I’ve written about Sylvain Wiltord before here, because I never thought he was very good. But Twitter, in the shape of @goonerdave66, tells me he scored a hat trick on Friday for Nantes at the age of very nearly 38. Dave thinks Wiltord was, maybe even is, very good. I disagree. Even after he (Wiltord, not Dave) scored the winner at OT in 2002 my opinion didn’t change. In fact that shot was a bit of a mis-hit that a half-decent keeper would have saved. Luckily Man Utd had Barthez at the time.
Amazingly, Wiltord was voted Arsenal’s 33rd Greatest Ever Player in the official 2008 poll. Mind you Kanu was 20 places higher, which shows you the usefulness of that. Nothing against Kanu, but to believe we only had 12 players greater than him in 120 years would be bizarre.
I wrote the following in November 2003, when we were on our way to creating an unbeaten season. My opinion of Wiltord was getting lower, due to him becoming a prototype Adebayor and entirely failing to grasp the offside rule. I was stunned to find that you could look at Wiltord’s stats and find things that on the face of it made him look better in some way than all Arsenal’s other major stars of the time – but then I’ve also written before about how useless most stats are. The piece below first appeared on the onlinegooner website.
As I write Arsenal are still undefeated at the top of the table, demolishing lesser sides with ease, while picking up points against all our perceived title rivals. Admittedly we seem to be using up our stock of ‘Get out of jail free’ cards quite quickly this season (Kiev at home, the Spuds), but you need the rub of the green sometimes. Difficult then to complain too much, especially as I can remember the days when a mid-table finish was just fine and a shot at a Uefa Cup place counted as a good season. (I can remember several rather desperate years when I breathed a sigh of relief on reaching 40 points.)
But it is in the nature of man to never be satisfied, so here goes anyway: What is it with Sylvain Wiltord? In particular, what is it with Sylvain Wiltord and the offside rule? Has no one ever explained it to him, or does he just not get it? Perhaps he does understand it, but thinks he is so fast and skilful that his movement off the ball confuses lesser mortals, such as those in black with flags, and it’s inevitable that they’ll get it wrong with him being so damn quick. I know this happens with Henry probably three or four times a game, but the words ‘different class’ spring to mind there.
M Wiltord has many fine qualities, not least of which (as I have written before) is that he seems to be very lucky. He also works his socks off for the team and in that respect perhaps he deserves the lucky goals he scores off his shins, knees and other people’s backsides. But I’ve lost count of the number he would get, or set up for others, if only he could time his runs better and not disturb the linesman’s waving arm so much.
While pondering this it struck me that perhaps the other players HAVE tried to explain it to him, but he really does believe he is above that sort of criticism.
Scene: The Arsenal dressing room at half time.
VIEIRA: Sylvain, you were caught offside 17 times in ze first half. You are offside more times than I ‘ave red cards. I think you must try to stay onside a leetle more in this half, yes?
WILTORD: Patreeck, do not tell me, tell ze linesman. I am Arsenal’s record signing and M Wenger loves me, so what is ze problem?
PIRES: Patreeck is right, Sylvain, you are offside too many times.
WILTORD: Well ‘Bobby’, if anyone ’as a problem I do not sink it is me. Which one of us cost 11 million euros, and which one of us cost 20 million, eh?
HENRY: Sylvain, we are only trying to ’elp you for ze good of ze team.
WILTORD: And which one of us ’as played 57 times for France and which one ’as only played 53 times? When you are as experienced as me per’aps you can criticise! Maybe it is you ’oo does not ’ave enough va va voom, Titi!
PIRES: Sylvain, do not get upset, we just want to win ze game.
WILTORD: When you ’ave scored as many goals for France as I ’ave, then you can talk to me about winning ze game! ’Oo was it ’oo scored ze winning goal at ze ’ome of crap for us to win the Premiersheep in two sousand and two?
BERGKAMP: We all know that you are a great player Sylvain, but for sure we can all improve our game.
WILTORD: I don’t sink it is so easy to improve when you ’ave scored ze winning goal in ze European Championships, Dennis! Maybe you should sink about zat! What ’ave you ever won in international football?
PARLOUR: Come on Sylvain, listen to the lads, it’s for the good of all of us.
WILTORD: You may be ze Romford Pelé, Ray-monde, but I look like ze real one! Eighteen international goals I ’ave scored – I ’ave more goals than you ’ave games in international football! Which one of us is so important to ze team that ’e even ’as to play in ze crappy Carling Cup? Which one of us ’as started ze most games zis season? Which one of us loves zis club so much ’e went on strike to get ’ere? Which one of us . . .
WENGER: Sylvain! Everyone else is out on the pitch waiting to start! Hurry up or I will have to put Kanu on, and even I do not want to do that!
Wiltord runs out onto the pitch and takes up position behind the opposition full back (before the kick-off has been taken).
So what is the answer? Buggered if I know. Wiltord’s relationship with the offside law is one of those seemingly unsolvable mysteries of football, like why don’t Arsenal practise penalties, and why does Emile Heskey get picked for England. I live in hope that Sylvain will catch on sooner or later and suddenly turn into a 30-goals-a-season man. But in the meantime I merely thank the FA for changing the ‘not interfering’ part of the offside rule, because without that I doubt our Sylvain would ever be caught ONside.
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