Alex Song: Not Yaya

Every time anyone is signed by Barcelona, there will be a wide variety of reactions. Alexandre Song is no different from any of those. Having been purchased for €19m from Arsenal earlier today (yesterday for the majority of those reading this), Song is just another player in a long line of dissected transfers. He is at once a compatible midfield dynamo and an overrated waste of money. As someone who has not particularly noted his abilities prior to this, I tend to fall on the latter side of the argument more so than on the former, but as with all signings by Barça, I’m also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

To Sport, on the other hand, Song is an African who reminds them of Yaya Toure. It is almost as if, because he is also a midfielder, he must remind them of the Ivorian. They are both black, they are both African, and they are both taller than 5’5”. Therefore they are the same. He is described as a ball-winner, as a physical beast, as a typical midfielder. That is all Yaya, they say. Yet they defeat their own argument by pointing out that Song was also the leading assister in the Premier League with 14 (there seems to be a bit of a translation issue with “throughballs” and “assist” but that is the nature of statistics in football—I neither know nor care which is correct as it is about perception more than actuality). He is a ball winner and pass machine, Sport says. So he’s Yaya because he’s a physical specimen or because he’s intelligent on the ball? Or is it because he’s tall and African?

The United States considers itself an open country. If you have talent, you will rise to the top and succeed amongst the greatest. In sports, those who are able to out-perform will be exalted. The National [American] Football League is generally known for its acceptance of talent from whatever walk of life. Yet it seems obvious that whenever I watch a game where the quarterback of one team is white and the other is black, there is a wild deviation in descriptors used by the commentators. Tom Brady and Tony Romo are intelligent pocket passers with an eye for the game while Michael Vick and Cam Newton are athletic machines capable of making defenders miss. Ben Roethlisberger understand opponents’ moves before they happen while Donovan McNabb always had a faster reaction time than anyone. The bottom line for these statements: white is intelligent, thoughtful; black is athletic, strong.

Sport is no different in this. Alexandre Song is no more Yaya Toure than Seydou Keita was. And yet, because they are all three black, all three African, they must be from the same school: powerful, tall, and fierce. It is a trope and it should be watched out for.

I love Yaya as a player because he is intelligent, technically gifted, and has the tackling skills of a Gringot’s goblin in a gold vault. He is physically large and certainly capable of running down lesser hominids (“to Yaya” a person – Spanish: Yayaear – is to destroy their soul through physical carnage), but his true strength lies in his on-the-ball abilities. Javier Mascherano is equally capable of physical assault, yet he is not “a physical specimen.” Carles Puyol crushes the souls of lesser men on a regular basis, but he is “an intelligent defender.” It is a double standard and it should not be allowed to continue.

Whatever your thoughts on Song, whatever your opinion of any black or African player before him, be sure to judge him on what he actually does, not on his height or the size of biceps. Keita was not an enforcer; rather, he was a midfield genius capable of more deft tricks than he ever got credit for from the media. Do not be fooled, Song is an individual, not a player created from a sub-Saharan mold.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Canningtowngooner
    August 19, 2012

    As a Gooner, who have watched Song for long,I can certainly state that he will flop if you play him as a midfielder. He could do a decent job at Central midfield. The lad has serious attitude issues, and has divided the opinions of gooner fans. Lacks pace, wonders around the pitch.We have done a good business selling him for that. I am not being bitter, as I am a big admirer of Barca’s philosophy.

    • barca96
      August 19, 2012


      Why would you think that he will flop at midfield? Where did all those assists he made last season come from? All the way from defence?

      I am not familiar with Song but I do know that I’ve read many rave reviews of him last season. It gave me the impression that he is a changed player or most improved player.

    • August 19, 2012

      Yes, I’m worried about Song’s attitude too. I was lurking on another forum the other day, and a lot of gooners said he was sulking all summer and had a little argument with Steve Bould, Arsenal new assistant manager. On the plus side, Darren Dein the agent doesn’t represent anyone at your club anymore. Best of luck this season.

    • August 19, 2012

      Welcome, canningtowngooner!

      Awfully foreboding statements there… ay, you’re making me nervous! :mrgreen:

      Though, I agree with you on all points right now. Song’s never really impressed me, and this attitude as you’ve mentioned has never sat well with me — but he must have impressed a lot of (other) Gooners as he was player of the season after RVP…

      Well, guess we’ll just have to see how Tito plays him.

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck this season. Believe me when I say you have an absolute gem in Santi Cazorla!

      • barca96
        August 19, 2012

        You still haven’t answered my question gooner.

