John Guillem investigates the delight and infuriation of Arsenal forward Gervinho…
I’ve always liked Gervinho – that is, since I first noticed him on football manager. That was back when he and Eljero Elia were the go-to speedy wingmen to be had for about 12 mill; unfortunately, I had to settle for the cheaper option of Arda Turan, who actually turned out rather well. At that, in the “real” world Turan is clearly the best of those three at this point in time – what the hell happened to Elia after his promising appearances in the 2010 World Cup? I guess Juventus did, whilst they were still cursed1 – this in spite of the promise Gervinho was showing between 2009-11.
‘What went wrong?’ I don’t like these kinds of questions, as within them they contain a huge amount of reduction and misdirection (which is another way of saying that they’re bloody stupid), but perhaps this article will get somewhere on that score. However, in the interests of Positivity2, I’m going to – at least on the face of things – allow a modelling of the aspects of my liking for ol’ Yao Kouassi (as we all know from playing FIFA) to drive this piece. Besides, his Wikipedia page is shit, so I didn’t get much joy out of it – it’s short enough that no clever paraphrasis would conceal its own nature. As with all (most, some) great thinkers, this affinity has a quadripartite structure: hope, love, amusement, pity.
I think every football fan will understand this – perhaps not plastics, but certainly those who follow through adversity & struggle. Of the big English clubs, perhaps Arsenal and Liverpool supporters will find this closest to their particular bone[s]: when a player signed simply does not equate in practice to what he seemed to on paper, and the squad is not strong enough to carry the burden of this disappointment, you start to make excuses in the Hope that they will become the player they should/would/could/ought to have been. Yet – and I hope people will accept my sincerity here – I’m not simply an apologist for what I secretly admit to be a poor signing. Certainly I yearn for Gervinho’s becoming the player who Eden Hazard described (admittedly before his move to Chelsea) as the best he’s played with and a personal inspiration to himself, but I do so with the knowledge that there are grounds for this ill-advised actual emotional sentiment.
In his last season in Ligue 1, Gervinho scored or assisted twenty-five league goals, eight more than Hazard himself in less appearances. Now obviously the French league is weaker than the English – and equally the space created by opponents frequently double-marking Hazard certainly helped – but these numbers certainly indicate a level of quality which has indeed surfaced in his time as an Arsenal player: aside from his recent run of good form, he was influential in Autumn/Winter 2011, most notably against Stoke. Similarly, he’s evinced brilliance in games for the Ivorian national side, against poorer opposition perhaps, but equally playing alongside less skilled team mates than at club level. The question all of this raises is clearly one of consistency, which would lead an impatient thinker to reduce it down to the case that he’s simply pants at the top level. My Hope would disagree, for reasons (aside from the above) which will be elucidated below.
The part of me which loves Gervinho (predominantly στοργή, if you’re wondering), is the part which loves to be RIGHT3, which is not to say that my love for him is the same as my love of RIGHT. I’m not proud of that part of my self, though the love itself I am indifferent to. And indeed, he has and does prove me right. I predicted him to start this season strongly (mindful of how it took Koscielny amongst many others a year to settle in), and indeed he did, albeit playing as a striker rather than out wide. Admittedly I did feel that he would push on from there, whereas… but it’s not unconditional love – as I clarified above – so that’s okay. As Žižek would say, ‘nothing is broken.’ Ahem. From Gervinho’s second-leg cameo against Bayern I scented endeavour and incision, and anticipated another run of good form – so far, so good. It won’t last of course, but then again nothing does, aside from Mikel Arteta’s hair and ‘Arry’s ballsack (that’s his face?! Oh…).
