I got a panicked call from sunshine the other day.
“I need you to get a team together. People who can get in, take out a target, and exfiltrate with a low profile.”
“Who do you suggest?”
“I dunno. KSK, GSG9, even SEK operators would do. Whoever is hanging about, really.”
“Ok, I think I can get some people for this, but who’s the target?”
“Are you sitting down?”
“I am now. Who’s the target?”
A little background is necessary here. sunshine is a dedicated fan of the Arsenal, as am I. As such, he bears a level of abhorrence for Mikael Sylvestre that causes him to emit green sparks if his name is so much as mentioned. This all stems from the two year period when Sylvestre played for Arsenal. He had been in the last year of his deal with United when Arsène Wenger decided to pick him up on the cheap. In retrospect he should have known this was a bad deal. Sir Alex Ferguson is a pixilated lunatic, but he never lets go of a player until he’s sure he’s squeezed every last bit of value out of him. Thus is was that, after signing a two year deal with Arsenal, managed to make only 26 appearances before trundling off to Werder Bremen when his contract expired.
This was common history between us, but I was a little perplexed that it was coming up now. Much as sunshine was wont to be driven to fits of pique by Sylvestre’s eminently mediocre play for Arsenal, he was long gone and other figures had taken his place in the broad fields of sunshine’s wrath.
“You’re just getting around to this now?” I asked innocently.
“Check the wires, he’s on trial with the Timbers.” I must admit that, in that particular moment, I experienced a feeling of vertigo. But I soon regained my equilibrium. Further exchanges followed between myself and sunshine. For the sake of the children in the audience and those with a low tolerance for profanity, I will resist the temptation to provide the transcript. It ended up along the following lines:
Magadh: “Perhaps Monsieur Sylvestre has finally found a level of football to which his skills are suited.”
sunshine: “You are an idiot.”
Ok, in all seriousness, I must admit that, although reflexively reached for my migraine meds every time I saw Sylvestre line up in an Arsenal jersey, I do not harbor the intense loathing for him that old sunshine does. If you want to look at this from a glass half full perspective, you could point to the fact that the guy has a lot of top class experience (EPL, ULC, plus 40 caps for the French National Team). He’s 35 now, but he’s center half and they tend to age a little slower than some other positions. He was never the fastest guy to play the game, but that’s not the worst flaw in a central defender. He made nearly 250 appearances for United, so you’d have to think that he knows something about football. If he can come in and help solidify matters in defense I can put up with this move (assuming we’re not burying him in cash). As I have said repeatedly here (and elsewhere), central defense is not the most pressing of our concerns. I’m all for trying to improve the team anywhere on the pitch, but I can think of some other things I’d be interested in improving before I brought a guy in at a position where we already have three or four legitimate figures.
While I was typing away on this I got another message from sunshine informing me that Songo’o is out the door. Then I got about five more texts from him outlining the byzantine contractual issues that were probably involved in making this happen. I think the simplest way to express it is that it was an attempt to keep our hand free to sign another international player and to husband our allocation money. I don’t claim to be smart enough to understand the ins and outs of it.
What I do know, and once again I realize that I’ve gone on about this ad nauseum, is that Songo’o was one of a very small number of consistently positive figures in the side last season. Perhaps in letting him go they have created a place for someone of comparable skills to be brought in, but at this point it very much looks like they have simply created a spot for Eric Alexander. Or maybe the idea that one of our passel of central midfielders can slot in on the wing. You could look at Songo’o and say that he wasn’t great return for the money in terms of his statistics. That wouldn’t be totally unfair. On the other hand, what more competent figure to we have with whom to replace him?
The overall impression of the two moves discussed here leaves is one of a squad rather lacking in balance. We have a lot of central defenders and central midfielders. What we don’t have players in wide areas of proven effectiveness. I would like to think that Kalif Alhassan’s tendencies in terms of getting caught in possession and trying to beat too many defenders might be addressed through the tender ministrations of our new coach (as rumors out of training camp would have it), but that is something that I would have to see to believe.
In truth, the departure of Songo’o didn’t come as a surprise to me. This prospect had been mooted in a number of media outlets weeks ago and sunshine told me in December that he was pretty sure that it was going to happen. One could wish that it would have happened a little sooner if it was in the works. It means that, with the beginning of the preseason looming we once again have significant questions about the composition of the side. The team had to be reconfigured, that much is clear. But there is something to be said for getting one’s ducks in a row at the earliest date, if for no other reason than that it is important for players to get some time together. This is particularly so given the sort of integrated motion offense that Porter seems to be in the process of implementing.
The arrival of Porter appears to have allowed us to take some forward steps, especially in cutting away the profusion of dead wood in the side remaining from last year. While I understand the reasons for the Songo’o move, it’s hard to see it as anything but a step back in terms of our on field capacities. I very much hope to be proven wrong.