Granit Xhaka. Hero or villain? Thug or genius? Timeless or mistimed? It’s a discussion that has rolled on among the Arsenal fanbase and the media ever since his arrival from Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Sunday afternoon saw what may be his final-ever performance in an Arsenal shirt. A 5-0 demolition of hapless Wolverhampton Wanderers saw Arsenal sign off their 22/23 campaign in style as they finished 2nd behind Manchester City.
Ultimately, it was a bittersweet day. The 22/23 season was a remarkable campaign from all involved, but also one tinged with a hint of regret. Arsenal led the Premier League table for a record-breaking 93% of the campaign, becoming the longest reigning table-toppers to not ultimately lift the trophy in May.
But Arsenal’s capitulation had been all but confirmed a few weeks prior. Back-to-back draws, sloppy defensive work and general mental fatigue plagued the squad in the final weeks of the season and, eventually, their fate was sealed. However, Sunday proved to be the final goodbye for many players.
It seems logical to assume that for at least two or three players, this was an unofficial goodbye. Defender Rob Holding seems unlikely to be seen in the famous red and white come next season, while Kieran Tierney may also be forced to seek pastures new.
However, it was Granit Xhaka who was the centre of attention. Two goals, the latter of which was marked by the Swiss international running to the bench, high-fiving the coaching staff and sharing a warm embrace with midfield cohort Mohamed Elneny, seemed to all but confirm that this would likely be the final time Arsenal fans would lay eyes on Xhaka in an Arsenal shirt.
“Granit Xhaka, we want you to stay” rang throughout the Emirates Stadium as he left the field as a 74th-minute substitute. The scene could not have illustrated the completion of Xhaka’s so-called redemption arc better. It was only three seasons or so prior that Xhaka’s substitution had been greeted by cheers, jeers, cat-calling and boos – now it was adulation.
Neither Xhaka nor the Arsenal fanbase would have by any means forgotten these ugly scenes. But, as Xhaka left the field for what may be his final time, both player and fanbase were given the chance to reflect on a relationship that has been as volatile as it was enthralling, as entertaining as it was dramatic and as bitter as it was sweet.
This is the story of how the man who was once booed off the pitch by his own fans, became the man who was now being begged to never leave.
To really tell the full story of how Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal story began, we must first cast our minds back to another player’s final appearance.
As the sun shone brightly in Islington on the 15th of May 2016, Arsène Wenger leapt from his seat, clapping his hands. A quick cutback from Alexis Sánchez in the penalty area was seized upon and turned in by the club captain Mikel Arteta, bouncing off the crossbar and off the back of goalkeeper Mark Bunn.
This would be Arteta’s final appearance in an Arsenal shirt. This too had been a season in which Arsenal finished second in the Premier League. The fairytale story of Leicester City’s improbable 500/1 title win had been the feel-good story of sport that season and Arsenal were left reeling at the chance to see another title go begging.
Arteta’s retirement was confirmed. He would be leaving Arsenal and joining the established ranks of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City as an assistant coach. Despite offers from Tottenham and Arsenal, Arteta had decided to leave and would be leaving a gap behind him.
He would not be the only one. Fan favourite Tomáš Rosický was also on his way out and so too was Mathieu Flamini. Arsenal now had three midfielders to replace in a single window and Wenger, ever the talent spotter, had just the man in mind. The ideal midfielder would be in the mould of all three players. The versatility of Rosický, the tenacity of Flamini and the innate box-to-box qualities of Arteta, were all highly desirable.
Unsurprisingly, it was Leicester City’s N’Golo Kanté who was top of Wenger’s list. Leicester’s title win had seen plenty of industrious players make their marks. Riyad Mahrez had single-handedly caused long-term damage to several Premier League left-backs and Jamie Vardy was still in the throws of the romantic zero to hero story, but Kanté had been the man who made it all possible.
Like Gilberto Silva in Arsenal’s Invincible season, Kanté’s performances had kept the team ticking over.
Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis, along with chief negotiator Dick Law had been working tirelessley to sign the French midfielder, however, in the end, Arsenal decided to pull out of the deal, allowing Chelsea to sign him instead. Football Leaks revealed that £10.6m was paid to Kanté’s agents (Gregory Dakad £6.4m and Abdelkarim Douis £4.2m) by Chelsea, something that set off alarm bells at both Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain.
