Au revoir William Gallas, misunderstood yet brilliant

By on June 18, 2010

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By Guest Writer Danny Ohio.

It seems increasingly likely that, after nearly a decade in England, William Gallas will say au revoir to Arsenal to sign for either Juventus or Roma and begin a new experience in the ruins of the once mighty Italian league.

A complex and at times sulky player, the overriding memory most people will have of him is the dejected and broken player sat in the centre circle at St Andrews in 2007 in what was a dark, dark day in Arsenal Football Club history. Yet with Gallas set to exit these shores, is it time to look past the breakdown at Birmingham and the bizarre comments and recognise that he has been one of the top defenders in Europe for the past ten years?

He arrived in the Premier League in 2001 after establishing himself at Marseille. At 24 he decided that he needed to test himself against better players than those he faced in Ligue 1. Drawn to the passion of English football he signed for Chelsea without much fuss or fanfare but went on to become a rock at the back of their defence, learning alongside the great Marcel Desailly and helping John Terry develop along the way. He went on to enjoy five good years at Chelsea, winning back-to-back Premier League titles and a League Cup under Jose Mourinho.

Yet Gallas was never lauded. Mourinho hogged as much of the glory as he could when the West Londoners sat at the pinnacle of English football, with what was left divided between Terry, Frank Lampard and a handful of others. Despite being an integral part of the team, Gallas was a background character. It didn’t help that he found himself constantly farmed out at left back, something which evidently frustrated him. After all, he had established himself as a top-class centre half, why should he be moved?

Then began the tense contract negotiations with Chelsea in 2005/06 and the mud-slinging from both sides suggested that Gallas’ days at Stamford Bridge were coming to an end. Feeling undervalued in both status and pay, it seemd Mourinho was likely to lose him. That summer the first suggestions that the normally shy and reserved William Gallas may have an odd and brittle temperament came to light when Chelsea issued a statement saying that he’d threatened to score an own goal if he was not allowed to leave the club. At the time it seemed a ridiculous accusation and most of the football world sided with Gallas in the whole sordid affair, although some may be less certain after what followed.

If Gallas was denied the limelight at Chelsea, he certainly got it at Arsenal. First of all, he demanded the number 10 shirt last worn by the great Dennis Bergkamp. After a relatively mundane first season hewas awarded the captain’s armband when Thierry Henry departed for Barcelona. This was his time to shine, the recognition of the player and the man he had become. And then slowly the bizarre side of William Gallas’ temperament began to rear its head.

There was his famously rocky relationship with vice-captain Kolo Toure which deteriorated so badly it came to the point where both men openly spoke of their disdain for one another. But the moment that will define William Gallas’ career in England will be that moment when he stormed towards the halfway line at St Andrews after Gael Clichy’s carelessness had seen Arsenal all but throw away their momentum in the title race. Incensed that Clichy had allowed his concentration to slip, he marched away in disgust as McFadden salvaged a point for Birmingham from the penalty spot. His reaction at the end of the game saw Arsene Wenger have to pick up the pieces from the centre circle and get him back in the dressing room.

The fall out from that and the shock of Eduardo’s awful injury damaged Arsenal and the exposure of Gallas’ frail character saw him stripped of the captaincy. His moment as the main man, the captain, had turned into the darkest period of his otherwise excellent career.

Yet taking the captaincy off Gallas proved a masterstroke by Wenger, both for Arsenal and for Gallas himself. Relieved of the pressure, Gallas regained the form which made him such a solid and dependable defender at Chelsea. Few Arsenal fans would disagree that for large parts of last season, Gallas was exceptional alongside Thomas Vermaelen and had they had a more dependable goalkeeper than the hapless Manuel Almunia behind them, Arsenal’s defensive record would not have been as dire as it was.

It is likely that few will spare much thought for the fact that William Gallas probably won’t be playing in the Premier League next season but he is destined to win admirers in Italy. In Italy, they appreciate accomplished defenders and few are as polished as Gallas. Quick and an exceptional reader of the game, the recognition he so desperately craves will not be long in coming. He will most definitely plug the gap left in the Juventus defence when another great French defender Lilian Thuram left following the Calciopolli scandal.

It’s a shame that he will forever be remembered for that dark day in Birmingham because for the best part of a decade, he was among the best defemders in the world and Arsenal and the Premier League are losing a top player, albeit one who should be handled with care.

What are your thoughts on William Gallas and his time in England?

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6 Comments

  1. Mike Konzon

    June 18, 2010 at 10:42 am

    A brilliant footballer, but a world class centre half he never was at arsenal, never completed a full season and difficult to play along side.

    dont think his absence will be missed too much. bring in another centre half and Willy will be forgotten

    p.s hated the fact he wore number 10

  2. Fab4

    June 18, 2010 at 11:15 am

    I will miss Captain Bill. Still think when fully fit he’s our best defender and we should give him the 2-year deal he wants. Arsenal will need his experience next year.

    No point letting him leave on a free, then having to pay £8+ for un-proven defenders with no premier league experience. Ala Koscienly.

  3. TDP

    June 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

    I think the biggest mistake Arsene made in 2006 was to believe that Gallas was an adequate replacement for Sol Campbell. Even last season Sol showed he is on a different planet to Gallas in terms of positioning and defensive organization. Gallas can be excellent when he has an organizer alongside him but he doesn’t have the intelligence to organize a defence himself and he is showing that with France right now. Abidal + Gallas at CB was always going to end in tears. He is an excellent LB but isn’t quite good enough to be remembered as a great CB.

  4. highberries

    June 18, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I thought I was a true Arsenal fan….I never clicked on about the number 10 shirt. I’m glad I didn’t as I probably would have hated him for it. I will remember him as a good defender but one who was injury prone!

  5. goonergerry

    June 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Gallas is a defensive weak link. He insists in playing no6 but is not a great zonal defender. No where near as good as his individual talent suggests he should be. Perhaps his development has been limited by his personality- thinks rather too much of himself.

  6. Danish Gooner

    June 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Highly overrated and a complete tosser.

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