Oh Gilberto Aparecido da Silva. Oh a million memories. The Invisible Wall. Those short passes mopping up.
And on 1 June 2007, Gilberto captained Brazil against England at the first senior international match at the new Wembley Stadium. I remember sitting in a hotel bar watching the game just thinking over and over, “an Arsenal man is captain of Brazil”.
Then there was the shock of the news of his injury, the sadness of his leaving and the reports of the dispute with the club.
He was not everyone’s favourite at Arsenal but he was so missed during the long absence with the back injury that after that fans seemed to love him more and more – I still remember the cheer of when he came back from the long lay off. And quite right too.
He started as a footballer in 1997 with a tiny team, and by 2002 he was playing all of Brazil’s games in the World Cup finals. It was quite a rise to success in five years.
And then he came to Arsenal for £4.5 million. How could the fee be so low? It took a while to make a guess, as we realised the issues with his former club.
And after that he was an Invincible winning the 2003/4 League. On 19 August 2006 he scored the first league goal at the Emirates. He also won the cup twice.
And yet none of with Arsenal might have happened, because Atlético Mineiro had not paid their players, they were banned from transfer deals, and there were problems getting the work permit.
But he did get the work permit, and the transfer was arranged, and it was Minerio’s problems with money that probably took the fee right down.
Gilberto played his first game for Arsenal on 11 August 2002 as a sub in the Community Shield, and he scored the winner. Not a bad start.
But we also had Edu and at first it was unsure who would be the top man in midfield. Eventually Gilberto won, Edu moved on.
Meanwhile he was suing Atlético Mineiro for his past wages, while also getting his first medal in the Cup Final win against Southampton.
He played 32 of the 38 unbeaten games as an Invincible but it was at the start of the next season that things started to go wrong… the things ultimately diagnosed as a fractured back. It looked like he would never play again.
By September 2005 Gilberto, having fully recovered from his injury which affected him for 18 months said he wanted to stay at Arsenal for the rest of his career and despite problems earlier in the season he then played in the Champions League final. But the problems intensified after Henry left and Gallas, seemingly disruptive where ever he went, moved in, and up to captain (rather than Gilberto who was vice captain).
That seemed to unsettle Gilberto, and matters were worse when in came Flamini, and Gilberto found his place was under threat. But Flamini jumped ship refusing to sign a new contract, preferring to move to AC Milan for a higher salary but (as it turned out) far fewer games, and by 2007–08 Gilberto was back in favour with 36 appearances, although many of these were in Cup competitions. Thus the captain of Brazil was not always picked for Arsenal. It was bizarre.
I could not understand it. Gilberto was so good at dealing with long ball sides, of which there were becoming more and more in the Premier League as the lesser clubs tried to find a way to handle the quality of the top teams, but it was not to be, and eventually Gilberto moved on.
Privately he is a patron of The Street League, which organises football matches for homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers. It is a patronage which, it seems to me, reflects his own humble beginnings. And he’s a mandolin player and a guitarist – he is reported to have played in his local pub while playing for Arsenal.
And as you may have guessed from the tone of this little piece, he is perhaps the Arsenal player I would most like to meet, the Arsenal player I admire hugely, and the Arsenal player I was so sorry to see leave. I think he should have stayed longer and I remember him at Arsenal so fondly.
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