Arsenal’s principled approach may have saved them a FIFA investigation, but it didn’t get them the player they wanted.
Plenty of names were thrown around in Kanté’s wake, including Toni Kroos at Real Madrid, Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Borussia Dortmund and Victor Wanyama at Southampton. In the end, Arsenal opted for the relatively unknown Granit Xhaka at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Xhaka, a Swiss international and Mönchengladbach’s captain had been scouted over 30 times by Arsenal’s scouting team after being recommended by the club’s in-house analytics tool, StatDNA.
With the season over 10 days prior, Arsenal acted quickly to secure Xhaka’s services.
The transfer was unprecedented. Arsenal, as a club, have always received a somewhat unflattering illusion of being a team who likes to drag their feet in the transfer market. Many in the game have joked about how the club only really seems to realise that the transfer window is open in the final week of the window.
The early stages of Xhaka’s adaptation were tough. Initially, Wenger tended to prefer the combination of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin as a double pivot. This pivot combined the technical qualities and intelligence of Cazorla and the tough defensive nouse of Coquelin. However, slowly but surely, Xhaka began to emerge in the team.
Xhaka’s real announcement in the team came in a 1-4 away win over Hull City. Alexis Sánchez and Theo Walcott had already more than killed the game off before Xhaka flew an absolute rocket of a shot into the top corner to score his first Arsenal goal. He would then replicate it three days later in a demolition of Nottingham Forest in the League Cup.
But while the piledrivers were becoming a semi-regular occurrence, so too were the disciplinary issues. Xhaka had joined Arsenal with a propensity for picking up a yellow card. In fact, on his Arsenal debut, he was booked 19 minutes after coming on. A running joke in later years from David Squires, cartoonist at The Guardian was to accompany any mention of Xhaka with a small yellow box next to his name.
During a 3-2 home win over Swansea, Xhaka picked up his first-ever red card for Arsenal. As Swansea broke forward with Modou Barrow, Xhaka sought to break the play up. He committed himself for a professional foul. Normally a yellow card offence, Jon Moss felt differently and promptly dismissed Xhaka from the field of play with a straight red card.
The previous season, when Arteta had been at the club, Arsenal finished 2nd. They arguably should have finished 3rd, but a late Tottenham capitulation away to already-relegated Newcastle handed Arsenal a reprieve. This season, Arsenal deserved to finish 4th and finished 5th.
This meant that for the first time since 1999, the team had failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The club, who desperately relied on the income of the competition in their quest to remain afloat financially amidst their stadium repayments and Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, were not impressed.
The competition itself had been a pretty embarrassing one too that season. A debilitating 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Round of 16, would then be replicated a fortnight later, as Arsenal were humiliated 10-2 on aggregate.
The FA Cup, however, did provide some consolation for the club.
A controversial win at Wembley over Chelsea handed Xhaka his first trophy with the club and made Arsène Wenger the most successful manager in the history of the competition.
For Xhaka, the season had been a mixed bag. While he had by no means produced the sort of performances that Arsenal fans had hoped for, he has been far from bad. Though Wenger had wanted to deploy Xhaka in the box-to-box role, he was hampered by injuries in midfield. This often meant that Xhaka would need to operate in the defensive midfield role and, given the long-term absence of Santi Cazorla, often with a very ill-suited back-up – such as Francis Coquelin or Aaron Ramsey.
Defensive midfield was not Xhaka’s position. He struggled to adapt to his new role and in addition to the red card he picked up against Swansea, he also picked up another against Burnley.
Despite the mixed bag of his first season, Xhaka was still abled a flop by pundits. Kanté, on the other hand, lifted his second Premier League title in two years and was heralded by many as being the signing of the season.
Xhaka, meanwhile, was scrutinised heavily. Much has been made of Arsenal’s scouting set-up under Arsène Wenger and the pricey acquisition of StatDNA did little to help matters. Xhaka, along with other summer recruits Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Pérez, were exceptionally lavish additions to the team and none had looked to be worth the initial investment.
