AFCB editor Andrew Weber‘s first post in the “Why I love…” series focuses on Alex Song…
Alexander Dimitri Billong Song joined Arsenal on 11 September 2005 from French club Bastia. Born into a family of 28 brothers and sisters (his now deceased father must have been a busy man!) Song married his childhood sweetheart Olivia at the early age of 18 and has two sons, Nolan and Kaylian.
His career kicked off when he moved to Bastia in France as a teenager, playing a number of games with their first team before Arsene Wenger did his usual thing and plucked Song – the nephew of flamboyant ex-Liverpool defender Rigobert – from obscurity.
The start to Song’s Arsenal career was not easy. He struggled to find his feet in the first two years at the club, a situation not helped by Wenger ping-ponging him between central midfield and defence, and after a difficult outing against Fulham in 2006 he was loaned out to Charlton for the rest of the season.
At the time most Arsenal supporters had thought they’d seen the last of Song, a player that appeared too slow, both in mind and body, to cut it in the fast-paced English game. But to everybody’s surprise he returned to the club for the new season and showed some signs that he had turned the corner, performing well at the back in several Carling Cup matches and featuring in a couple Premier League matches late on in the season.
Then came Song’s biggest opportunity: Mathieu Flamini, who had formed a brilliant central midfield partnership with Cesc Fabregas, left for Milan. Wenger initially filled the gap with Denilson but over the course of the season Song began to find his feet and worked his way into the starting team more consistently by the end of the season.
Song’s major attribute of bringing a defence-first mentality to an ultra-attacking Arsenal midfield eventually paid dividends as he transformed from bit-part player to vital cog over the course of last season. The perfect example of a player who flourishes when given the time, space and right environment to improve, Song’s obvious physical qualities of stamina and strength were combined with a seemingly new-found technical ability as he provided the defensive support for Fabregas and Co.
On the pitch, Song’s personality had always been one of a player who looked to others for leadership. He was often seen head down, muttering to himself to do better after conceding a foul or making a bad pass and hardly exuded confidence in possession as he shuffled across the pitch, feet barely leaving the floor. But over the course of last season he matured, imposing himself more readily on the pitch and enjoying a few moments of attacking ambition: his goal in the Champions League against Fenerbahce and the lovely clipped pass for Eduardo’s side-foot volley immediately come to mind.
This season he has continued to develop well, providing some decent attacking thrust in the brief absence of Fabregas and grabbing a couple of goals that Thierry Henry would be proud of. With Cesc back in the side he should return to his more important duty of protecting the back four but I have to admit finding some real enjoyment in seeing Wenger loosen Song’s leash.
Watching Song play and hearing him speak off the pitch, you get the distinct impression that he is one of the good guys in football. We’re blessed to have a number of them at Arsenal and when you hear him speak about his family, the manager or indeed his teammates, you hear a man who appears truly happy with his lot in life.
His outgoing new hairstyle may give the impression that he thinks he is bigger and better than he is but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Song is a player that is always giving, always encouraging and I sincerely hope he will stay and continue his development at Arsenal for years to come.
And that is why I love Alex Song.