On January 5, 2011, Denilson gave an interview to Arsenal Brasil, a supporters group from his home country. Today, that interview appeared exclusively on arseblog.com. It was a nice gesture by Denilson to give the interview in an effort to connect with his fans back home. In the past, this group has conducted interviews with other Brazilian Gunners like Gilberto Silva. Denilson conducted himself well throughout the interview and gave some intelligent, thoughtful and sincere answers to the interviewer’s questions. Unfortunately, he also stepped out of line during the interview.
At one point, the interviewer asked about leadership at the club. Denilson responded that there were no real leaders at Arsenal and that it was difficult for the club to move forward without leadership. He was asked directly about Cesc Fabregas and Denilson responded that he did not regard Cesc as a leader. He said that Gilberto Silva was a leader, but that there was no one like that currently at the club. Instead, he suggested that all the players needed to talk with one another and that such communication was an important part of the team’s development. But he did say specifically “I think we lack leadership and without leadership we can’t move forward. … I don’t see a player at Arsenal who is a real leader. I can’t see a single one. Even if Fabregas is the captain, but he is not a leader to me.” These comments leave no room for interpretation and they are nothing short of damning.
Whether this admission is truthful and whether it accurately represents the state of affairs at Arsenal is irrelevant. Denilson needs to be intelligent enough to know that an interview like this will be seen all around the world and that comments about a lack of leadership at Arsenal will be picked up by the English press and sensationalized. And it’s hard to even criticize the media for doing that when Denilson has served them the story on a platter. Regardless of Denilson’s opinions, Cesc Fabregas is captain of Arsenal and it is tantamount to insubordination to openly question his leadership. It is particularly damaging to make these statements at a time when Arsenal are still fighting for trophies on four fronts.
Denilson has essentially made the decision to publicly undermine his captain’s role to a member of the press. Regardless of how Denilson perceived the interview, when you allow yourself to be recorded making those kinds of statements, you have essentially gone public with your feelings. Again, the truthfulness of the comments is irrelevant. If I went public with my “truthful” thoughts about members of a company I worked for, I can assure you that it would have dire consequences for my employment status. Denilson doesn’t have the luxury of expressing his honest opinions regarding his club. He’s not a journalist or a studio analyst. He’s an employee of Arsenal Football Club.
At first I thought that the comments might have been a reaction to the public rebuke Denilson received from Cesc regarding the penalty he conceded against Leeds. But if this interview was genuinely recorded on January 5, as it indicates, then it pre-dates the first Leeds match. In fact, it makes you wonder, just a little, if Cesc wasn’t aware of this interview when he chose to publicly criticize Denilson.
But Denilson’s errors didn’t stop with undermining his captain, he also provided his perspective on Arsenal’s goalkeeping situation. Admitted, he was asked very directly to name the best goal-keeper at Arsenal. I can understand having sympathy for his decision to answer the question directly. But as a professional footballer you do not have the luxury of providing your actual opinion on such matters. Denilson simply had to resist the temptation to answer truthfully and instead offer a response that was in the best interest of the club. Unfortunately, that’s not what he did. He declared that the best goal keeper at Arsenal is Manuel Almunia. He went on the offer praise for Fabianski’s performances, and hope for Szczesny’s future, but he stood firmly by his initial response.
Some people might agree with Denilson’s opinion. And that’s completely irrelevant. Denilson’s manager has clearly made the decision that Almunia is NOT the best goal-keeper at Arsenal and not the second-best goal keeper at Arsenal and Denilson has directly contradicted his manager’s assessment with his response. He might as well have said, “I don’t agree with Arsene Wenger’s decision regarding the goal-keeping position.” That’s essentially what he’s communicated by suggesting that Almunia is the best goal-keeper at Arsenal. Again, it’s a form of insubordination and thoroughly unacceptable.
I have sympathy for Denilson. He expressed some very sincere feelings in this interview and was very kind to even sit down with a member of a supporters group in the first place. But his behavior is at best naive and at worse subversive. He has questioned the leadership of his captain and the judgment of his manager. The comments have already been picked up by the English press and will be making unwanted headlines ahead of important fixtures for the club. Denilson is a player very much trying to prove his own value to Arsenal and fighting for a place in the first team. This kind of unwanted attention will be no help to him personally or to the club in general.
At a time when players are drawing negative attention to themselves via twitter, Denilson should have been well aware of the potential dangers of granting an interview like this. He should have been at his most vigilant. And instead, he’s chosen to damn his captain and contradict his manager. It’s a violation that must be dealt with by the club and I hope that he is disciplined. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of Denilson’s performances on the pitch, this kind of behavior cannot be condoned. In the past, Arshavin has said some odd things to the media, but in those cases the quotes were of dubious origin and rarely as potentially incendiary as these. In this case, Denilson’s words are plain for all the world to see and beyond interpretation.
Denilson has let himself down, let his teammates down, let his manager down and let his club down and must be taught a lesson about the proper behavior of a professional footballer.