If Xhaka’s first season had been a baptism of fire, then the second was an unmitigated disaster.
The lack of Champions League football didn’t hamstring Arsenal’s spending power, but they certainly needed to be more careful with pricey arrivals. Sead Kolašinac arrived on a free transfer from Schalke 04 and Alexandre Lacazette arrived from Lyon for £45m, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang followed six months later from Borussia Dortmund for £54m.
Despite these arrivals, Arsenal went from bad to worse. The team ended the season with just four away wins in the league all season. For the first time in Wenger’s tenure, they were dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round, they were resoundingly beaten in the final of the League Cup by Manchester City and, were famously dumped out of the UEFA Europa League in the semi-finals by eventual winners, Atlético Madrid.
Perhaps worst of all, was the announcement in April of 2018 that Wenger would be stepping down from his role after 22 years of management. Xhaka, who had joined Arsenal in part due to the stability of the club, was now faced with the proposition of a new manager to take charge. The stability that had long attracted players to the club and had been the port in a storm for Arsenal fans, was suddenly gone.
For Xhaka, this was less than ideal. Wenger had long been a staunch supporter and defender of the midfielder, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Now, Xhaka needed to fend for himself.
An exhaustive process for a new manager began at Arsenal, as did a wealth of changes.
Raul Sanllehí was appointed the club’s first director of football relations, while Borussia Dortmund’s Sven Mislintat took over from outgoing chief scout Steve Rowley. Ivan Gazidis planted his flag as the club’s new face and, on the 23rd of May 2018, Unai Emery became the club’s new head coach.
Emery favoured a different set of tactics to Wenger. Despite this, the Spaniard was just as enamoured with Xhaka as his predecessor. He and the aforementioned management team had correctly assessed that Xhaka lacked a ballast in midfield. Large gaps were left in behind when he made runs into the box and keeping him away from the action was a waste of the prolific talent he had for passing.
Arsenal rectified this by bringing in Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria. However, Emery did not want Xhaka making darting runs into the box, but rather to use his long-range passing abilities to create from deep and, in the absence of the exiled Mesut Özil, become the team’s deep-lying playmaker.
Though this gave Xhaka less license to roam forward, as Wenger had intended, it did give Xhaka the chance to get stuck in in midfield, tighten up tactically and also provide cover on the flanks if they become overloaded.
Xhaka began to improve, bit by bit in his new role. When an injury crisis befell the defence, Xhaka was on-hand to showcase his versatility, filling in as an auxiliary left-back. Though his performances there were hardly the stuff of legend, they did give Arsenal fans a chance to see how vital Xhaka was to the cause and how the engine he possessed, something Wenger had always championed, would be essential moving forward.
Emery had been hired to get Arsenal back into the Champions League. At the time, Emery was one of the most decorated managers in the history of the Europa League and the club wanted Emery to get them back to the promised land of Europe’s elite one more time.
All in all, Emery’s first season was a mixed bag. The club missed out in top four by a single point, and, though they were dumped out of the FA Cup in the fourth round, they did make it into the final of the Europa League as hoped.
Ultimately, the positives were far outweighed by the negatives. Arsenal were resoundingly beaten in Baku for the Europa League final and a barren run of results in the Premier League towards the end of the season, saw them leapfrogged to fourth spot by a resurgent Tottenham Hotspur. In terms of performance, Arsenal had flattered to deceive. An impressive run of 22 unbeaten matches was singled out as being something of a red herring, given the underlying metrics surrounding the games.
Xhaka, however, had looked a man with renewed purpose. Wenger usually allowed the innate talent of the players to shine through, often giving little instruction to them, encouraging them to solve problems themselves. Emery, on the other hand, was totally different.
The former-PSG manager was a ball of energy on the touchline and few responded to the manager’s enthusiasm more than Xhaka. Though he was by no means carving out a Player of the Year run of form for himself, the Swiss proved to be an indispensable figure in the middle of the park, bringing composure, poise and flexibility that seemed to show shades of the player the club had signed two seasons previously.
A summer full of optimism followed. The club record signing of Nicolas Pépé for £72m was bookended by the arrivals of David Luiz from Chelsea, Kieran Tierney from Celtic, Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid and young Gabriel Martinelli from FC Ituano in Brazil.
