I must admit, it started as a joke. But the joke has grown and morphed into a genuine appreciation. There’s just some indefinable quality, or collection of qualities, Eboue possesses that makes the myth of the man so easy to perpetuate and even easier to warm to.
After being booked in the 2006/2007 season, I can’t even remember who against, the Ivorian lay almost prostrate at the referee’s feet remonstrating with a grimace that pertained to sheer heartbreak. That was the moment my friends and I fell in love with Emmanuel Eboue. At various junctures in the match, as with any game he plays now, his overtly boisterous good nature was on show and his heart very much on his sleeve. He was also suffering a little bit at the time; he had not quite recaptured the consistent performances of the previous season and many rival (and home) supporters grew critical of his on-field theatrics. I was left wondering what exactly it is about this chap that people either found endearing or exasperating.
If you search for Emmanuel Eboue on Facebook you are directed to a host of groups and fan pages: Vote Eboue on the 6th of May, Eboue to be the next doctor in Doctor Who, Emmanuel Eboue – public figure…and many forum users incorporate the Ivory Coast international into similarly inventive screen names: The_Paladin_of_Eboue…Man_Bear_Eboue…To-Beat-Eboue-You-Must-Become-Eboue are just three from memory. The snippets we receive from inside Arsenal all fuel the fire for his viral fan base:
“It was at Gilberto’s house,” ex team mate, Adebayor, said of Eboue that same season. “It wasn’t even a fancy-dress party but there was Eboue, dressed as a tiger, with a tail and everything, waiting for me behind the door. When I arrived he made a big noise like a tiger roaring. For a moment I was in a big panic but then I saw him and I thought, ‘Oh it’s only Eboue’….”
Couple the perennial appearance of Eboue as The Joker and Best Dancer in Soccer Am’s ‘Teammates’ section with the ubiquitous access to the internet and we have the ingredients for a semi mythical cult following for the Ivorian. He seems to have engendered the best and worst that football support has to offer in his time at Arsenal: from being boo’d by home supporters after his fleeting appearance against Wigan last season to now being imaginatively and light-heartedly lauded via the internet – the game and its affects continue to surprise.
One thing I am certain of is that there is a tangible warmth and sincerity in his demeanour that supporters are receptive to. Unlike many shirt kissers and impassioned goal celebrators I find a far more veritable affection for Arsenal, its manager, and its fans in Eboue’s behaviour. When on the bench or warming up on the sidelines you feel he is a supporter of the team (he’s invariably involved in the melee of celebration after a goal even when he’s not supposed to be on the pitch!). The players evidently value him as a member of the team and this leads to an often overlooked aspect of football; the importance of a healthy dynamic behind the scenes.
We judge footballers, and correctly so, for the 90 minutes they produce on any given weekend. As a footballer, Eboue does his job. He is a good player with many attributes and is part of the squad on merit. Whilst he won’t be distinguished in Arsenal’s history for his ability on the ball he has definitely garnered a pocket of dedicated supporters because of his personality. He plays football, he dances behind the scenes and – occasionally – on the pitch, and makes a lot of people laugh. It’s alien to think of footballers as young men with the same proclivities we have in our own friendship circles yet it is probably for this reason that I enjoy Eboue and everything he does on the pitch. He is a footballer and he has a job to do. But there is some personality on show.
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