Had Matthieu Flamini not suffered a concussion against Norwich last weekend, Arsenal’s Champions League clash against Borussia Dortmund would have seen an intriguing face-off. The careers of Flamini and Nuri Sahin, his midfield counterpart for Dortmund, have followed a similar, quirky arc.
After 152 appearances for Dortmund, Sahin moved to Real Madrid in 2011-12, but could make only four league appearances through the season for the Spanish side. He was then loaned out to Liverpool, where he made little impact, before returning to Dortmund. By all accounts, Sahin has been back to his best for the Champions League finalists, and is rated by football statistics site whoscored.com as the side’s second best performer this season.
Flamini, meanwhile, moved from Arsenal to AC Milan after 153 matches in four seasons for the London club. At Milan, he only played a squad player’s role, featuring in 122 matches over five seasons, starting a third of them on the bench. Back at Arsenal this season, the 29-year old has the second best pass completion ratio in a team of slick passers.
Often, clubs that spend millions on players scrimp when it comes to spending the few extra thousands to help the signings bed in. When players relocate to a new country, where they are confronted with a new language and teammates, chances are that they will find it difficult to get going straightaway. On the field, they go from being first choices to having to prove themselves all over again, often in the face of immense pressure. Off the field, their wives or girlfriends might need to find jobs they like, and their kids will need to enroll in good schools. Few clubs have relocation consultants (Milan, ironically, do) to help the player and his family settle.
This is by no means a recent phenomenon. Ian Rush spent a comparatively unproductive season (1987-88) at Juventus, which split his extremely successful 15-year stay at Liverpool. The apocryphal story goes that, when asked how it was to live in Turin, Rush exclaimed “It is like living in a foreign country.” Mark Hughes’ peregrination to Barcelona and Bayern Munich before