What Arsenal’s resurgence teaches us about egos

Arsenal's Portuguese midfielder Fabio Vieira attempts an over head kick during the UEFA Europa League Group A football match between Arsenal and FC Zurich at The Arsenal Stadium in London, on November 3, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Recently, Arsenal have been doing well in the Premier League. Early this week they topped of the table with 34 points, two more than last year’s champions, Manchester City.

For Africans overseas (just like back home), we follow football clubs based mostly in Europe, especially the English Premier League. It is common to ask which onen supports. Like inquiring what sort of beer you drink, or your favourite colour. Chelsea? Man United? Liverpool? Some take this more seriously than others. When we say seriously, it does not mean just making “noises” upon winning, or even killing oneself. And that is not funny. Hear, hear. In 2009 following Arsenal being defeated by Manchester United, a Kenyan fan, Suleiman Omondi, was found dead. He had an Arsenal T-shirt on. That is passion. Someone in Nairobi, over 10,000 kilometres away, committing suicide because the Gunners were thrashed 4-1 by Man United? No wonder non-football enthusiasts find the whole scenario ludicrous and insane.

And there is another type such as our London-based Tanzanian Sports maestro, Israel Saria, who has a proper paid membership card for Arsenal FC. Not just screaming when there is a victory, but paying fees to practically support the club. This indirectly contributes to referees’ and coaches’ salaries; uniforms, and players’ progress. Money is more than bank notes and coins. It is a livelihood.

Passion translated into pesa.

A Swahili proverb explains it best. “Mkono mtupu haulambwi.” We cannot lick an empty palm.

What is in it for me?

Swedish musician and actress Amy Deasismont (stage name Amy Diamond) had a hit on Scandinavian charts in 2005:

“...your games ain’t working any more; you can’t have this candy, and keep one foot outside the door, nooo...you only come around when your life is upside down...so, tell me...what’s in it for me. I really gotta know.”


Soccer (as the Americans say) clubs are massive businesses. Making millions in sponsorships and endorsements. They are also about emotion and identity. Let us scrutinise that further. We enjoy goal celebration pictures. Listen to players, TV pundits and managers analysing failures and conquests after huge tournaments. Rarely are things scrutinised deeply. Like digging emotions, deeply. A profound level where we can learn and relate.

Let me give an example through the London-based club Arsenal.

February 2022, Gabon striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, known affectionately as Auba, left Arsenal unceremoniously for the Spanish giants Barcelona. He explained his spat and falling-out with Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta in an interview. The brilliant striker, who was African Footballer of the Year in 2016 – and now plays for Chelsea – is quoted to have claimed that Mikel Arteta “could not handle big players”, and that he needs young players “who don’t say anything”.

That was translated to be the reason of his expulsion from being captain. Allegedly, always being late and lacking discipline.

Big egos.

Recently, Arsenal have been doing well in the Premier League. Early this week they topped of the table with 34 points, two more than last year’s champions, Manchester City.

The rise of a rejuvenated Arsenal has been attributed to a united team spirit. A united zeal that was explained last week by Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny. The Gunners do not allow big, divisive egos any more, he said. That is how Arsenal beat Chelsea 1-0,from a corner kick via Gabriel Jesus.

What does that tell us?

For those uninterested in a game of 22 people kicking, running and opening mouths widely when their rounded rubber flies past the keeper’s fingers, hey! What is the significance?

Ego is valid. We all have it. Feel it when we look at mirrors. However, ego is negative when excessive, like it was the case with the award-winning Aubameyang. According to Arsenal’s, Egyptian player Elneny, “We do not allow big egos. This is the dressing room we have now. Everyone loves each other...This is what actually makes our squad really strong, because we do not have egos in the team.”

Back in the mid-1980s, famous African American composer, musician and producer Quincy Jones (who assisted in making Michael Jackson huge) offered similar views. Prior to the recording of the celebrated hit We are the World in aid of Ethiopian hunger victims, Quincy Jones advised this congregation of 46 stars “...to check your egos at the door.” Meaning be humble and work in harmony.

The icons of the era included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder,Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Diana Ross,Paul Simon, etc. The song is one of the best, respected, collaborative hymns of the 20th century.

A lesson for us all.