Alexander Dimitri Song Billong is, without doubt, the most important footballer of our time, and, on his twenty-ninth birthday, I have taken the time to explain why:
He has made a career out of One Pass, and One Pass Only.
Ask yourself where Alex Song fits into a modern day football team.
He is not the regimented anchor man. He is not the man to land crunching tackles to break up waves of opposition pressure. He is not the man sitting in the gap between midfield and defence like a cold-blooded hitman, like Roy Keane at his knee-snapping peak, like Gennaro Gattuso full on neck-slamming Joe Jordan, like Nigel De Jong planting twelve studs on… you know the rest.
But he is also not the elegant, free-flowing playmaker, the luxury creator who can drift in and out of games at will. He doesn’t need carrying when his side are defending, but he isn’t a focal point when his side aren’t, either. He won’t get you fifteen points on Fantasy Football every week. You can rely on him for just about two. Because he’s always… there.
And he’s always there because of that one pass. That one pass that he did really well, like, three or four times when he played for Arsenal. You know the pass I’m talking about. The one that loops over the back four and lands on the left boot of Robin van Persie to volley home. Alex Song was really good at that pass.
He is really Flair when you least expect him to be.
Who does that? Who tries a rabona cross for Aaron Cresswell to chest down for Stewart Downing to flash wide in true Stewart Downing fashion? Who is this player? He is not a tricky winger. He is not Eden Hazard, or Ronaldinho, or Neymar. He is Alex Song. And he will do a flash rabona when a normal kicking motion is entirely appropriate and acceptable.
He has innate style on the pitch…
Broadly speaking, there are only so many ways footballers can establish a unique style for themselves while wearing a uniform kit. There are only three ways, in fact. And they are: The Normal Length Sock, the style most used across the footballing world. Boring. Safe. The Above-The-Knee Sock, made cool by Thierry Henry, and then made to look too much like tights by John Terry. And then the Below-The-Shin Sock, most recently spotted on the Republic of Ireland’s favourite son, Jack Grealish. Generally, if you are a footballer you have these three options when carving out a stylistic niche. But not if you are Alex Song. Alex Song transcends the confines of traditional football fashion. He brings the Nappy Look to the table. And nobody has even attempted to match it, or him.
…and off the pitch.
He reinvented the elbow.
It’s the 2014 World Cup, and Alex Song is the star man of a Cameroon side that has high hopes for the tournament. They don’t make it out of their group after conceding nine goals and scoring just one, but that’s beside the point. The highlight of their tournament came when Alex Song almost killed Mario Mandzukic with an elbow so vicious it could have taken
his head his back off.
What’s that? His back? Yes, his back. His spine. Running at full pelt, Song found the Croatian blocking his path, and, in an effort to remove him from that path, he struck him with a glancing elbow that was really quite inefficient at getting him out of the way, and quite useless at inflicting pain. A two handed push, or even a nudge with the shoulder, would have been more apt. But no, Song allowed the red mist to descend, and, faced with a variety of options, each with their own merits in the fields of 1) inflicting pain, 2) clearing paths, and 3) remaining undetected by the referee, he elected to use, er, his elbow. Which, given his position and speed relative to Mario, here, might not have been the best choice.
After entirely necessary treatment and some inspired use of ‘Pained Facial Expression’, Mandzukic survived the assault and continued the game. For Song, it was an early bath and the trigger for an extensive match-fixing investigation because, really, you don’t see people going around elbowing other people in the spine enough these days, so of course it stood out enough to provoke an investigation.
His Dad had five wives and he has 27 siblings.
No word of a lie, Alex Song has 27, two-seven, twenty-seven brothers and sisters after his dad had five wives. You read all of that correctly. You have to credit Alex because it was probably quite a struggle to be the best footballer in his own family, let alone good enough to win La Liga.
He won La Liga.
We’ve all been through tough times in our lives. Everyone has hardship. Alex has had his, presumably. So when Carlos Puyol approached him with the La Liga trophy in 2013, he naturally thought it was the ultimate gesture of goodwill. This was the moment he had earned, after that hardship, that struggle. He would lift the Spanish trophy that his fifteen appearances had gone so far to securing. He had given Barcelona his talent, and Barcelona were giving him the recognition.
Except, Puyol wasn’t giving the trophy to him, he was giving the trophy to Eric Abidal who had undergone surgery to remove a tumour from his liver the season before, and who had returned to first team action to complete a remarkable recovery. Some hardships are harder than others. And this is the exact moment that Alex Song realises that: