Gervinho: a lighter man in orange

Jonathan Wilson published an editorial during the 2013 African Cup of Nations in late January. The short piece highlighted the difference in Gervinho's demeanour when playing for Arsenal and when playing for la Cote D'Ivoire. Wilson concluded that Gervinho's delicate mindset dramatically affects his form. Cote d'Ivoire deal with his shortcomings by sheltering him, but he's often left stranded in front of Arsenal's fickle 60 000 on Saturday afternoons. Arsene Wenger commented on Gervinho's psychological fragility in a recent post-match press conference:

“I believe that sometimes Gervinho has lost confidence because he played in a very negative atmosphere during a period. Strikers need confidence, and [with] his game, even more."
So why is it that Gervinho is so diametrically different in Abidjan than at Ashburton Grove? A few factors come into play...

Firstly, Gervinho has a defined role in the Ivorian squad. Drogba, Zokora, the Toure brothers, among other veterans often warmly poke fun at him and have adopted Gervinho as a figurative younger brother. Most had played with him at the famed ASEC Mimosas academy as he was one of the last academicians to flower under the tutelage of Jean-Marc Guillou (read about the JMG Academies here). The team dynamic is therefore familiar to him and he has no issues finding his place among the 23. Take this tunnel cam as an illustrative point, Yaya Toure beelines over to Gervinho calling him ‘La fleche noire’ (‘The Black Arrow’, a moniker he picked up in Africa) and Gervinho breaks into a wide smile of familiarity. The awkward truth is that he seemed more comfortable with Yaya Toure than with the vast majority of his Arsenal teammates.

Gervinho himself is partly to blame as he only extended his adaption period by struggling to grasp the English language a full two years after his transfer from Lille. On the field, the very nature of Gervinho’s playing style  is prone to elicit infuriating reactions from spectators. It seems that whenever he graces the pitch at the Emirates, he consistently gets himself into dangerous positions on either flank, but just as he seems ready to pull the trigger, an unorthodox and uncoordinated convulsion overtakes him and the chance is somehow fluffed.

Gervinho a different player for Les Elephants

Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, the indecisiveness and poor decision-making probably won’t go away anytime soon. Instead the unsavoury aspect of his play may need to be subsumed for what he can offer under the right conditions.

Whether it is on the right or left flank, Gervinho always finds enough space so he can receive a pass, turn, then run at the opposition. It’s a quality of his Wenger recently extolled:

“He’s always taking the ball, going forward and provoking [the play]. Now he has found his confidence back, he’s a very dangerous player. He is the type of player who is difficult to find because they always go at people.”

Because Gervinho is such a rare breed, his game tends to make or break. A series of successful dribbles and passes and he’s untenable. A few gaffes, then groans from the crimson faithful, and he can turn into a deer in headlights. His Ivorian teammates, who virtually grew up with him, understand and look to lift him when he’s struggling. When he plays well, they make him feel even better about himself.

In a recent World Cup Qualifying match vs. Gambia, Gervinho was in a devastating rhythm. He terrorized both fullbacks with relentless give-and-gos and long, slaloming runs. In the 70th minute, Gervinho collected a seemingly innocuous pass and, with nimble feet, breezed through four defenders before laying a sumptuous ball off for Kalou, who couldn’t miss. Didier Zokora ran the length of the pitch to pull Gervinho’s Nike Vapour onto his knee and treat him to a ceremonial shoe-shining. Everyone crowded around, giving him playful nudges and winks. Then the crowd began to chant his name and he saluted them all triumphantly.

It’s true that a 25 year-old footballer shouldn’t have to be protected the way Gervinho does. The best players find a way to stoically perform in the toughest of conditions, but – *spoiler alert * – Gervinho isn’t world class. However, on his day, the Ivorian striker can be an extremely useful weapon. In spite of what Tony Gale may think, Gervinho does have buckets of pace and can be devastating on and off of the ball.

Arsenal fans now know what they’ve been dealt, and in some twisted way, Gervinho’s future at a club he loves may lie in their hands… or voices. If the hostility continues, Wenger’s hand may be forced to sell, but if they can generate that nurturing atmosphere a player like Gervinho needs, then he’ll be capable of this:

Gervinho vs. Gambia

*Tony Gale repeatedly questioned Wenger’s decision of starting Gervinho against Reading after this performance.

1 Comment on Gervinho: a lighter man in orange

  1. Great article its interesting to see in that video he has more conviction in everything he does he drives past players drives to the byline rather than the stumbling player who always seems to be caught in 2 minds also his cutbacks have more conviction more power and aim rather than those scuffed efforts confidence is clearly a huge part of his game as you said i hope all Arsenal fans get behind him from now till the end of the season if hes confident and at his best he’s shown he can make an important contribution what happens for him next season is anyone’s guess but right now we need to support him.

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