Deadwood: a tourist trap in South Dakota, USA; a fictional television series aired on HBO; a footballer who is under contract to Arsenal FC who no longer plays but occupies a roster spot, handsomely compensated for his lack of efforts.
I’ve been to Deadwood, South Dakota and it’s a horrible place. It’s horrible because of its history: Deadwood was an illegal settlement in Lakota territory spawned by the Black Hills Gold Rush. But what makes Deadwood even worse is its modern incarnation, a town that glorifies a mythical past where the saloons have sawdust floors, the women dance the can-can, and man can get two fingers of rot-gut from the barkeep.
Deadwood is the kind of place where they have staged shootouts and you can see the Shooting of Wild Bill inside Saloon No.10 at 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, and 7:00 pm. He’s shot four times a day just to make sure he’s dead. After that, there’s a street shootout at 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm, and 6:00 pm in front of various hotels. And the day’s festivities wrap up with the big trial of Jack McCall at 8:00 pm sharp, after which he is hung by the neck until dead, dead, dead. Bring the whole family.
Deadwood is the kind of place where the roads are paved with bricks that are designed to make a horse clopping sound when cars drive past. The kind of place that celebrates outlaw culture with paeans to Wild Bill Hickok at every turn but which, due to the proximity to Sturgis, every building carries a sign stating that outlaw bikers are not allowed to wear their colors. And the kind of place where, for $8.99 you can fill up on all you can eat at the Old Country Buffet conveniently situated just at the end of the main strip.
Deadwood is a gilded cage, with no locks. You’re free to leave if you want but why would you when the 1950′s fantasy of Cowboys and Injuns is so enticing?
Arsenal’s very own Deadwood is somewhere in Hertfordshire, UK and just like Deadwood, USA is a gilded cage; players are free to leave but why would they when the pay is good and the workload is light.
The population of Deadwood, UK has experienced a population boom over the last few years and not just at Arsenal. It once was a place where just Silvestre parked his goods but over the last few years Arsenal have seen the addition of Chamakh, Denilson, Park, Bendtner, Arshavin, Diaby, Squillaci, Santos, and Djourou.
Each player’s reason for moving to Deadwood is unique. After six months of good play, I’m convinced that Chamakh went “lilly livered”. I remember remarking about how brave he was when he first came to Arsenal, he seemed to be willing to put life and limb on line to get his head on the end of crosses. That Chamakh no longer plays for Arsenal and whether that’s down to him just not getting much time on the pitch or whether he took a lump is unknown. What is known is that if Chamakh wanted to play football, not just practice but actually play, he could find plenty of teams that would take him. He may have to take a pay cut but teams would want him: he’s easily as good as Carlton Cole.
Denilson is a good example of exactly what Chamakh could be doing. He’s back in Brazil playing for his boyhood club and by at least some accounts doing well there. I have it on good authority that Arsenal subsidize his wages, along with several other players who are on loan. At some point Arsenal have to decide whether subsidizing a player to play elsewhere is worth more than keeping the guy around to play head tennis at practice. How, exactly, that calculus is solved I’m not sure.
Perhaps the most contentious names on my list of Deadwood residents are Arshavin, Santos, Diaby, and Djourou. Arshavin is the most contentious, I’d guess. You could point to the fact that he has 6 assists for Arsenal this season and you’d be correct. You could also point to the fact that he is “being played out of position” and again, I suppose we could agree on that. Though what exactly any player’s position is at Arsenal would be a major debate. What’s not debatable is that he’s made 8 appearances for Arsenal in the two major competitions this season, all as a sub, and all without getting an assist or goal. Arshavin still has talent and as a result there is real interest from Reading to bring him on and see if he can help rescue their season. He’s not bought a house in Deadwood, but he does seem to be a frequent visitor.
Santos is another who has been shunted off. Officially he’s injured. Unofficially, he was dropped after a torrid performance against Man U and Thomas Vermaelen was preferred as left back through Kieran Gibbs’ injury period. Santos is like Arshavin in that I think he is only a temporary resident and could still have a role to play this season. It’s up to him to grab any chance he gets and make the most of it.
What can you say about a player who is supremely talented but who has only started 18 League games over the last two and a half seasons? That’s 18 out of a possible 94 matches. If it was for any other reason than chronic injury, Diaby would be considered Deadwood. But because it is injury, there are those who hold out hope for his Arsenal career to be resurrected. And unlike Chamakh, Diaby is not in his gilded cage because of a lack of application but rather because he’s just not built right for football. Because of his injuries, Diaby can’t even be moved. He’s not just a resident of Deadwood, he’s the sheriff.
And then there’s Djourou; fourth choice center back, third choice right back and a player who should be more. Who, at age 25, would accept those terms? I can completely understand Squillaci not agitating for a move, because he’s nearing retirement, but Djourou is about to turn 26 and if he doesn’t start playing regularly, he may never play football again. But there he is, Arsenal’s longest serving player, and under contract until 2015, when he will be 28 years old. If he finishes his contract he will have been with Arsenal for 10.5 years. Do you think they’ll give him a testimonial? And if they do, they can hand him the key to the City of Deadwood and make him honorary Mayor for life.
The problem is that moving any of the residents of Deadwood is nearly impossible and every big club has them these days. Nani is apparently Deadwood at Man U and only the accountants know how many players are on the books at Man City and Chelsea collecting a paycheck but not playing. Fans seem to think that transfers happen like they did 15 years ago. When a manager like George Graham could say “pack your bags, you’re off to Aston Villa.” Those days are gone, players have all the power now. So, just like Deadwood USA I think we need to get used to the idea that there will be a number of players hanging around, like a carbuncle on the ass of this team, collecting paychecks and gaming the system.
If Arsenal are lucky, they will move one or two of those players I listed above. The most likely would be Arshavin to Reading, but only if Reading will pay for him. No sense in giving away the cow for free when he could still produce some milk. But other than him, I think we might do best to just stop all this talk of clearing out Deadwood. They ain’t going no where while the buffet is hot, the casinos are open, and there’s a hanging at 8:00 pm every night.