I Should Never Have Joined Arsenal – The Novella
Sunlight streamed in through the tall windows gently warming his cheek. Floor to ceiling windows had always made him feel nervous, he wasn’t sure if it was the fear of falling through them or the fact that there was nowhere to hide. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and started to tap his heel on the floor uncontrollably. What was taking so long? He glanced out of the window and imagined what passers-by would say if they looked in through the window and saw him in the waiting room of a psychologist. He thought it odd that such a place would have transparent windows in the waiting area but then again who was going to be able to look in through the windows eight floors up? “Maybe Per could, the lanky git” he thought to himself. He gave an involuntary snort and caught the eye of the receptionist, who gave him a sharp look. He turned away from her gaze, glanced at his watch and let out a soft sigh.
Sarah peered over the top of her computer screen at the man in the waiting room. She wasn’t much interested in football but she knew who this man was. She thought about taking pictures of him and selling them to the newspapers. They would have a field day if they found out he was seeing a psychologist, she thought. Her mind wandered to the shoes, handbags and sun-soaked holidays she could have with the money the tabloids would give her for those photos. Her daydream was interrupted by a loud snort from the man on the white couch. She glared at him for a few seconds when her eyes were drawn by the small box with a flashing red light on her desk. It flashed twice and then went dark. Sarah composed herself, gave a small dry cough and spoke to the man on the couch. “Dr. Schrader will see you now”
“Please, take a seat” said Dr Schrader, “I am sorry to have kept you”. Martijn Schrader was a bespectacled man in his late fifties with a modest paunch, greying hair and slightly loose skin giving him the look of a man who had recently lost a lot of weight. He took off his glasses, drew his fingers over his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Schrader gave his glasses a quick wipe with his handkerchief and put them back on.
“I have just been speaking with Mr Wenger who tells me you have been suffering from some new issues” Schrader began. “We have worked for some time now on your anger issues and impulsive nature and we have made great progress”.
“You have been exemplary on the pitch and you have improved as a player as a result of your inner-calmness” Schrader continued. “You have shown great leadership and have brought success to Arsenal Football Club but your manager senses you are feeling troubled. Why do you think this is?”
He looked at Dr Schrader, unsure of how to express what he was feeling. Schrader was right; he had made great progress and his new-found calmness had brought success to Arsenal but he wasn’t happy. He got the feeling Schrader could see this but he always felt that Schrader could see right through him, x-raying him as he peered over the top of his glasses.
“Errm, well it’s just that, I don’t know how to put it” he muttered.
“Okay, let’s start somewhere easier, tell me how you feel” said Schrader.
“Tense. A little bit sick”. He stared around the room. It was so different in here from the waiting area. The waiting area didn’t seem so intimidating with the glass coffee table strewn with magazines, the calming pictures of the ocean on the wall, stylish white sofas and glass and chrome finishes. It could have been a waiting room for a marketing agency or a cosmetic surgeon, anything really but this room was different.
It was darker, strangely quieter without the noise of the foot traffic from other floors passing by the entrance or the computer noises as the receptionist checked her Facebook. The air felt slightly thicker in here and it smelled like a second-hand bookshop. The dark brown leather couch, antique mahogany desk and walls lined with books and papers were all so very cliché and added to the feeling of being scrutinised for every thing he said or didn’t say whilst in the room.
Schrader surveyed him for a second and then said “And why do you feel tense? Is it a work-related issue or a home issue?”
“It’s work. It’s just making me really unhappy at the moment” he said wearily.
“But you have just won a couple of trophies, surely you should be ecstatic right now?”
“That’s the problem Doc. I didn’t sign up for this” he protested.
“Didn’t sign up for this? I am led to believe that winning trophies is the raison d’etre for a footballer. If you did not want to win trophies why did you join Arsenal?” asked Dr Schrader.
“To be honest with you Dr Schrader, I just wanted an easy life. I wanted to play my football, have people chant my name, pick up my wages and not have to worry about expectation or competition”. He ran his hands over his face and pulled slightly on his cheeks giving him a look reminiscent of Munch’s The Scream.
