Guendouzi: Arsenal's new Frenchman? Hold that thought
Few in North London, let alone England, knew of Matteo Guendouzi before his summer transfer to Arsenal. Unai Emery plugged him straight into the lineup. After playing all five Premier League fixtures in 2018/19, he appears completely at home. For those still not up to date, Guendouzi's 19. He came directly from Ligue 2. It's a similar story to N'Golo Kante's arrival at Leicester, with a lot more hair. Gooners can only hope for the same happy ending.
Yet Arsenal's not the sole team interested in luring the youngster away from France. Morocco is said to be sniffing around the teenager's eligibility.
Trained at Paris Saint-Germain's academy, Guendouzi went to Lorient. Over three years, he made more than 50 appearances for Les Merlus in both Ligues 1 and 2. As former PSG boss, Unai Emery knew him. Arsenal's scouting staff agreed he was a potential player in the post-Wenger era.
Touted as a hot prospect, supporters expected a quick look at the new lad in pre-season before the regulars settled. Instead, he revealed himself to be a star, playing well beyond expectations right into the campaign itself. Still in his career's infancy, his ascension is a shock to the system. Then again, the Gunners needed one.
Amid the furore, Moroccan national manager Herve Renard jetted into London for a personal meeting with his young compatriot, hoping to convince the midfielder his international career lay with the Atlas Lions. Many agree with the dashing tactician. I don't.
Guendouzi's a Frenchman. He must continue to be so at the international level. If the opportunity to continue the current World Cup champions' success isn't enough to convince, there's the following to consider.
Guendouzi's instincts recall Andrea Pirlo. Both know the importance of a well-timed ball. They're architects when it comes to building attacks. Guendouzi thrives on delivering perfect service for his attacking players.
Such a player cannot flourish in any squad. He requires quality around him: players behind to win and feed him the ball, players in front who know what to do when he, in turn, feeds them. Such players surround Guendouzi at Arsenal: Lucas Torreira, Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey. He'd be well supported in France, too. With Morocco, such quality doesn't exist. Guendouzi would need to develop his game away from its strengths to compensate.
Pirlo discovered this harsh truth when he moved to New York. Although Frank Lampard and David Villa awaited his arrival, Patrick Vieira's side lacked the talent to complement Pirlo's abilities. As well, Lampard wasn't up to MLS' pace. There was no one to win the ball for the Italian. The game swirled around him as it always has, but he was isolated in the storm's eye.
London-to-Paris is no biggie. The journey can be made in less than an hour. Brits often hop the Channel for day trips. It’s easy and well connected. Most countries France visits in UEFA play are nearly as accessible.
Africa's a different proposition. Flights to Rabat and Casablanca are just over three hours. Travel within the continent's a beast, however. It's 13 hours to Johannesburg. In some CAF countries, accommodations and training facilities aren't up to international standard. Fatigue becomes a much greater factor. Given Arsenal's packed schedule, fighting on four fronts every season, Guendouzi's recovery time would be minimal. His football would suffer.
Morocco isn't going to win the World Cup in our lifetimes. France has every opportunity. If Guendouzi's weighing his options based upon risk/reward, Morocco's not the more appealing option. If he's seeking glory, he should remain with Les Bleus, unless the African Cup of Nations holds a special allure.
His Country, Not His Father’s
As a British journalist living in Japan, its a stretch for me to dictate someone else's allegiance n several levels, but Guendouzi must play for his country. His father's Moroccan but Matteo's French. Not just because the hospital where he was born nestled in the Paris suburbs, either. He grew up there, experienced the culture and developed his football at French clubs. Every day he stepped outside his family's residence, he left Morocco behind.
He may feel differently, as is his right, but why then did he reject Morocco last year? Herve Renard failed to convince him then. What’s changed? More people know him? France won the World Cup? He plays for a big club now?
Each new factor draws him closer to France. When you're young, you want it all and you want it now. The future's too far away to see. Guaranteed playing time's all Morocco can offer. Whether Matteo Guendouzi possesses the wisdom to see where his choice will lead is the important question.