An opening day win over Newcastle seemed to have Arsenal fans ready for a season of hope and promise.
This soon evaporated.
Arsenal’s form took a major nosedive and defensive issues plagued the team. Emery’s insistence on playing out from the back was, once again, causing issues. A tactic that should have been heavily worked on in pre-season, was still looking remarkably like a team who had never done it before.
Points were dropped. After a 2-1 win over Burnley in August, Arsenal only recorded two league wins between then and December, and these were often narrow escapes, punctuated with the feeling of “getting away with one”.
But other issues had raised their head. With the somewhat controversial departure of Laurent Koscielny in the summer, Arsenal needed a new captain. To many fans, Xhaka seemed the logical choice. Though Xhaka was by no means a popular player, he was the most obvious choice. He was vocal, admired by his teammates and was also the captain of his own international side.
Emery, however, was caught in two minds. Though the Spaniard admired Xhaka and thought him an excellent candidate for the armband, he was reluctant to make his pick. While Emery mulled over what to do next, Xhaka filled in as temporary captain. Eventually, Emery decided that the players should have the casting vote. A written ballot saw the players unanimously choose Xhaka as Koscielny’s successor, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as vice-captain, followed by Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette and Héctor Bellerín as back-ups. Xhaka was happy, but a little deflated. The players had wanted him as captain, but the manager had chosen not to pick him personally, this did not instill confidence and confidence was something Xhaka thrived off. No matter how impressive he may turn out to be in the role, he could not escape the fact that Emery had not made the decision himself.
But the worst was yet to come.
In October 2019, Arsenal sat in 5th place. A perfunctory 1-0 win over Bourtnemouth had been followed by an uninspiring defeat away to Sheffield United and an exceptionally lucky 3-2 win over Vitória S.C. in the Europa League.
With the team in need of points a pick up, things started well at home to Crystal Palace. Two goals in the space of nine minutes saw Arsenal take a 2-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes. A clumsy tackle from Calum Chambers had allowed Luka Milivojević to score from the spot, leaving Arsenal just a goal ahead at half-time.
Arsenal’s porous defence did little to raise the tempo and the team soon found themselves level after Jordan Ayew scored seven minutes into the first-half.
Tempers and emotions were running high and Xhaka, who had registered an assist for the first goal, was the first to be switched out. It had not been Xhaka’s worst game, but it was a long way off his best. Ironic cheers and jeers went up from the home support as Xhaka’s number was shown from the bench, with young Bukayo Saka coming on to replace him.
Humiliated, Xhaka handed the captain’s armband to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and began to slowly trudge off the field. Arsenal, chasing the game at that point, knew that time was off the essence, as did the fans. Soon, Xhaka’s slow, mournful walk off the field began to attract boos. Xhaka, broken and embarrassed, cupped his ear to the fans before mouthing “Fuck off” as he mockingly encouraged the fans to boo louder.
28 seconds passed between Xhaka’s number being raised and him leaving the field. Dejected and hurt, Xhaka removed his shirt and disappeared down the tunnel with the crowd’s boos still ringing in his ears.
It looked like the end of Xhaka’s time at Arsenal.
The incident had not just been related to a delayed and laboured exit from the pitch for a substitution. It was the culmination of nearly four seasons of increasingly bad blood between Xhaka and the fanbase.
Death threats, insults and mocking nicknames had followed him all over social media for a while now. Xhaka, a professional footballer, was able to handle it. What he could not handle was those same insults and threats being sent to his family members. This had been going on for some time now and had began to colour Xhaka’s desire to seek a move away from the club he had been so desperate to join.
Xhaka was distraught. Members of the team visited him at his house to comfort him, but the Swiss was inconsolable. Unai Emery had tried as hard as he could to comfort Xhaka and also reprimand him to the press, but such a line is difficult for anyone to walk and Emery’s language difficulty, not to mention his own waning popularity with the fanbase was of little comfort to Xhaka.
There seemed to be little remorse from the fans either. Though debates sprung out that perhaps things had gone too far, precious few were in the mood to feel sorry for the £30m man who had so far failed to justify his price tag or the trust placed in him by the coaches.
