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Au revoir William Gallas, misunderstood yet brilliant

We should not forget that William Gallas has been and still is a highly accomplished defender.


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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