge them too harshly for seeking some gratification. However, they'll still earn more in a few years of footy than I will in a lifetime of toil, so I have my limits. To some degree, sure, I owe these players a debt for their skill and their artistry, but that is not the same as saying that I should accept, part and parcel, their ease in displaying all of the consistency of a weather-vane.

Ambition is one quality; nihilism is quite another. Give me a one-club man, one who is dedicated to and believes in the club itself. It's not the name on the back of the jersey that matters. It's the name on the front that matters. Lewandowski has signed with Bayern? Fine. I never wanted the likes of him anyway. Jovetic wants to switch from Fiorentina to Juventus? Good for him. Give me a guy who's willing to lay it all on the line over the guy who sees each club as a stepping-stone to the next.

I'm not so naive as to expect every player who dons the Arsenal kit to be a die-hard Gooner. That would be ridiculous. I simply want a squad of players that show up each day bound and determined to do their damned-best without calculating how their performances affect their market value. Is that too much to ask?