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TV Wrap - Little sympathy for Granit Xhaka as Keane goes in two-footed on Spurs

Ian Wright was among those to criticise the Arsenal captain, and called for the player to apologise.

Granit Xhaka (file photo.)
Granit Xhaka (file photo.)
Image: EMPICS Sport

CAPTAINING ARSENAL HAS become one of those cursed gigs, like teaching Defence against the Dark Arts or Brexit Secretary.

William Gallas staged a sit-down protest after a game against Birmingham in the elaborate performance art of a man giving up; Cesc Fabregas forced his way out to join Barcelona; Robin Van Persie forced his way out to join Man United; Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta, and Per Mertesacker were all plagued by injury; and Laurent Koscielny was as injury-prone as any of them and then went on strike to join Bordeaux for good measure.

Now Granit Xhaka has followed in dubious tradition by cupping his ear and telling barracking Arsenal fans to “fuck off” after being substituted against Crystal Palace. 

It was a rancorous, ugly sight but sympathy for Xhaka has been scant. Unai Emery mumbled that he was “wrong” to do what he did while on Match of the Day 2, Ian Wright called for an apology.

Having talked over a clip of Xhaka palpably shirking possession, Wright then accused Xhaka of “goading” the Arsenal fans with his slow trundle to the touchline.

“He should be apologising, he should have apologised already.”

“It’s not a case of ‘that’s the end of it,’ but that’s the guy they’ve chosen as captain and that’s not captain’s behaviour. Arsenal fans have shown a lot of patience with him and the performances he has put in. He owes them a lot more than that.”

Before you decide to pass your judgement on Xhaka, let’s run a test.

If you were ridiculed for years by those who purport to support you, to the point that disabling the comments beneath your social media posts was the only way to dam this river of bile, and were then further abused by your own fans at the moment the smithereening of your confidence was endorsed by your own boss before an international TV audience – would you have the restraint not to volley a couple of “fuck offs” back in the direction of the thousands hurled at you?

If so – your serenity would be useful across several world religions.

Arsenal fans are entitled to vent their anger at the stagnation of their club, but it owes much more to feckless, complacent ownership than it does to Granit Xhaka falling short of standards he has strived for all of his life.

On Match of the Day, Wright accentuated Xhaka’s broken confidence without wondering why it might be so. He also chimed with the general tenor of the criticism of Xhaka, that it is conduct ill-befitting the Arsenal captain.

Couching criticism this way, and reducing players to fixed emblems like club captain, is a handy way of negotiating the awkward fact that players are human beings with pride and worry and private lives, and can’t always be expected to react to life as we’d like them to.

The abuse of Xhaka is the latest reflection of the poisoned discourse that bled into Premier League football a long time ago, and it has dripped directly from television.

It was evident on Sky’s Super Sunday, as Roy Keane laid siege to the character of Spurs’ right-back Serge Aurier after the defender was deemed to have fouled Sadio Mane and gave away the match-winning penalty against Liverpool.

Keane called Aurier a “car crash” and a “liability”, later extending the screed to include Danny Rose in labelling both as “Dumb and Dumber” and “abysmal.”

Source: Sky Sports Football/YouTube

“You can’t compare them to Liverpool, the two lads who are absolutely fantastic”, said Keane, as he compared them to Liverpool’s fantastic full-backs.

It was customarily cruel from Keane, and while nobody should be immune from criticism, the scale of this was unfair. Is it really abysmal to compare poorly to two of the world’s best full-backs playing in a superb team tailored specifically for their talents?

Aurier would likely have not been under such scrutiny had he not conceded the decisive penalty, about which there was curiously little debate, given the incident was eerily similar to the penalty given against Leicester’s Marc Albrighton for a foul on Mane in Liverpool’s previous home game.

On that occasion, Match of the Day’s Alan Shearer said Mane had dived amid broad disagreement on the issue, but there was no such debate from Sky on Sunday’s incident. Gary Neville agreed with the referee in real time and there was no argument from anyone else thereafter.

Some will say that Rose and Aurier should be able to handle the criticism from Keane given their experience and the fact they chosen jobs in the public eye, but this is indicative of the weird compromise that has been wordlessly made with Premier League footballers.

We make them rich and famous and then we’re supposedly allowed to make them feel bad about being rich and famous.

Is it any surprise that so many players have become celebrities living far apart from our normal lives, and that in a world like this, that Granit Xhaka might be hardened against his own supporters?

Celebrity, wrote John Updike, is a mask that eats into the face, but it’s worth remembering that we are usually the ones who decide who gets to wear the mask.

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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