After the Southampton game I made the following comment when rating Carl Jenkinson’s performance, ‘Any team needs players that have the club in their hearts…and Carl loves Arsenal.’
This week in an interview with the club the young man said ’I love this club to pieces…I’ll always have that extra bit (of determination) inside of me ‘. After the game at City we all know what he means.
With all the cynicism that surrounds the game these days it is easy to take all the talk of loving the club with a large pinch of salt and put it down to contract negotiations, getting the fans onside and so on.
But you know this is important on a number of levels. It‘s about the soul of a club. The idea that someone who knows about the club, cares as much about it as the fans, is a fan, can put on the shirt and represent that soul on the pitch.
It also refers back to a more innocent age when the great Tom Finney would travel to home games on the bus with the fans and happily chat about the match ahead. And who, in his late eighties, would take you around Deepdale just because you were interested in his ‘proud’ Preston. Someone like Carl can help us to believe even today it isn’t all about money.
There is a benefit in this. It can help to forge a link between the crowd and the team that can lift the atmosphere and help the players when the going gets tough on the pitch.
Players like Jenkinson can carry extra authority in the changing room and on the pitch. How? By facing down the non-tryers, the mercenaries, the players that cheat the fans. Hopefully not on his own. Ideally there are others, maybe a Jack Wilshere and a foreign player or two. Those that don’t winge about moving on as soon as they lose their place or a big player leaves the club. Bacary Sagna please take note.
Often such players aren’t the most gifted. The perfect example of this is Carles Puyol. Far from the best defender in Europe in the last decade, Carles has held down a place at Barcelona often by sheer force of will based on his determination to fight for his home town club. He wasn’t the biggest, strongest or quickest but he had the biggest heart.
Carl Jenkinson isn’t the biggest, the strongest or the quickest but he can now show he has the biggest heart. He has to develop as a player too and be a leader on and off the pitch.
However, all of this is predicated on the fact that the player MUST be worth his place in the side. This is not about tokenism. Carl Jenkinson proved at the City of Manchester Stadium that he does deserve that place.
“My ambition for my whole career is to play for this football club. I want to be good enough to make my mark here”. Carl Jenkinson, Arsenal.com, 2012.