Unsurprisingly, Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy. Things were broken beyond repair now. The fans would no longer trust him, the players were dejected and such an outburst at the fans, justified or not, was not acceptable of an Arsenal player.
He would be dropped from the starting XI for a few weeks, then return and a solution would have to be found in January. Things could not continue like this either professionally or personally. Emery was promptly sacked a few weeks later and Xhaka, felt more alone than ever. Feeling unbacked by the manager, unloved by the fans and scapegoated by the media, it was time for a fresh start.
Though he dutifully returned to the team under the interim manager Freddie Ljungberg, he knew his time was nigh on done. Then-head of football relations Raul Sanllehí organised an escape route. A £28m switch to Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga was agreed and Xhaka was ready to go. His bags were packed and terms were agreed. Xhaka was gone.
Football has a funny way of working sometimes. Mikel Arteta, the man Xhaka was brought in to replace, would turn out to be his salvation.
A meeting was requested. Arteta wanted to get to know the players a little better and, though he had been well-briefed by Ljungberg, he needed to meet the players themselves and tell them his plans. One of his first meetings was with Xhaka.
At this point in time, Xhaka was already gone. A deal had been all-but agreed with Hertha Berlin, personal terms agreed and the January window was in touching distance.
Arteta told Xhaka that he relied on him. He understood Xhaka’s feelings, but his ability on the ball, his propensity for picking a pass and his engine, not to mention being naturally left-footed, made him an ideal player in Arteta’s system. A system that would go onto become a fluid 4-3-3 system similar to how Manchester City and Liverpool played.
Arteta’s meeting won Xhaka over. “Give me six months,” Arteta had told him, “Give me six months, and if you still want to go, you leave with my blessing, no matter the offer”. Xhaka agreed.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked any momentum still remaining in the league, football soon resumed. Arteta, a rookie manager in his own right, had been unable to undo the debilitating damage done to the team in the opening few months. Losses had wracked up at an alarming rate and such fortunes would take far more than a new manager to change.
However, while the team slumped to a humiliating 8th-placed finish, Arteta and Xhaka lifted the FA Cup, defeating Chelsea once more. Xhaka looked on during the trophy parade at Wembley, perhaps lamenting that he had not been the one holding it aloft, but he was convinced by Arteta and his plans, he would remain an Arsenal player.
The following season produced the same league finish, but no FA Cup to console people now. However, Arteta had begun to implement a change in midfield.
Xhaka, most used to playing in a double pivot, was now to be used in a midfield three. Thomas Partey, signed from Atlético Madrid for £45m was to lie in the base of the midfield as the defensive midfielder. This would then mean that Xhaka would play on the left-hand side of the three as a deep-lying number eight, similar to Aaron Ramsey. This would mean that Xhaka would have an elevated position in the midfield to spot runs and trackback, but also afford him the license to make late runs into the box when needed. Martin Ødegaard was signed from Real Madrid to be Xhaka’s left-sided equivalent, though based slightly further up the field, much like Meust Özil used to before him.
Despite this, there were still whispers and murmurs about Xhaka. A new contract was agreed before the start of the season and, despite the upturn in performances Xhaka had shown, the club were reluctant to announce the deal. Xhaka had improved, but he had still not shown himself to be essential.
The 2021/22 season began to see the beginning of Arteta’s plans. Xhaka flourished in the role and, though he only ended the season with one goal in all competitions (a trademark long-range stunner at home to Manchester United), Xhaka was now a man reborn.
Mikel Arteta had transformed Xhaka from a man who was once persona-non-grata to being the lynchpin of the Arsenal midfield. The tactical plan was working. The Amazon Prime documentary series All or Nothing gave an insight into Xhaka’s mindset. Though Martin Ødegaard and Alexandre Lacazette regularly shared captaincy duties with Xhaka after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s departure, there could be no doubt as to who the team looked to in a moment of crisis.
Xhaka had all the marks of a man who knew the standards of the club now. A scathing review of the team’s 2-0 defeat to Newcastle that all-but cost them Champions League qualification was dubbed a disgrace by pundits, but Arsenal fans agreed with him. Xhaka understood that the team had let themselves down badly. They had turned in a performance that was not befitting of the badge they played under and Xhaka would not let them forget it.