The extant farcical narrative of Gervinho’s Arsenal career would dictate that it’s only a matter of time before he becomes comically woeful (or should it be woefully comic?) once more: “reality is restored” or some shit like that. This might happen, but it would NOT be another instalment in this narrative: indeed the narrative itself never existed and never will. As with all media narratives (which are in fact composites of one overall narrative) concerning Arsenal F.C. and its players it is false, oppressive, imprisoning. It fulfils itself by reducing all context and causality to a vague and simplistic “reality” of cyclical, inescapable recausation – ‘that’s how things are for them/him’ – which fans fall for hook line & sinker, though it isn’t necessarily their fault so much as that of the media. Fuckers. This thought to be considered at far greater length at another time. ANYWAY, I love him because he proves me RIGHT, sometimes.
To my own surprise, I’ve made it this far with only oblique allusions to the fact that Gervinho is really quite funny. Unintentionally, of course. The only intentional joker Arsenal’s had for time is Eboue, who I wouldn’t say intends so much as lives comedy. So, why is Gervinho amusing? It’s pretty obvious really, he’s got a MASSIVE forehead. It’s gigantic. Like any great natural wonder, it inspires art (see above). And it seems to have a presence of its own, one perhaps greater than that of the man himself. However, it’s also old hat (hurr hurr). You can’t derive higher forms of humour from simple observation, though certainly the internet provides ammunition for those who try. There’s also his chosen footballing name, which is both apt (his close control is breathstealing at times) as well as seriously inapt (who the hell does he think he is, a Brazilian?). That’s worth a laugh or two, until, that is, you encounter the real reason for why he makes me (us?) laugh: his mostly horrendous end product. You’d think that – after the likes of Hleb and Walcott – Arsenal fans would have a heightened tolerance for tricky players who can’t actually cross or shoot properly with any degree of consistency, but there are times when Gervinho really takes the biscuit. Of course, this is in part because of the quality of his running and off the ball movement, which get him into many many many promising positions for him to subsequently botch, but equally he really does miskick horrifically in a qualitative sense. It’s actually pretty interesting, trying to work out why he’s so bad in this regard. Arseblogger feels that there’s something fundamentally awry with his kicking technique, which makes some sense – it’d explain why his finishes are so absurdly weak sometimes (along with the fact that he is relatively weak physically), but I’m inclined to think that the problem lies elsewhere (see below).
However, I’ve neglected to explain why this all-too-frequent failure to actually score/assist relative to the situation in play is so laughter inducing! Perhaps it’s obvious to you neutrals/non-Arsenal fans out there, as you’re just resentfully laughing at the toils of another club’s player. Or equally, you’re responding to it as slapstick. Fair enough, but that’s not how I see it. The reason Gervinho amuses me is simply that the alternative to laughter is weeping, and I’ll choose giggles over tears every time. It’s like laughing at a Kafka novel or Beckett play (or anything by Philip K. Dick) – when the systemic oppression is so great that you simply have to laugh, as otherwise you’d cry yourself to a stupor/death. For Arsenal fans it isn’t really straight comedy, but rather farce: something to get angry about. With that said, I feel that if you consider Gervinho’s personal predicament, it’s more tragicomic than anything, which neatly leads to…
Arsenal fans are resentful & bitter (as indeed are many football supporters) because of their state of paralysis & exhaustion4: assailed by media bullshit and their own status as consumers only in the eyes of the “football industry”, which engenders a desperate desire for SUCCESS and PROGRESS, essential as they are made out to be by the media and footballing bodies. As a consequence of this, players like Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott get mistreated and abused by the support (though less so this season, as people are beginning to realise that they’re actually good). Gervinho elicits plenty of groans as well, and it’s clearly very unhelpful for everyone involved, as we see nervous players playing in a resentful and nervous atmosphere at the Emirates, though admittedly it’s gradually improving. I feel sympathy for Gervinho as well because I don’t think he’s been particularly well coached at Arsenal; he’s been a victim of his own versatility by being used to plug in across the front line as needed (by contrast, until this season Theo pretty much only played on the right). Equally, I don’t think that there has been a period since Gervinho joining the club where there has been the time & space to reintegrate him gently from injury/the ACN etc., indeed to manage the squad as a whole in a more measured, balanced way. To be honest, this is a problem most clubs face aside from Manchester United and a few others, but it certainly doesn’t help, and Gervinho isn’t the only victim of the high pressure circumstances continually overcasting Arsenal: Ramsey and Marouane Chamakh to name but two have suffered from it as well.
