Has this ever happened to you? You purchase a replica jersey with the name of your favorite player on the back only to see that player leave. Sadly, many shirts have been tossed aside and never worn again after a once idolized athlete departs a club acrimoniously and becomes a figure of contempt. And “tossed aside” is a generous way of putting it. Some fans get a bit more creative with what they do with the jerseys of players who have spurned their team.
There is good news is that for all of us that own an Aubameyang Arsenal jersey: we will be able to continue wearing it with pride. As you know, the captain put pen to paper and signed a new three year contract to remain with the club.
As fans, we love our teams and expect the players to have that same devotion. But it’s a two-way street, and too often, we forget that. If a squad member is no longer in a manager’s plans a club will think nothing of getting rid of them. Footballers know that they have a limited amount of time as a professional athlete. The need to look out for their personal interests, and that often overrides loyalty.
Think back to how Robin van Persie, Alexis Sanchez, Samir Nasri and Ashley Cole left Arsenal. All were idolized in North London and moved on for what they saw as better opportunities. Their departures tarnished their reputations to varying degrees. Van Persie was referred to as Judas. Nasri was called a mercenary. Cole’s nickname became Cashley. Alexis will be remembered as a diva and Manchester United’s Piano Man. All were solid players, but they will never go down as Arsenal legends.
Thinking back over those not-so-pleasant breakups makes me more appreciative of the way Aubameyang and Martinez announced their professional decisions this week — examples of team loyalty as well as class.
Aubameyang’s new contract announcement is a great moment for Arsenal fans. Over the years, we have seen a number of players run down their contracts and push for a move away. With Arsenal finishing 8th last season and missing out on the Champions League for the 5th straight year, it would have been understandable if Aubameyang wanted to leave. He instead chose to stay.
The naysayers will question why the striker re-signed with the Gunners when teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG were possible destinations. At clubs such as these, he would have been guaranteed Champions League football and a title push every season. Those are not certainties currently in North London.
Of course we should not delude ourselves in to thinking Aubameyang signed his new deal solely out of loyalty to Arsenal. He will be paid handsomely with a weekly salary in the vicinity of £250,000-a-week along with performance-related bonuses.
Regardless of the reasons, the fact is Aubameyang stayed when the club needed him the most. This will be remembered forever, and he is well on his way to legend status. In fact, that went into Aubameyang’s decision. In his announcement he stated:
I want to leave a legacy, this is where I belong, this is my family. I am really, really happy to stay here. This is my home. I want to become an Arsenal legend and leave a legacy.
As for Martinez. He is leaving Arsenal for Aston Villa, with the fans’ respect. He will always be remembered fondly. After ten years of waiting for his chance, he seized it when Bernd Leno went down injured soon after the re-start. His outstanding play opened a lot of people’s eyes and gave Mikel Arteta a tough decision to make. Without being able to guarantee Martinez the number one slot, the Argentinian sought an opportunity elsewhere. The fans respect this and understand why a loved player is moving on.
Showing just how much he appreciated his time with the Gunners, Martinez recorded an emotional goodbye message to Arsenal fans and the club. He included the following:
For me, I could not be happier to leave through the front door with the Arsenal fanbase supporting me and the club supporting me.
They all understood at Arsenal and they support me for my decision. The Arsenal fanbase were always there for me, I felt their love.
That made me confident, made me win games and made me the keeper I am today. They understood my story and they love the way I worked in the club. I am so glad to be part of the Arsenal family for 11 years.
The debate over whether loyalty in sport exists will continue. It may or may not be real. Regardless, in the case of Aubameyang and Martinez, both demonstrated their allegiance to Arsenal along with a touch of class!