Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Arsenal’s quiet achiever
The awards season, a festival of inconsequential chat and inedible chicken, is at its height. The good and the great are assembling in ritual celebration of a stellar sporting year. Thank goodness, in the circumstances, for Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
We all know the stereotype. A footballer cannot talk and chew gum at the same time. When he needs to feed the koi carp in the ornamental pond beside the five-a-side pitch in the back garden of his mock Georgian mansion, he demands the presence of a players’ liaison officer. Chamberlain, to his and Arsenal’s credit, is different.
Arsène Wenger made him wait before allowing him to leave Arsenal’s training ground to collect his best newcomer award, given by the Sports Journalists’ Association. The manager insisted the England international finish his lunch before being ferried to the Tower of London. Arsenal fans, fretful for the future, would have been impressed by his maturity.
Accepting his award, Oxlade-Chamberlain was witty, saying “it’s nice to win something” with an arched eyebrow that even the under pressure Wenger would have appreciated. He was respectful, emphasising his gratitude for the fundamental preparatory work done with him by his former coaches at Southampton’s academy.
He also highlighted his good fortune in having a father, former England winger Mark, who understands the pitfalls of professional football. It is not an easy relationship – Chamberlain senior has a reputation for being the hardest of taskmasters – but it has provided him with a well-balanced education.
Watching him, on and off the pitch, it is hard to remember that he is only 19. There is a manliness about his physique: he is squat, muscular, but inherently athletic. Though the progress of Jack Wilshere’s comeback is attracting most attention, the Ox is a quiet achiever. He has the potential to be a pivotal figure for Arsenal over the next decade.
Wenger will eventually, inevitably, have to show him the money. For the time being, however, he is content to offer the teenager measured praise: “He is getting better, stronger, more mature, more determined. There is much more ‘man’ in his game than there was before.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain gives Arsenal much more than he receives. He is bold, resilient and urgent. Most of all, he plays with a simple joy, which suggests he understands the privilege of his position. Retain that enthusiasm, and there will be more gongs for the mantelpiece.
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