The 2022/23 season is perhaps the magnum opus of Arteta’s plans for the midfielder. Seamlessly inter-changing with new-signing Oleksandr Zinchenko, Xhaka found more space to operate and more chances for goals.
Xhaka ended the season with a career-best of 9 goals in all competitions and 7 assists. Xhaka had proven the doubters wrong. From mesmetic displays over Chelsea and Manchester United, things culminated in the team’s away win over Newcastle United.
At that point only a goal to the good, former Gunner Joe Willock found himself free in the Arsenal penalty area. Jakub Kiwior and Gabriel Magalhães both scrambled to cover, but both knew it was too late. Willock was in exceptional form and, from this range, there was simply no chance that the Hale End graduate would miss from there. Then miraculously, incredibly, the ball was slid from beneath him. Xhaka, who had sprinted the entire length of the field to help his team had thrown caution to the winds and produced inarguably one of the tackles of the season to save his team.
In any other season, this moment would encapsulate the redemption of the player in full. A tireless, selfless act that shows why three separate Arsenal managers (four including Freddie Ljungberg) have persistently put Xhaka in their teams.
But, it will be his final appearance that will perhaps be remembered more. A brace against Wolves and the crowd chanting his name with a banner reading “Thank You, Granit” be unfurled among the crowd. There is perhaps no greater accomplishment for Xhaka than this.
When Xhaka signed for Arsenal, Arsène Wenger explained why he was so enamoured with the player.
“He likes to sit, give good long balls and be available for the centre-backs. He has a good mixture of short and long balls, and in midfield it is important for us to sometimes stretch defenders.
We have a game that is based on shorter passes than other teams so sometimes you have a player who can kick the longer ball gives us a chance to get some oxygen and some space.
He has a good engine, good stature, he is good in the air and has a good balance in his game, he has a good short ball and a good long ball.”Arsène Wenger on Granit Xhaka
This quote shows what Xhaka was brought in to do. Initially, Xhaka failed to reach many of these things for the club. Injuries to midfield, coupled with an inconsistent pairing of partners meant that Xhaka was largely forced to focus on other areas of his game.
Now, as he likely leaves the club, Wenger’s prophesying can once again come true. In his new role, Xhaka is often the first outball for the central defenders when looking to progress the play. Though he can bring the ball out of defence, he often allows the defence to sit deep while he progresses the play, something he had not been able to do in his first few seasons.
Long balls are still something of a weakness, but given that Arsenal often tend to favour a quick build-up through short passes, this is often irrelevant. His passing has improved markedly. In the 2021/22 season Xhaka recorded a pass completion rate of 92.2%. While the figure has dropped in the two most recent seasons, his key passes have improved to nearly 1.9 per game, often as high as 2.3, culminating this season with 7 assists.
Despite the fairytale ended afforded to him on Sunday afternoon, Xhaka leaves Arsenal with a complicated legacy. It’s difficult to call him a modern legend, but it’s difficult to argue that he is not one of the most important the club has had in recent seasons.
A move to Bayer Leverkusen looks ever-more likely. Though Arsenal fans will balk at the €15m price tag supposedly being set, few can argue with Xhaka’s decision to leave nor the fact that Arsenal and the player need to move on.
Xhaka needs guaranteed minutes, he also needs a change of scenery. Better to leave with them wanting more, than remaining and wishing you’d left long ago.
For Arsenal, they need a younger player. Xhaka has been excellent in his role, but its time to turn to a specialist. A young, exciting, big money signing will likely whet the fan’s appetite, but Xhaka instead of being the man to replace, has now become the man who has set the standard of what is expected by those coming in. Can they replicate Xhaka’s output from this season? Can they produce 16 goal involvements across the season? They have some big shoes to fill.
All in all, Xhaka can leave with his head held high. Mikel Arteta challenged him in December 2019 to become the best possible version of himself, to give him, Arteta, time to implement his ideas and to help the club. Now, he potentially leaves as well revered as the man he was initially brought in to replace and begging the question of whether the next man can as adequately replace him.
Things are a far cry from being booed off against Crystal Palace in 2019. What a difference over 1,300 days makes.