Arsenal defender, Bacary Sagna, will not forget Obafemi Martins in a hurry after the Nigerian striker stopped him from winning his first trophy with the Gunners, writes ’TANA AIYEJINA
French defender, Bacary Sagna, has been one of Arsenal’s best performers since he joined the Gunners in 2007 from Auxerre.
But apart from being named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in the 2007/08 and 2010/11 seasons, he has been unable to win team honours with the English giant in his five years from Highbury to Emirates.
The Gunners are yet to win a major silverware in seven years since they defeated Manchester United on penalties to win the FA Cup in 2005.
So, when Sagna and his teammates learnt that they would be playing Birmingham City in the 2011 final of the Carling Cup, they heaved a sigh of relief. However, the trophy drought continued!
In fairness, Birmingham were inferior in almost every respect to Arsène Wenger’s team. The game began and Nikola Zigic grabbed the opener in the 28th minute but Dutchman Robin van Persie restored parity in the second half.
The game seemed destined for a draw until Frenchman Laurent Koscielny’s calamitous mistake cost the London side the trophy.
Koscielny moved as if to kick a long ball from Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster and distracted his own keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the process, leaving substitute Nigerian striker, Obafemi Martins free to slot home what he later described as “the easiest goal I’ve ever scored.”
Martins, who was then on loan from Russian club Rubin Kazan, became an instant favourite at St. Andrew’s, as his goal gave the club their first trophy since 1963.
But it dented Sagna and his teammates’ hopes of ending the Gunners trophy woes. The player, who was in Nigeria last week for the Malta Guinness Low Sugar Workout alongside teammates Per Mertesacker and new signing Lukas Podolski, says he is still haunted by the defeat to Birmingham.
Arsenal had planned to play a preseason friendly in Nigeria but cancelled the trip due to scheduling concerns.
“Martins scored the winner against us in the Carling Cup final last year. It’s still fresh in my mind and it will stay with me all my life. He is the toughest Nigerian player I have played against,” Sagna told our correspondent at the Eko Hotel.
But he is optimistic that the Gunners can end their trophy drought next season after the acquisition of French striker Olivier Giroud and German Podolski.
He feels Wenger’s managerial experience will play a key role in helping Arsenal end their seven-year anguish.
The 29-year-old Sagna said, “We will have a great team and we just hope to win something next season. We will like to win the Premier League and I think we are getting even more powerful. We are signing new players and we look forward to a great season.
“The new players in the team are talented. For instance Podolski was named as the Best Young Player at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He is very young, very powerful and he has some pace and can even score. So, he will bring a lot to the team; we need these kind of players.”
“I think Wenger is more than a coach and that is crucial for us. He is like our dad. He stays positive even when we play badly. When we are losing a game he keeps encouraging us.
“It was evident last season when we were in 10th position and we managed to win a Champions League spot when the season eventually ended.”
The Gunners trio weren’t fit enough to participate in Arsenal’s tour of the Far East, which prompted the club to send them as representatives in the soft drink commercial.
But he now hopes to return to top form after a ‘disappointing’ last season.
“Last season was a bit disappointing because I had two bad injuries in seven months. But I had to stay positive. I want to play football and I keep working hard. I am looking forward to next season,” the Les Bleus right-back added.
And certainly, the dancing in Nigeria would contribute to his gradual fight for full fitness. Led by top Nigerian dancer, Kaffi, the Arsenal men showed differing levels of comfort during the dance routine. Sagna gave a nearly flawless performance, which some felt may have prompted Kaffi in putting him in the front of the group.
Mertesacker wasn’t bad, considering he is six-feet seven-inches tall. He was criticised for the lack of speed and agility he displayed in his first season in English football, and the routine might help him improve in those areas.
Summer signing Podolski seemed to have the most difficulty keeping up with the pace of the dance.
“I enjoyed every bit of it. This is preseason and we need all the workouts to stay fit,” Sagna said.
The three players put on a show, but Nigerian fans would probably have preferred watching the Gunners’ real starting 11 ahead of the 2012/13 season. And Sagna knows this.
The club has one of its largest fan base in Nigeria.
“We are doing our best in Europe to make our fans happy. We know we have lot of fans here (Nigeria). It’s a big opportunity to come and meet them. I am looking forward to come back with the team next year if I have the opportunity.”
Born in France to Senegalese parents, he sees his visit to Nigeria as a homecoming.
“I’m just back to my roots and I feel at home here. The last time I was in Africa was three years ago and I am very happy to visit again.”
Sagna had wanted to play for Senegal when he was 17 but he didn’t receive any reply from the West African nation, leading to his switching loyalty to the French national team.
The youngster was still playing for Auxerre’s reserves when his father sent off several letters to Bruno Metsu, the Senegal coach, asking that his son be considered for the 2002 World Cup squad. A reply never came – something Senegal would come to regret when Sagna made his Ligue 1 debut three years later.
If you think Sagna’s life is tied to football, you are making a mistake. The player, who was born on Valentine’s Day, is married to Frenchwoman Ludivine with two children.
“I spend a lot of time with my family. I have kids now, so I try not to think about football alone,” he concluded.