One final issue I’d add is the execrable actions of Joey Barton to get Gervinho sent off on his debut (with ensuing three match ban), which obviously got things off very much on the wrong foot. However, there’s clearly a thread running through all of these issues which elicit my pity: mental game. Gervinho, as with all too many other Arsenal players (though less than a couple of years ago), isn’t very good at producing his own confidence. He doesn’t really hide much, and his movement is always intelligent, but his focus suffers. I hope we’re on the same page about what I mean by focus – it’s not anything to do with decision making or even concentration, but that combination of composure and WILL5 which allows for continual belief. To play pristine football, a relaxed state of fluid action & reaction is essential, which is what really sorts the great players from the talented. Most players can perform impressive technical feats (to varying extents of course), but focus is why someone like Jordan Henderson – who’s actually very technically strong as well as being a great athlete – isn’t able to ‘do it’ consistently. Torres is also a good example, as by now his pace has clearly mostly recovered, yet still his touch and sharpness vary wildly; Wayne Rooney is similar in some respects as well. Truly great players seem to almost never lose focus, whether it’s retained via brute will (Didier Drogba, Roy Keane) or instinct (Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry). Focus is best accessed from a state of self-generative confidence, which Arsene isn’t actually that good at passing onto his players – he encourages them plenty, but doesn’t have Mourinho or Fergie’s knack for toughening characters (though perhaps it’s also a matter of buying the right kind of player…). Gervinho is certainly a comical personage in many ways, but as a figure he contains serious issues: regarding the imprisoning media myth enveloping Arsenal F.C. and Wenger’s managerial limitations, rather than as a “character”.
1. Certain football teams become cursed, a predicament out of which it is difficult to break, though hardly impossible. It took two legends (Conte and Pirlo) to dispel the cloud over Juve, whilst Madrid turned to Jose, though that counter-hex is not yet complete (they have to win La Décima). Liverpool is perhaps the only terminal sufferer, though Arsenal shows early signs. More on this some other time.
2. Positivity – the core tenet of Lil B’s ‘Based’ philosophy:
3. ‘We have observed that most of the trouble in the world has been caused by ten to twenty percent of folks who can’t mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus. Now your virus is an obligate cellular parasite and my contention is that evil is quite literally a virus parasite occupying a certain brain area which we may term the RIGHT center. The mark of a basic shit is that he has to be right. And right here we must make a diagnostic distinction between the hard-core virus-occupied shit and a plain, ordinary, mean no-good son of a bitch. Some of these sons of bitches don’t cause any trouble at all, just want to be left alone.’ (William S. Burroughs,The Place Of Dead Roads)
4. ‘The figure of the end of the old traditions was the heroism of destruction and the creation ex nihilo of a new real. Humanity itself was the new God. Today, all of this is in a state of total crisis. One of the symptoms of the crisis is the return of the old traditions and the appearance of the resurrection of old dead Gods. All the heroic figures are old ones, too, such as, for example religious sacrifice and bloody fanaticism. In the guise of these figures, nothing new can occur. They are aligned with a disjunction between the human and the inhuman, and not of an integration of the inhuman in a new sequence of the historical existence of humanity. But the absence of any sort of heroic figure is by no means any better than the old sacrifice…Our problem can be formalized in new terms. In disoriented times, we cannot accept the return of the old, deadly figure of religious sacrifice; but neither can we accept the complete lack of any figure, and the complete disappearance of any idea of heroism…the result will be the sad success of what Nietzsche named; “the last man.” “The last man” is the exhausted figure of a man devoid of any figure.’ (Alain Badiou, Destruction, Negation, Subtraction)
5. ‘In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.’ (William S. Burroughs,The Adding Machine)