Every day, every part of the routine, didn’t feel monotonous like the daily grind should.
That had something to do with the fact he loved every single minute.
From a young child he was schooled in the ways of The Arsenal, first by his parents – both diehard Gooners – and then from his tutelage at the club.
He was like most children at that age, singularly obsessed with football. With or without friends, he would kick the ball. At goal, in the street, off the wall. His dad said that practice was the key, so he stuck gamely to his task. This is where he differed from most kids – he was driven, he wouldn’t let up. His mum sometimes worried about the fact that wherever he went, he had a ball with him, but she needn’t have fretted. It paid off big time.
He was enrolled in the youth team from an early age, and despite interest from other clubs, there was only one he would sign for. The moment he put pen to paper is still crystallised in the form of a framed photo on top of the mantelpiece at his mums house.
That was where the hard work really began. For eight years, he clambered up the ranks, the age groups. International recognition came for the Under-18’s, Under-21’s, but this was a mere flicker in the eye of time. By the time he had made his debut for the Under-21’s, full international caps came calling.
That was because his debut for Arsenal was packed with fireworks. He had seven minutes to make the coach and fans sit up and take notice, and he did so in spades. A goal and hanging the opposition’s right-back out to dry on at least three occasions meant that when the next season came, he was firmly in contention.
That was the beginning of his halcyon season – and the sole reason he was still at Arsenal. He played through the entire campaign, he grabbed goals, winners, made more respected colleagues look like they were wading through treacle. Experts and teammates, other coaches all commented on his meteoric rise.
It was his display against one of the best teams in the world though, that meant he was predicted to be a game changer not only for Arsenal, but for England too. He ran the show, weaving a mesmeric web that won plaudits around the world.
The footballing world was his oyster, but he never saw himself anywhere but The Arsenal. His faith and promise were rewarded as well, when injury bit.
It bit hard too. A whole season missed, then half a season. He couldn’t quite get back to where he was. Every time he scaled the insurmountable mountain of recovery, at the peak he fell down the other side. Critics were mounting, ‘sicknote’ tags were sticking.
Seasons were going by and he was no longer the promising kid who had the world at his feet. He now had to prove himself again. It wasn’t enough to have shown he had what it takes to run with the big boys. After his injury record, people doubted whether he could reach that height again.
Most importantly, the fans and the club he loved were beginning to worry about him too.
Fitness slowly crept back, and so did his appearances. Fleeting glimpses of form came and went, so did runs of matches.
Now came the time where his contract was running out. An offer was on the table, and it was once the case that whatever was on the table, he would have signed it, a la Tony Adams.
Now, after a conversation with the coach, he had a decision to make. He needed gametime. His stock was low, international honours was a dot on the horizon. He had played last season, but he was far from where he thought he’d be.
He felt superfluous, a groupie. A biscuit on the side of an extravagant coffee. He was not the main act, but he didn’t want that. He merely wanted to be a vital cog in the machine. At the moment, he wasn’t adding value, worth.
Now the coach has told him that he could stay and try to force his way into proceedings, but at this moment in time, he would be firmly in the ‘backup’ category.
He had spoken to his agent, his parents, his friends, his wife. All said that he owed his club nothing, he had done all he could. He needed to be selfish and do what he needed to do. His career was short, and if he stayed he would be on good money, but he could get more elsewhere and most importantly – he could get back into the international fold as he would play.
Stay at the club he loves? Fight for the badge and your career? Or move on for more minutes and perhaps a little better in terms of contract?
Where does loyalty rank in terms of significance in decision-making? At what price does the heart come into things? When does business run the rule over matters of sentimentality?
If you were in this position – what would you do?