As the saying goes, “we live in an age where people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing”, and nowhere is that more true than in the modern world of football.
Take for instance a player of the highest quality. A player who, when given the chance, always performs – often excellent, never falling below the solid and useful.
The problem is that this player has such physical issues that he has not started 20 or more league games for his club in any of the last five seasons, which means that he, quite rightly, will never be voted – and thus generally accepted – as the best player at the club, or in the league; and nor will he be valued at, never mind bought for, £40m, or £30m, or even £20m for that matter.
Also, the player has long since passed the 30 years mark, so sadly the chances of him overcoming his physical issues are slim.
Our player finds himself in a precarious situation, he might be a very good player, but he is not a very good product.
He is a very weak asset from a market perspective – a market that seems to get a tighter grip on the sport itself for every passing day, directing the media attention and influencing the general perceptions and reputations of teams and players.
And this is the situation Arsenal’s Tomáš Rosický has found himself in since his serious hamstring injury in 2008, which kept him out of the game for one and a half seasons – at a stage in his career when he should have been at his best – and left his body vulnerable to the physical pressures at the top of the game.
Everyone that is watching a game experiences it through a filter of the general perception and reputation of the players, as well as your personal knowledge and opinions.
For instance, we all know who is a superstar and sell shirts all over the world, and filter his performance though that knowledge.
We all know which player cost the club £40m to buy and is still in his mid-20s, which programmes us to look for small signals of improvement; of a bright future and a repayment of the investment.
We all know who the talented local 20-somethings are; the players who provide the link to the fans and are looked upon as the backbone of the team for a decade to come.
And we know who is over 30 and desperately injury-prone, who is in his last years at the club, and might not even be available for the big match next month.
It is a human phenomenon, and as such applies to supporters, reporters, experts and managers alike. Which does not mean that it is not problematic.
It is worrying, not to say deeply symbolic of where the commercialization has left the sport, when a player’s market worth is taken as his on-pitch value. Product value instead of performance level.
When watching Arsenal play and analyzing the team’s performances during any of the Czech international’s injury-free periods in the last couple of seasons, a lot of supporters and experts agree that the Rosický despite his lack of superstar-status and hefty price-tag was, with very few exceptions, one of their top performers.
Also, many argue that he is the most complete player at the club. And his range of skills are truly impressive – silky technique and quick feet; great passing ability, being able to vary between the solid and metronomic and the sharp vertical passes that cuts thought he opponents lines; superb vision, always finding spaces for himself and always with a clear picture of where his teammates are; good work-rate and defensive positional play; as well as a first-rate mentality and leadership-qualities.
Despite this you have to go back a number of years in time to find the last big game where Arsenal had all their best players available and still found a place for Rosický in their starting 11. And this despite Rosicky being very highly thought of and respected at Arsenal, no one more so than Arsene Wenger.
Arsene Wenger’s most unique quality in todays footballing landscape is probably his humility and total lack of ego; the way he completely sacrifices himself to the club and his players, regardless of how it affects own reputation.
This manifests itself in different ways. The way he gives a player he truly believes in chance after chance to develop and prove himself, or the way he will refuse to give in and work himself to the bone for the club to get as much as possible back from their heavy investments.
Or his insistence on always – parallel to the reality of the here and now – planning and grooming for five or even ten years ahead, regardless if he will still be at the club.
Or, for an extra relevant example – despite the criticism in this article – how many other managers would, as in the case of Rosický, keep backing and believing in a player after a decade of injury after injury after injury?
For a number of years now, Arsenal supporters have urged Wenger to go against his instinct and splash the cash. But now it is May, the window is long-since closed, and Arsenal are in the final of the FA Cup, as well as trying to push Chelsea as much as they can from their position second in the league.
So instead, Arsenal have to make do with what they have got when trying to continue their run of form and fight to the wire on both fronts – probably to the liking of Arsene Wenger, the outspoken critic of modern football’s superstar obsession, and the sport’s transformation into a giant, global marketplace.
And he could certainly do much worse than turn to the soft and silky feet of Tomáš Rosický who, sadly, is just a very good player.