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Arsenal parting with Bacary Sagna would be such sweet sorrow

1.96K   //    29 May 2014, 09:29 IST



It's far from official, but all indications are that Bacary Sagna has played his last match for Arsenal. In his own words, he has said, "there's a 90 per cent chance I will leave and 10 per cent that I will stay. I have been asking myself that question [about leaving Arsenal] for a long time, and it's the time for a new challenge." That, more than any suggestion of an offer from Man City, seems to confirm in my mind that Sagna has left. To say that he seeks a "new challenge" goes beyond any argy-bargy over pay or duration; no, it's a bit of a euphemism for saying he's done with Arsenal. Still, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. By contrast with other high-profile departures, Sagna's (should it come to pass), would feel like a bittersweet parting rather than a rancorous break-up. To me, he's been consummate, diligent, dedicated. If Man City or PSG want to give the man a golden parachute, I'll understand.

As one of Arsenal's longest-serving, and longest-suffering, soldiers, Sagna has endured along with so many of us the trophy-drought. Having joined the club in 2007, he missed the glorious early years of Arsène's reign, perhaps believing that he'd joined a club that would continue to deliver and build upon recent glories. Instead, he committed to a club that had just entered a bit of a swoon, a swoon that would last nearly a decade, casting a long shadow over his own career as he, among several others, might have been branded as a lost generation of players known more for futility and catastrophe than for success and achievement.
Along the way, however, Sagna has very nearly entered the pantheon of Arsenal's best players. He may very rank as its best right-back ever. If he's not the best, he's certainly up there. After all he's done for Arsenal, all that he represents, it's hard to identify another player who embodies the spirit of this club more than Sagna does. The contrast between him and the man who wore the #3 could not be more stark, nor could the gulf in symbolism be wider.
Before Sagna took the #3, it belonged to Ashley Cole, a very, very good left-back who unfortunately stands as the prosecution's key witness in the deterioration of character and commitment in modern football. Having played with the Invincibles, Cole might have become an out-and-out legend had he stayed at Arsenal. Instead, well, we all know what happened. He leapt at the first opportunity to leave (according to some reports, he may have been leaping before the opportunity officially presented itself). He's since gone on to all sorts of honours while being paid quite handsomely for his efforts. Feh.
By contrast, Sagna's conducted himself with a sense of dignity and of honour that mercenaries like Cole just can't fathom. Year after year, season after season, Sagna has labored and toiled without reward save that of the ethereal, "priceless" variety—no trophies, no eye-popping wage-packets—just the notion that he's a good soldier. Old school. A throw-back. He's earned a certain status 'round these parts for his dedication, whether it's twice breaking a leg and coming back each time, or whether it's for a thunderous headed goal in a North London derby or for countless tackles, interceptions, and clearances. What other right-back could provide the width going forward and the reliability getting back that Sagna has (while covering the ground that teammates like Walcott, Squillaci, Djourou, and others struggled to cover)? The man has been magnificent at times, dominant in stretches, and tenacious throughout.

In the past, I've suggested that Arsenal offer him a balloon-payout, a weekly salary that would keep him at the club until his retirement, overpaying him now in acknowledgement of his years of service (and potential underpaying him in years past). Other players who have left have forfeited their status at the club and become persona non grata. Sagna, though he may yet leave for a Manchester club, looks to do so on different terms, thereby preserving if not solidifying his status among the Gooner nation. If he does leave, we'll look on it as the inevitable, unfortunate price of paying for modern football, but such a parting shouldn't be poisoned as others have.

We've just won the FA Cup, one of the most-storied pieces of silverware in Europe. For as much as we might hope that the victory might herald a new age in which more and more such silverware is won, let it be, in the case of Sagna, a fitting and fond farewell. Others have left in naked ambition. Sagna, bless the man, dug in, put his shoulder to the wheel, and finished the job he signed on for. Along the way, he's earned a special place in my heart. His tenacity, his loyalty, his class have set a standard that few can rise to. I understand that Carl Jenkinson strives for that standard already, and I certainly hope he achieves it. He's had some time to learn from one of the best.

We've suffered some fools over the last decade, and we're better for having lost them sooner rather than later. In Sagna, however, we've enjoyed a class-act through and through. May he ease into retirement somewhere in France, comforted by another trophy or two, the respect of Gooners, and, of course, Ludivine. He's fought hard to earn it.
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Jon Shay has been an Arsenal fan since he as about seven years old, discovering the club on late-night cable tv. Growing up in football-challenged United States meant that he couldn't actually see an Arsenal match with his own eyes until 2008, but he's followed the club closely through thick and thin before deciding to start writing in early 2013.
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