Martijn Schrader leaned forward in his chair and rested his arms across his knees. His head tilted to the right in an inquisitive manner. With his sagging eyes and loose skin he looked a little like Droopy the cartoon dog, the footballer thought. He gave another involuntary snort.
Dr Schrader considered the person in front of him for a moment before speaking. “So the weight of expectation and success is troubling you?”.
“Yes, and it is only going to get worse. They say success breeds success and they are only going to expect more” he lamented.
Schrader took a deep breath and leaned back into his chair. “You say you wanted an easy life so why did you join Arsenal? I believe them to be a club with great potential and history”.
The footballer stood up and started to pace around the room. “Well, you see, the money on offer was good and it had been so long since they had truly challenged for a trophy I thought I could join a club that plays great football, put on a show and retire a legend without much effort.”
“But you have never been a lazy footballer, so why the need for a place to slow things down?”
“Not slow things down, just perform without having to bust a gut meeting expectations. Arsenal have pretty much been finishing fourth which would have been achievable without me so I thought it was a given with me and I wouldn’t have to worry too much about fighting for a trophy”. He stopped pacing for a moment and looked at Dr Schrader. “You know I’ve had a few issues in my career so I wanted to finish my career somewhere I would be remembered in a positive way”.
“Yes, I understand your need to feel loved by your fans” said Schrader. “But why choose to join Arsenal in such an uncertain time if you wanted an easy life? Arsenal had stability in playing staff and management and finally had significant transfer funds. Surely this was an indicator of a renewed challenge?”
“Not really. Arsenal had spent years selling off their best players whilst other clubs kept on strengthening. They came into some money but the other clubs still had plenty and everyone thought they were years off challenging even with the money. I mean, look, they had a decent team but nothing special and they had to spend most of their cash on me. I’m good but no-one can win a title single-handed and it was common knowledge that they needed 4/5 more players” he rambled.
Schrader pursed his lips as he searched for the words he wanted. “So let me get this straight. You wanted an easy life, where challenging for honours or league places was, less demanding?”. The footballer nodded. “And now you have achieved success, at a club where success has been so scarce, you are unhappy because it means you no longer have the easy life you craved?”
The footballer nodded eagerly. “Yes, that’s right. What can I do about it”.
“Well” said Schrader, “Allow me to ask you a few questions before I give you my advice”.
“Okay, ask me anything you like”.
“How was your route to the cup final and describe the final to me” asked Schrader.
“Well, it was relatively easy. In the early rounds the boss mostly played the fringe players and they got us to the quarter-finals where we played a championship team winning 3-1. We met Chelsea in the semi-final and won 3-2 with a goal in the 87th minute. The final was a great day actually. We ended up facing Crystal Palace who everyone was surprised to see in the final and beat them comfortably by three goals to nothing.”
Schrader nodded. “That’s good, very good. At any point did you feel as though you were up against it as they say?”.
The footballer paused for a second and glazed over as he searched his brain. “No, not really. The game against Chelsea was close but for the last 15 minutes it was all us. If we hadn’t scored it would have gone to extra time and they had no subs left and we had two so I think we would have taken it anyway” he said.
“That’s good. And how about the league? I believe you won the title as well. By how many points did you win it?” Schrader asked.
“7 points in the end. It was quite close until March but then we went on a bit of a run and won it with 2 games remaining”
“And at any point did you feel pressured to drag the team over the line or worry that expectation would weigh you down?” the doctor asked.
The footballer shook his head. “Again, not really. We knew we would comfortably finish 4th, ahead of Spurs, again but no-one gave us a chance of winning the league so there was no pressure. The boss was great about it actually and set us up for each game so we were really hard to beat. He didn’t pressure us or bully us, he just told us to focus on our own game and it worked. Before we knew it we had to win just one more game to take the title.”
“So” began Dr Schrader, “you were worried about expectation being an issue yet at no point did you feel under pressure or in dire need to break your back picking up points. It seems as though you were worried for nothing”.
“I guess so, but what about next year? It’s always harder to win again. What’s your advice?” asked the footballer.
“One more question first. Which of your team-mates do you think is the worst player?”
“The worst? None of them. They are all great lads and superb footballers. In fact, they have surprised me with how good they are” enthused the footballer.
