Johan Djourou: His Life, His Times and His Future
Bereft in confidence, shaky, clumsy, timid, pain to watch, “deadwood”.
These are the words uttered from a faction of the Arsenal faithful when describing the club’s current fourth choice defender, Johan Danon Djourou-Gbajere, or simply Johan Djourou, as he’s known in the shores of Britain.
The road in Djourou’s path didn’t lead to such a bad and rough avenue initially, as he was one of those “young Guns” that was tipped for great things in the yesteryear but he had one hell of a worrisome knee, weak ankles, bad thighs, you name it.
He made his debut appearance in the club’s final season at Highbury and he had a decent run-out in the inaugural campaign at the Emirates. This was followed closely by a loan spell in Birmingham City that turned out to be a success story.
He featured spariangly in subsequent campaigns but Kolo Toure’s exit to Manchester City paved the way Djourou yet again, that amassed a total haul of 29 appearances before sustaining a knee injury in April 2009, which required a surgery, putting him on the sidelines for the best part of one year.
After recuperating from the long lay-off, Thomas Vermaelen took his place in the treatment table with an Achilles tendon injury, and his breakthrough arrived. Alongside Laurent Koscielny, Djourou forged a telepathic understanding as well as creating a catchy nickname, Djourcielny.
He oozed confidence and consistency, giving Arsene Wenger a chance to give himself a pat in the back, declaring that he ‘kept the faith’. On February 2011, in a game against Newcastle in St. James Park, Djourou opened his Arsenal goalscoring account and suffered a shoulder injury. The right-footed version of Mikael Silvestre, Sebastien Squillaci, came in his stead and Arsenal’s defense capitulated in grand style.
Prior to his injury, Arsenal had surprisingly failed to lose any Premier League game Johan Djourou had played since 2008 or so, a record that shocked me and many Gooners out there. With Vermaelen still out for all eternity and Koscielny having the fitness levels of an Ox, Squillaci did his bit to hold the fort and Djourou made a comeback only to get injured again by Bacary Sagna in a FA Cup quarterfinal game against Manchester United.
Arsene Wenger declared that he was out for the entire campaign after a successful re-constructive surgery on the same shoulder that received a blow against Newcastle a month earlier. At that point in time, Djourou was a cult hero in his own realm, as the Gooners sent him goodwill messages and thanked him for his surprising yet positive input to the team’s cause that season.
In somewhat mysterious circumstances, Djourou made a swift return after one month in the extremely disappointing 1-1 draw against Liverpool, where Arsenal failed to hold the lead despite being ahead in the 97th minute. It wasn’t really surprising because the same Arsenal failed to hold onto a four-goal lead in the same season.
Djourou’s return came with the good, the bad and the ugly with his game against Stoke (3-1 loss) standing out as one he’ll want to forget quickly as he was more or less involved in all three goals conceded. However, the 2010-11 season was a great campaign by his standards and he earned a second place finish in the Most Improved Player section of my 2010/11 Season Awards.
This concluded season, Thomas Vermaelen returned to full fitness, Laurent Koscielny upped his game and Arsene Wenger bought ze Big F*ckin German machine, Per Mertesacker, thereby sending Johan Djourou down the pecking order.
Injuries to the regular fullbacks saw Djourou get a shot as a make-shift right back, but he was torn apart countless times, with the games against Blackburn (Ewood Park), Chelsea (Stamford Bridge) and Manchester United (Emirates) standing out. Djourou couldn’t even exhume confidence in some games he played as a center back with clumsy outings against Fulham (Craven Cottage) and AC Milan (San Siro) coming into the limelight.
A player that was somewhat indispensable in the 2010/11 season turned out to be a player bereft in confidence, shaky, clumsy, timid, pain to watch, and of course, part of Arsenal’s “deadwood”.
Whispers of Jan Vertonghen’s imminent arrival would have given Djourou more nightmares but the Belgian star has opted for Tottenham rather than Arsenal, giving the Swiss center back a sigh of relief.
A few days ago, Switzerland coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, suggested that Johan Djourou should leave Arsenal if he wants to continue playing international football.
Many fans want Djourou out because they feel that he’s part of the deadwood ravaging the club’s wage bill without giving the required output and Hitzfeld has decided to join the Djourou Out Brigade.
It seems as if Djourou has decided to crack, because he has revealed that he’s open to offers:
“My situation at Arsenal is not easy, I’ve never played so little, and especially not in my own position.
Despite having a contract until 2015, he says, “If an interesting offer comes, I’ll look at it for sure.”
Djourou has already been linked with a move to Italian champions, Juventus, and many will be hopeful that the move materializes sooner than later.
Djourou has notched up 138 appearances for Arsenal and like many of his teammates, he hasn’t gotten that bliss feeling of standing on a podium to celebrate a trophy. However, he has two Carling Cup runner-up medals and a Champions League runner-up medal.
Whatever Johan Djourou’s future would bring, I can only wish him all the best because he’s at the stage of his career where he needs more games under his belt.
Unfortunately, Arsenal is not the club to offer him that.
Here’s to Johan Djourou, a stalwart that has dedicated eight years of his life to the Red and White.
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