        Why would you think that he will flop at
        midfield? Where did all those assists he made
        last season come from? All the way from

  2. nia
    August 19, 2012

    I personally have never followed Song other than the odd fight i saw of him in a few years back. I don’t understand why Barca bought him as i don’t think he fits our style. Granted, i’m not a coach nor a scout but, to me, he seems like an impulse buy, someone to fill the books.
    Well, whatever the case, i hope he become a success at Barca. Hope we get to love him like the rest and hope he’s not sold after a year.

    • Jim
      August 19, 2012

      As someone who watches Arsenal whenever they are on TV (which is every week) I can see the argument about him being an impulse buy along the lines of if Neymar is going to cost us a fortune next year we need this year’s signing to be a more modest one.

      When I watch other teams I quite often think about whether this or that player would improve us and Song has never been on my radar. I suppose my opinion was pretty heavily coloured by his awful performance against Ibra where he basically lost two pretty similar goals through switching off while playing in defence. As has been said he is also pretty slow (but then so is Cesc).

      However now that I think back I can also remember some lovely possession keeping and through balls that he played. Bottom line I suppose is that it’s up to him. Can he show the discipline to learn our system knowing that his chances to actually show us will be severely limited? He is young enough that if he can, this could prove to be an astute signing. Anyway, he’s ours now so we need to get behind him.

  3. Judas Pissed
    August 19, 2012

    I love Barca fans. Everyone says we need to buy a defensive midfielder to replce Keita, so we buy a defensive midfielder to replace Keita, and almost everyone moans!

      • August 19, 2012

        But that is the Way of the Cule, as deeply ingrained as the phrase “We’re all going to die!” The planks are as follows:

        –X player isn’t good enough at Barca. We should sell.
        –X player, after he is sold, becomes legend, as in “Why did we sell ….”
        –Y player is mentioned, and he isn’t good enough for Barca. “We need ….”
        –Z player is purchased, meets those needs but still, he isn’t the right player.
        –Z player becomes better than expected, and the cycle resumes once Z player has a few funky performances.

  4. Jim
    August 19, 2012

    Really looking forward to tonight. I’m also liking what I’ seem to be hearing about Tito – wanting to win everything, no Iniesta on left wing, an end to the three at the back. What will be particularly interesting to me is , maybe not tonight as Puyol isn’t match fit, but when he is who the two CBs are.

  5. August 19, 2012

    I think that we have to be careful to not read too much into the club’s description of Song. I had a brief chat about this with someone on Twitter, who twigged to the same thing that Isaiah did, the “power” description.

    As we know, too many Catalans have their issues with black folk, but for me, I have been describing Song as “Yaya Lite,” or more accurately, Seydou Yaya. I think that he straddles both camps, even as he lives in neither. Better ball skills than either, good passer who will satisfy those who believed that all Keita did was pass the ball backward. I reckon he will also satisfy the folks who think we were crazy to ever have sold Toure Yaya, now that his legend has grown to superhuman size, because while Song has quality DM skills, he can get forward, take a shot or deliver that killer through ball.

    But he will spend a lot of time not being good enough. If, like Henry (and unlike Hleb, still waiting to see with Fabregas), he fully commits to the system, runs his ass off and understand his role here, he will be an excellent acquisition. The timing is also good in that he had a breakout season last year, and was considered Arsenal’s second-best player by many.

    If he exhibits the psychic walkabout tendencies that did indeed see him victimized not once, but twice by Ibrahimovic (thanks for that reminder, Jim), he’ll be run out of town on a rail, and should be.

    Euler and I were blabbing on Twitter last night, and Xaviniesta might be beneficiaries of Song, if he becomes what he can, as you can see a midfield incorporating Thiago/Busquets/Song for many Copa matches and early-round Champions League ties. Because Xavi needs rest, and you almost wonder if the realization of this, coupled with not really wanting to lose that Keita skill set, made Song the player we needed AND could afford. Dunno.

    • lyd
      August 19, 2012

      Song potentially can be the B2B DM the team needs during those pesky away fixtures. And give Tito much needed tactically diversity during games. Hope Song can reach near the positional awareness of Keita and still keep improving his elements.

      If Cesc with his so called Barca DNA struggles to adjust in the midfield throughout the first season, then there is no point of getting all frustrated with Song when he’ll falter. Hope the guy enjoys his time at the Camp Nou.

  6. ciaran
    August 19, 2012

    Unfortunately the black/white thing will be in the Spanish press for quite some time. It’s a cultural thing, and not just in Spain.
    I’ve seen Song playing for years, when he has been played in central defense and as a midfielder, even seeing him cover at full back a couple of years back when Arsenal had a huge injury crisis.

    He is a good player. Maybe not a €19million player but is Javi Martinez worth the €40million that he would have cost? He had 3 years left on his contract and Arsenal did not need to sell. He expressed his desire to move to us which probably saved us a few million.

