10 January 2014

Thierry sits down with Theo, Ox, and Gnabry [fiction]

     "Serge, Theo, Alex, thank you for meeting me here."
     "Any time, Mr. Henry!"
     "Easy, Alex, you can call me Thierry."
     "I already do!"
     "Yes, yes, Theo, I know. We share a jersey number as well. This is all very good. But listen. We need to talk, and this is why I have brought the three of you here."
     "Where are we sir?"
     "Serge, I'm glad you asked. I—"
     "Dude! Serge! He called you Serge! You're already, like buddies!"
     "Hm? Ah, yes, Alex, we are all friends here. I may have started at Arsenal before any of you were even shaving your chins, but we are all Gunners. This is why we must talk."
     "What about, sir?"  
     "Pffffft! 'sir'? Serge, you muppet, he just said we're friends. I call him Thierry, you call him Thierry."
     "Easy, Theo. He is younger than you; Unlike you and Alex, he and I have never been on the pitch together. It is perhaps natural for him in this moment to be more courteous, is it not?"
     "I guess."
     "Good enough. As I say, we are all friends here, and I believe that part of this comes from the love we feel for this club, does it not?"
     "Yes, sir!—I mean, Thierry!"
     "Absolutely!"
     "Theo?
     "Hm? Oh, yes! Sorry."
     "This is okay. I want to speak to each of you in turn, but the others must listen, for what I say matters to you all in different ways."
     "Okay."
     "Right."
     "Got it."
     "Serge, I will start with you because you are the youngest and newest of the three to play for Arsenal. Calm down, Serge. Exhale."
     "I'm sorry sir—er, Thierry—it's just that, well, you're him. Thierry Henry. You're a legend around these parts, and I—"
     "No, this is not how to think of it. I am like you, a man who loves football and wants to do his best for his club. Is this not true?"
     "Oh, yes!"
     "Very good. Now, you are 18, is it?"
     "And a half!"
     "Yes. Here is what I want you to remember. People are saying many thing good and great things about you. They are saying you could be the next this, the next that. Have you heard these things?"
     "Yes, of course. But I know it is just talk."
     "Good. Do not listen. The best way to become good, which is necessary before achieving greatness, is to ignore what they are saying—do not think about rumors, do not think about the other players they compare you to. These are traps. When I came to Arsenal, I struggled, and they said I wasn't good enough for the Premier League. If I listened, I might have believed. Then, when I proved them wrong, the same people, they said I was the best to ever play. If I believed them, I would have lost my focus, my passion. I would have believed that I was already great. Do you understand?"
     "Yes, but it is hard. I want feedback, support, advice, yes, even criticism. I want—"
     "It is for these things that you must go to Arsène."
     "You mean Mr. Weng—oh. Yes. Arsène. Thank you, Thierry."
     "You will thank me through how you play. Show me that you have listened. You may go. Alex? Alex, where are you?"
     "Here! Here I am, T!"
     "Um, yes, very good. Alex, stay calm. How long have you been with Arsenal?"
     "Two years, five months, three days, 13—"
     "Okay, okay, settle down, now. Your passion for the club is clear. However, you must understand how to balance this passion, this panache, with also élan. Do you follow?"
     "No. What do you mean?"
     "It is one thing to charge in aggressively. I have seen how well you change pace, how you cut inside and go at and blow past defenders. But there is more."
     "What? What more? Tell me!"
     "Yes. You must learn the smoothness, the cunning. Learn when it is to show a je ne sais quoi, as if you are tired or bored so as to lull the defender to sleep. There is sometimes about you a sense of urgency, a sense of NOW! that you wield always when it is better to conceal this so as to seize the moment."
     "How will I know this?"
     "This, my friend, it may only come with time, time on the pitch, time in your life, time with the club. You will learn it when the time is right, and when it is, you will seize it. The words to put it in are hard to find. It comes from loving the game. From loving the club. When you feel it, you will know."
     "I think I see."
     "Do not think. Sense it. Let it flow through you."
     "Got it."
     "Alex."
     "Yeah?"
     "Make sure that you do."
     "Okay."
     "You may go. Where, now is Theo—ah. Theo?"
     "Yeah?"
     "Theo, you're fast."
     "You noticed."
     "Theo!"
     "Sorry, mate."
     "As it always is with you, speed is your first choice, but there is more to this. There is a time to run, a time to pause. Too often, you try to simply outrun your mark, but in this you also outrun your own touch. How often have you poked the ball forward only to see the keeper—or the endline—foil you?"
     "A few times, I'll admit, but it's just that these through-balls, sometimes, they're—"
     "Theo."
     "It is you whom I have waited the longest to speak, and it is for me you must now wait to hear from. You have been anointed as my heir, but, now, sadly, you must wait. Cruelly, I must say, for you have shown that you know and love this club moreso than others who pretended to. You will come back when the time is right."
     "Again with the time. I sat through this when you lectured Ox. I get it. I—"
     "I'm not so sure that you do. I expect great things from you. So too does Arsène. He sees it in you, as do I. However, do you see it in yourself?"
     "Of course, I do. Player of the Month for December, right?"
     "True, but ask yourself why you play. Is it for these monthly, personal honors, or do you crave something bigger?"
     "What, like a Golen Boot? Absolutely."
     "No. Theo. Please listen to me. If you want Golden Boots and Player of the Month, there are other clubs to play for. Here, at Arsenal, there is a team. It has a story, a culture, a tradition. If all you want are personal honors, you may have to go elsewhere. However, if you want actual glory and honor, you must look deeper within yourself to ask, 'why do I play this game? what gives me joy?' The answer, Theo, must be larger than yourself. Look around you. Bergkamp. Rice. Pires. Brady. Adams. Wright. Vieira. Seaman. Jennings. You played alongside or watched them and others. They taught you."
     "I know these things, Thierry, I do. But—"
     "I understand. There is a balance to strike between personal and shared glories. I know that this unfortunate setback will make you stronger, both on the pitch and inside yourself. For myself, I will see you in August, in September, not as the next Henry, but as you, yourself. As Theo. You have been blessed with great talent, Theo. Blessed. This is a blessing, but also a curse. You have a chance to balance these forces. Use the time you have been gifted. In time, if you use it well, it will both glorify and humble you. Use it well."
     "I will—but, Thierry, I—Thierry? Where did you—Serge? Alex? Did you see where he—man. Heavy..."