Will Jones writes about football. When he's not doing that he's a  filmmaker  and occasional stand-up comedian.  Jones is an Arsenal fan. It's his cross, he bears it.

Will Jones writes about football. When he's not doing that he's a filmmaker and occasional stand-up comedian.

Jones is an Arsenal fan. It's his cross, he bears it.

Will Almond is also a Will, and also writes about football. What a world.  Almond is a Leeds fan, so he's just cross - largely down to years of boardroom ineptitude.

Will Almond is also a Will, and also writes about football. What a world.

Almond is a Leeds fan, so he's just cross - largely down to years of boardroom ineptitude.

It’s time to say goodbye

It’s time to say goodbye

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It feels like the end of an era. I imagine some football fans feel like this at the end of every season, and it goes around in something like a cycle as to who that is. You can hold onto a squad or a story, or something, for a time, and then its your turn to let go. It certainly feels like that for Arsenal and Juventus fans this year. But both Manchester clubs, Barcelona and a whole host more have also said goodbye to big figures in recent days and weeks.

This is our tribute to those who have decided it’s time to call it a day in one way or another and are now seeking pastures new. Some you’ll know about, other’s you’d have thought had given up the game long ago. But no, they stuck it out, until today. Hats off to them for that.

Arsène Wenger

The others on this list are hanging up their boots, whilst Arsène has unzipped his long coat, given his tie to a child and finally left Arsenal after 22 years. He may not be retiring, but whatever comes next will be nothing like what he had with Arsenal. His time with the Gunners being something he has described as his life’s work, his love affair.

It didn’t end as many dreamed it might – with glory in Lyon – but it did end which many felt it might never do. After 22 years, the fights, the make ups, the nearly break ups and the laughs there was only one thing left to say…#WengerOut, sorry, I meant #MerciArsène.

Gianluigi Buffon

The curtain has fallen upon Buffon’s glittering career at Juventus. Again, this doesn’t mean retirement – we all secretly hope, unlikely as it is, that an emotional return to Parma is on the horizon – but it means that Buffon is no longer the number 1 for the Old Lady or Italy.

He may not have gotten his gloves on the elusive Champions League in the end, but that was about the only thing he missed out on. More that accumulating silver though, he amassed affection. He won the heart of all Italy, which isn’t so easy for a Juventus player. If you can’t look upon the Gigi’s career without falling a little bit in love with the man, well then, you’ve got a dustbin for a heart.

Andrés Iniesta

Like peas and carrots, Clough and Taylor, Bergkamp and Henry – Xavi and Iniesta just made sense together. Be it for Barça or in the Spanish national side. Most couldn’t choose between them and wouldn’t have wanted to. Unless you’re Will Almond, of this parish, who will argue Iniesta was the superior player until long after everyone around has stopped listening, gone home, died.

Xavi bowed out from the Camp Nou in 2015, and now his old mucker has followed suit. After his final game, pictures emerged of Iniesta alone on the pitch in Barcelona in the early hours of the morning. It was clear that he was contemplating the totality of his near 20 years with the Blaugrana. I can only assume he came to the conclusion that it didn’t pan out too bad in the end.

Fernando Torres

It’s hard to believe the Europa League trophy claimed with victory over Marseille so recently was Fernando Torres’ first and last piece of silverware won with Atletico Madrid. The Spanish striker only took to the field for the final few minutes and was given co-trophy lifting responsibilities.

Torres is an Atleti legend, of course. His relationship with the club and the fans’ adoration of him is an odd one though. For a start, he played his best football for Liverpool, not in Madrid. Even since his emotional return in 2014 (a loan later made permanent) he has been functional rather than spectacular. He could’ve been awful though, they’d still have loved him because he loves them so genuinely. It’s nice to see and it’ll be missed. I’ve always liked Torres and would love to see him have one last hurrah on these shores too.

Michael Carrick

History will remember Michael Carrick as either a thoroughly competent midfielder who was a bit lucky to amass five Premier League titles and a Champions League crown (amongst many other medals) or as one of the most underappreciated players of his generation. For me, it’s the latter.

I’ll make no bones about it, I enjoy watching Manchester United lose, but I also loved watching Carrick play. It’s something we should’ve seen much more of in an England shirt too. I recently discovered that Stewart Downing has represented the Three Lions more times than Carrick, and it made me feel queasy. ‘Goodbye England’s Pirlo…’ (to the strains of Candle in the Wind).

Yaya Touré

Yaya, it’s been a hell of a ride. 20 Premier League goals from midfield in the 2013/14 season on the way to the title. The winning (and only) goal of the 2011 FA Cup final – City’s first trophy in 35 years. The birthday cake incident. It was all good stuff from one of the most genuinely joyous players to have graced the Premier League. There could still be more to come, but it won’t be in sky blue.

Thiago Motta

What is a ‘Thiago Motta’? A ‘Thiago Motta’ is a player who is always very good but not great; who you don’t hear much from and can often be forgotten or overlooked. There’ll be no overhead kicks, but he’ll never contrive to lob his own ‘keeper by deflecting the ball off his arse either. He’s just there, tick-tocking through the games. And then one day (today) he isn’t anymore. It takes you a while to notice that he’s quietly decided to retire, and feeling a bit guilty about having never paid him much attention whilst he was around you check his Wikipedia and see:

Champions League x2, La Liga x2, 1 Serie A, Ligue 1 x 5, and the list goes on and on.

Bloody hell. That is a ‘Thiago Motta’.

Per Mertesacker

Arsenal’s beloved ‘BFG’ (Big F**king German) has switched his boots for a suit and left his playing days behind in favour of managing the Arsenal Academy. He arrived in London in 2011, just after Arsenal had been beaten at Old Trafford. If I remember correctly that game was a hard fought 1 – 0 that really could have gone either way – some of the finer details may have escaped me though.

Seven years, three FA Cups, this tackle and one admirably brave interview later and Mertesacker is moving on. This guy will be the Arsenal ‘head coach’ soon enough though. Believe it.

Julio Arca

After making himself a hero amongst both Sunderland and Middlesbrough fans, Julio Arca enjoyed three seasons being the best player South Shields have ever had. He also briefly played for Willow Pond in the second-division of the Sunderland Sunday League in 2014. That is true. 149 Premier League appearances and a stint at Willow Pond. The game of football? Completed it mate.

Mikael Forssell

At the ripe old age of 806, Mikael Forssell has decided enough is enough. I have vague recollections of him being decent at Birmingham once and his record for Finland – 87 caps, 29 goals – is really quite impressive. Good on him.
 

So, some of the greats have gone. The pitch’s loss may well prove to be the studio or the touchline’s gain. Or they may simply go gently into that good night. Might they take to life amongst us, hiding in plain sight, living as we do but always, unceasingly, casting their minds back to that which was?

I’m sure they’ll be fine.

Guess now we’ll just have to wait around for their regens.

Part III: The squads, the fans, the money and the misc.

Part III: The squads, the fans, the money and the misc.

Rule changes part II: the referee and the game

Rule changes part II: the referee and the game