The curious case of Mathieu Flamini: when a mercenary shows loyalty

Arsenal boss Wenger may not have been shopping in the gun-for-hire section of a Soldier of Fortune style magazine, but in Flamini, it is what he has acquired.

A mercenary. It's a dirty word.

In military parlance, the mercenary serves as an auxiliary force and operates out of motivation for individual financial gain at the expense of ethics. In football, it can be hurled at a player who has shown disloyalty, who has left a club over a matter of zeros in the pay-packet, has joined a rival or one who has transferred to a club specifically for cash, rather than for trophies.

Fans don't like mercenaries… effigies were burnt when Sol Campbell swapped Tottenham Hotspur for hated neighbours Arsenal, jaws dropped up and down England when Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea over 5k per week and Luis Figo had a pig's head thrown at him for heading to Real Madrid after Barcelona.

There are exceptions

Instead of transferring away from Chelsea when the Roman Abramovich reign at Stamford Bridge got underway, Winston Bogarde instead decided to see out his contract, making just nine league appearances in four years. He remained handsomely paid.

Bogarde isn't vilified, though, he has instead achieved a cult-hero status.

Mathieu Flamini was once called a 'traitor' and accused of committing 'beautiful treason' due to the manner in which he left Olympique Marseille to link up with Arsene Wenger in North London. The same comments were virtually made four years later when he refused to sign another deal and left to join AC Milan on a free transfer.

The player has gone from Marseille to Arsenal to Milan and back to Arsenal yet not one transfer involved any lolly going from one club to another. Every deal was free. Flamini – to his credit – has not shown disloyalty to those who hire him… he signs a contract, he sees it out, he makes his next move.

Flamini, still only 29, has a wealth of experience behind him, remains a quality utility for Wenger who knows first-hand that the Frenchman can be deployed in a number of midfield zones as well as full-back and, like many others who have worn the red-and-white of North London, has confessed to being a fan of the club (even when he was on his way out of the Emirates in 2008).

'Arsenal are in my heart and they will be in my heart for ever,' were the words he spoke after agreeing personal terms with the Serie A's Rossoneri in a statement perhaps almost cliched but, in Flamini's case, where the outbound player has been re-imported, there is now an element of reflective credibility.

'The story with Arsenal is not finished,' he is quoted by the club's official website to have said. 'I have unfinished business.'

Flamini may be a tenacious footballer, the embodiment of grit, with a young man's stamina, a menace's enthusiasm for a tackle and a general playing style like he was wearing night vision goggles, a knife between his teeth, GPS in his pocket and grenades in his hands but, just because he looks like a hired gun, doesn't mean he's not a loyal one…

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