“That’s good, I think I understand now. So, my advice. Are you sure you want it? You won’t like it, I’m afraid.” said Schrader.
“Yes. Please tell me.”
“You should never have joined Arsenal”.
“That’s not advice”.
“I told you, you wouldn’t like it” chuckled Schrader. “In all seriousness, joining Arsenal when you did with the impression that your addition would not be enough to make them serious title contenders was both stupid and ridiculously self-deprecating. You undervalued your own abilities and those of your new team-mates. Your issues are no longer with the pressure of winning trophies, you are actually well-suited to success. Your issues are actually with guilt”.
Schrader took a breath and continued, “You feel guilty because you undervalued people you now call friends. You consciously joined Arsenal thinking they weren’t good enough to win anything and were just a good pay day for you. Over the past year you have come to see what a fantastic club they are and what wonderful people they employ. My professional opinion is that you are scared of not winning anything next year because you want it for your team-mates so badly.”
“My suggestion to you is to go celebrate with your team-mates. Enjoy the success and worry about challenging for honours at the business end of next season. Don’t worry about undervaluing your team-mates in the past, you were not to know how good they are and you quickly changed your opinion so there is nothing to feel guilty about”. Schrader stood up, walked over to his office door and opened it.
The footballer walked over to Dr Schrader, shook him by the hand and said “Thank you Dr Schrader, I feel much better now. I’ll see you next month for our regular session”.
The footballer left the room and Schrader closed the door behind him with a soft clack. He strode over to his desk, picked up the phone and pressed redial. The phone rang a few times and a voice resonated from the other end with a simple “Yes”. “Arsène, it’s Martijn, it is as you suspected. Let me tell you everything”.
The footballer looked up at the large red double-decker open-topped bus adorned with the clubs colours, badge and banners with the words “DOUBLE WINNERS” standing out like a lighthouse beacon in the dead of night. He felt a little sick still but for a different reason. He felt lighter, stronger… happier, he felt, exonerated. Was that the word? Yes, exonerated. He felt free from burden, free from guilt and free to enjoy himself. He took a deep breath, took another look at the banners, felt a smile spread across his lips and he boarded the bus.
He passed through a group of club employees patting him on the back, shaking his hand and telling him how proud of him they were. He reached the stairs and started to climb, as his head appeared at the top he heard a raucous cheer from his team-mates.
“Hey hey, here he is! The man of the hour”. He felt a strong hand pull him up to the top of the stairs faster than his legs were going. He stumbled slightly, gained his bearings and looked up at the man who had dragged him to his feet.
“Woj” he said smiling. “Yes mate, golden boot Mr Golden balls, get your lips round this” said Wojciech, pressing a cold bottle of beer into his hand. He took a swig, it tasted good, refreshing, and gave him an instant mellow feeling that quelled the uneasiness in his stomach. He thanked Woj and continued along the bus toward the front passing Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker who were laughing raucously at Lukas Podolski’s jokes.
As he neared the front few rows of the bus he felt hands on his shoulders. A voice he knew only too well said “What kept you mate? We’ve been waiting for ages”. He turned to look at Jack Wilshere. “I had an appointment” he said. “Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot. How did it go mate?” asked Jack.
“It went really well actually. I had a quick chat with boss before I got on the bus as well.” he said.
“That’s great mate, glad to hear it. Talking of hearing things, can you hear the roar of those Gooners? This is amazing isn’t it? It’s only going to get louder” smiled Jack. The footballer looked at Jack, they’d become good friends over the past year. “Yeah, it’s crazy. I guess they’ve been waiting a long time for this”.
“Too bloody long” said Jack. “Here, look at those beauties down there” he said, pointing at the trophies. “I can’t wait to lift them in front of our supporters”.
“Yeah, it’ll be something special” said the footballer, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Jack smiled back. “Do you think we’ll hang on to them next season?” asked Jack.
“Well” said the footballer, “the gaffer has just told me who he’s buying this summer so it’ll be harder to lose them”. Jack laughed and clapped him on the back. “It’s going to be incredible to play with him next year” said Jack.
He smiled at Jack. The bus roared to life and the passengers broke out into cheers as it started to slowly pull away to start the parade through Islington.
“It certainly will Jack” he said, “it certainly will”.
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