Mathieu Flamini has been one of most improved and consistent players this season. Let’s take a look into his footballing career so far… we’ll call him by his first name, Mathieu.
Mathieu started off plying his trade for Ligue 1 club, Olympique de Marseille (also known as OM). He was in the youth team and was the star of it and he soon broke into the first team at the age of 19. He debut was against Toulouse and he was on the winning side. The 2003 / 2004 season brought 14 appearances for the first team and victories against Newcastle and Valencia in the UEFA cup. His industry and hardworking style meant that Marseille were keen to keep him and offered him a professional contract in the summer of 2004.
Arsene had been monitoring Mathieu since his days in the youth team and he was free to speak to clubs from January 2004. Our scouting network had been in touch with his agent in June 2004, he met Arsene Wenger for the first time. Impressed with the character of Mathieu, we offered a contract and on the 23rd of July that year, he signed professional terms with us.
This move was somewhat controversial as Mathieu had previously verbally agreed to continue at Marseille. A famous quote soon followed by then manager Jose Anigo…
“This is a beautiful treason. He used me.”
Mathieu, now aged 20, joined the first team and became a utility player in our squad. He was unable to command his regular position as a defensive midfielder with the Vieira & Gilberto partnership dominating the team sheets. In his first season, he played at left, centre and right midfield and at right back. Being young, a few mistakes meant he wasn’t one of the fans favourites.
The following season, with the departure of Vieira, Flamini would have hoped for more action in the middle of the park, but with a few un-assured performances in that position, followed by injuries to Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy (and Pascal Cygan and Lauren)… Flamini played nearly all his games in the left back position. A sign of his versatility and his consistency of quality called for this to become his natural position. This season was the season of our Champions League adventure, reaching the final, with Flamini playing in left back against Juventus and Real Madrid.
“I had my heart set on returning for the final.”
He didn’t return to the starting line up as Ashley Cole was deemed fit. A bitter blow, but taken graciously. He did come on with 15 minutes to go in the final, ultimately on the losing side.
In the new season, Mathieu was unable to play regularly enough with the exceptional form of Gilberto and the emergence of Abou Diaby, and was still involved in a utility role. He did play in some very important games, and seemed to find the net every time. He scored his first in the win against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League qualifiers, and went on to score against Chelsea, Liverpool and Blackburn and all were vital goals.
However, Mathieu remained unhappy with such a bit part role and near the end of that season, he commented on an inevitable departure from Arsenal. Mathieu spoke in the summer:
“I’m coming to the end of a cycle.”
“I’ve just spent three years at Arsenal and my solicitor has advised me that I can leave as of the month of June. But for that to happen, I have to give the club the last year of my salary. The next three years [of my career] will be important. I want to play take my game to the next level. The Arsenal team is young and it has its qualities, but I’m playing less these days. It’s not easy to take and I’m in a situation where every player is asking themselves questions. Most of all, I want to continue to work and to progress. I want to score more goals, make more passes and finally win the Champions League.”
Arsene, however, didn’t want the player to go but understood his comments, and said:
“We have heard about Flamini, who is keen to go and play somewhere where he will get some more games. I’ll regret it but I feel at the moment we have to be understanding as well with him. We’ll sit down at the end of the season and see where we go from there.”
Well, Arsene and Mathieu had that talk, and despite negotiations with Birmingham, the player stayed with Arsenal and the rest is history.
This season has been Mathieu’s defining season. He started the season alongside Fabregas in the absence of Gilberto and Diaby and has made it his own. When Gilberto came back, many though Mathieu would be relegated to the subs bench, but Arsene kept faith and to Gilberto’s surprise, he was unable to regain his place in the first team. Along with Clichy, he has been the player of our season so far.
In November of last year (2007), it was reported that we offered Mathieu a new 5 year contract, however, the player has not yet signed and negotiations are ongoing.
His impressive performances this season have seen him linked heavily with Juventus and more recently Inter, AC Milan and now Real Madrid. However, Mathieu is hoping to stay.
“I like English football and I love Arsenal.”
Arsene has moved to praise the Flamini-Fabregas partnership. We have seen the Vieira – Petit, Gilberto – Vieira, Gilberto – Fabregas partnerships, but Arsene says this is the best partnership we’ve had. With Cesc a few years hunger than Mathieu, this is a partnership that could mature and be a integral part of our sucess in years to come. After the AC Milan game in the San Siro, Arsene spoke of their partnership.
“Going forward they are technically good and very mobile. Before we had players with impact and now the players’ strength is in mobility. Maybe they are less physically strong in the challenge than Vieira and Petit but they have a good understanding and they cover each other well.”
“Yes, this is the best partnership.”
Mathieu has progressed under Arsene to become one of best central midfielders in the game, let’s hope for many happy years ahead for both Mathieu and Arsenal…
Here’s a snippet of his excellent form this season with a super strike against Newcastle in a 3-0 home win.