    In terms of what he offers, yes he is physically stronger than most of our midfielders and gives us more height. He finds space intelligently like Keita did and is certainly a more direct passer of the ball than Keita. Defensively he isn’t as strong as Busquets or Yaya but is certainly miles ahead of JDS or Oriol Romeu.

    Overall, IMO he is a good solid signing and by all accounts from Arsenal’s players is a very good guy and should adapt well. It’ll help that Cesc is there as they will have some chemistry so I’m relatively happy even though he wouldn’t have been my first choice.

  7. August 19, 2012

    Fully agreed, Isaiah! And for all we know, Tito might have bought Song to be a forward. 😉

    Seriously though, I’m on the fence. Was never impressed by him all the times we’ve played Arsenal. He seemed to foul way too much, lack discipline, was slow (not that big of a deal tho), and as Jim mentioned above, was absolutely horrid against us when we had Ibra. Granted that was what? two seasons ago? He’s probably improved since then.

    He was voted second best player of the season (after RVP methinks) by Gooners this year, so I figure he must be doing something right.

    As I was saying on Twitter, it’s better if we keep an open mind when judging Song (heh). I thought similarly with Mascherano when we signed him and look how he turned out.

  8. August 19, 2012

    Like I said on twitter, there is only one thing I need to know about Alex Song: How hard is he willing to work? Everything else can be improved on, but his attitude coming in and especially in training will make or break him in this team.

    For now, I give him (and Tito) the benefit of the doubt.

    • lyd
      August 19, 2012

      Mascherano have already set the bar of “hard work + execution” really high. All Song needs to do is watch Masche do his thing in games/training and enroll into the course titled, “Positional awareness and movements, and how less is more at times!” asap, taken by Senor Busquetes! He’d get Cesc as a classmate, who is yet to enter sophomore year.

  9. August 19, 2012

    I thought Dani got a red card in the last game of last season, but he’s not suspended for today’s game?

    My lineup prediction:

    Subs: Cesc, Adriano and Afellay.

    The game starts at 3pm US EST or 9pm Barcelona time.

  10. August 19, 2012

    In other news, Victor Valdes is being investigated for being involved with a group of scammers who help people obtain nautical captain’s permits without qualifications, either through ID fraud or actively helping them cheat on the exams.

    Victor is accused of providing his ID to a member of the group who then substituted his own picture and then wrote the exam for him in the Basque country. I don’t think VV has been formally charged, and he denies the allegations.

  11. hansh
    August 19, 2012

    Anyone here a fan of Friday Night Lights (the TV show, in this case)? Brilliant show, and it touched on exactly that issue that Isaiah is talking about.

    The season starts today (which is fantastic!) but I can’t watch the game live unfortunately. I know people have asked this before, but where can I download the game after the fact without spoilers? From now on I can be the person to answer this repetitive question :).

  12. barca96
    August 19, 2012

    Some people here claim that Song is like Keita and some like Yaya.

    Some of the skills that Yaya could fool you into believing that he is a La Masia graduate.
    – first touch
    – calm on the ball even under pressure
    – good short and mid range passing
    – can be patient in possession
    – comfortable at both his new postions; DM & CB

    And besides having those La Masia like skills, he also had power in his shot knows how to penetrate, not scared taking on defenders and can be very fast if he wants to.

    Keita is a work horse who became very good in his last season.
    – runs and runs
    – good positioning
    – acquired a good first touch last season
    – aerial threat
    – knows how to circulate the ball, patient

    Which of those skills does Song have to make him to be compared to Yaya or Keita besides the fact that he’s from Africa?

    • ciaran
      August 19, 2012

      – first touch
      – calm on the ball even under pressure
      – good short and mid range passing
      – good positioning
      – knows how to circulate the ball, patient

  13. August 19, 2012

    I’m not a fan at all about this purchase. Couple of my Arsenal supporting buddies are laughing at me/us, which is always a bad sign.

  14. jakem016
    August 19, 2012

    For what its worth, I watch a lot of Arsenal and I was usually pretty impressed with song. Their defense was always a mess so it’s tough to state how much of that was Song’s fault, but he can provide much of what Keita did on the field if he is willing to accept a diminished role (especially for the first half of the season) and work hard. If you would have asked me how much he was worth before we paid 19 million Euros, I would have probably said about 15.

    I think Arsenal are the real losers in this transaction if they don’t reinvest that money into a competent dm and/or cb. Having said that – and going a little off topic – Cazorla is undoubtedly (well maybe Alba) the purchase of the summer. I loved watching him for both Villarreal and Malaga and I’ve spent the last few years lamenting that he had to come at the same time as the current Spanish midfielder. He will have a Silva like impact and if Arsenal can balance their team a bit, they should have a very successful campaign.

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