Kieran Tierney has performed sensationally in recent outings. Due to his blend of elite play and old-school character, the Arsenal left-back is the great unifier.
As football fans have evolved and a younger generation that is more in touch with analytics, tactical systems, and coaching philosophies rises, there has been a growing divide in the type of supporter at a modern game. It is evidenced in the different types of pundits.
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There are those dubbed the ‘dinosaurs’. Think Roy Keane and Graeme Souness, who espouse hard work, character, commitment, a positive attitude, strong spirit and resolve. Then there are the swathe of tactical writers, analysts and coaches who speak about systems, structures, technical skills, and awareness.
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Both have their virtues. Keane, Souness and the like may often be ridiculed for their ancient-like views, but such qualities are important for any team and footballer. A strong work ethic is essential, as are characteristics like resilience, determination, and teamwork. Equally, the role that analytics and statistics play in the sport is increasing, as it should.
This leads to very different views on particular players. Mesut Ozil might be the best example in the Arsenal squad. Some see him as lazy, languid, disinterested. Others value his creativity, his unique craft and guile, his superb technical skill.
Kieran Tierney, though, is a singular footballer. There are few that span the gap as brilliantly as he. Technically excellent, he plays out from the back well like any modern defender. He also charges into tackles, shouts at his teammates, and aggressively stands up to his opponents.
His character is a brilliant throwback. That he brings his kit in a Tesco plastic bag is the epitome of his football-obsessed personality. He is simple, in the most wonderful way. He fights and scraps, loves the sport, focuses on his play, not his profile, and he does all of this while playing at a supremely high level.
All supporters are not the only ones to be pleased with Tierney’s. Mikel Arteta was asked about his new defender’s recent performances following his Man of the Match showing at left centre-half in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester City. In his press conference, the Arsenal head coach said:
“I think I can talk for all the staff when I say we are delighted with him. He’s a joy of a kid. He’s always willing to do more, he always wants to train harder, he wants to push himself more. He had some difficult moments since he joined but hopefully he feels [settled]. We really like him and we really support him. I really appreciate everything he’s done since we joined. For me, he’s a player who is a really good role model for any other player in the squad.”
Arteta, like many others, focuses on Tierney’s personality. That he pushes himself, that he recovered brilliantly from injury, that he is a ‘role model for any other player in the squad’. These are old-school-like qualities that Keane and Souness would be pouring over. And yet, when on the pitch, he plays his positions in such a modern, tactically aware manner.
Tierney, then, is the great unifier. He spans the generations. He satisfies all perspectives on football. He is a superb person and player, and Arsenal are extremely fortunate to have him.