It’s only been a couple of months but already Marouane Chamakh has forced his way into the “Why I love…” series. Find out how I’ve fallen for him so quickly…
Marouane Chamakh joined Arsenal on 21 May 2010 after nine seasons at French club Bordeaux. The son of Moroccan parents, Chamakh was born and raised in France but chose to represent the country of his parents at international level and at the age of 26 is now the current captain of the Moroccan national team.
Growing up in the small town of Tonneins, Chamakh’s rise in football was a gradual one. His move to Bordeaux at the age of 16 owed as much to his incredible physique as his technical ability – Chamakh stood 6’0 by the age of 15 – and he stood out in the French club’s youth academy. Despite flirting with the notion of regular first team football in 2003/04, Chamakh did not become an integral member of the team until 2005/06 and his career really took off in the 2007/08 season when Laurent Blanc was appointed manager.
Chamakh has spoken of his immense respect for Blanc and whole-heartedly thanked him for making him the player he is now, but the truth is that their relationship took some time to grow. When Blanc first joined Bordeaux he rarely played Chamakh, preferring David Bellion and David Cavenaghi instead, and the Moroccan finished with just four goals for the season.
This continued for the first half of the 2008/09 season as Chamakh was used mainly as a substitute, but he turned it all around in December with two goals off the bench as Bordeaux came from three goals down to beat AS Monaco 4-3. Blanc reconsidered his stance on Chamakh, putting him into the starting team with Yohann Gourcuff as support and the Moroccan responded with eight goals as the club won their first title in ten years.
Chamakh’s unbelievable aerial ability saw him score the most headed goals of any player across Europe during Bordeaux’s title-winning season and his hard-working, team-orientated playing style drew attention from Arsene Wenger. Midway through the 2009/2010 season Arsenal made a bid for the striker. Bordeaux refused, living in hope that the Moroccan would re-sign, but Wenger pursued and six months later picked up Chamakh on a free transfer.
Upon joining Arsenal few really knew what to expect: statistics showed a relatively slow career progression and a fairly meager strike rate. Was he entering the squad merely as a third central striker to provide depth behind Robin van Persie or Nicklas Bendtner, or was their something different to him?
In my preview of this season I stated that “he appears to have the right attitude and his aerial ability, work-rate and durability will make him a vital player for us”. Fifteen games into his career at Arsenal he has proved that prediction correct, scoring eight goals (a number of them headed), working extremely hard for the team and ensuring that the absences of van Persie and Bendtner have not been felt.
In many ways he is an atypical Arsenal player: physically imposing, technically sound rather than superior and with a fitness record that van Persie and Co would kill for. But look more closely and he has all the psychological elements that Wenger desires: humble, patient, a genuine team-player and perhaps most importantly, very intelligent, as his Bachelor in Accountancy clearly shows.
Perhaps the best thing about Chamakh is that you absolutely know what you are going to get. He will never score the goals of Thierry Henry but as a player he has thus far squeezed the absolute most out of his talent. His strength in the air is remarkable – is there a player in Europe better than him at winning headers? – but he has also shown to be positionally aware and surprisingly street smart, a point underlined by the five penalties he has already milked this season.
Chamakh is a man who has got where he is because he works hard, knows his limits and listens to the people around him. Greater talents have achieved less than him but the brilliant thing is that at age 26, as a physical front-man, his best years are ahead of him – just look at Didier Drogba. That he will be spending them at Arsenal just makes it all the sweeter.
And that is why I love Marouane Chamakh.
Read other articles in the “Why I love…” series here.