Unai Emery’s first job after being appointed the new manager of Arsenal, fans would hope at least, is to tie both Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere down to new contracts.
But it seems that an act of international diplomacy, rather than bolstering his playing squad, is his first task after replacing outgoing boss Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman called time on his 22 years at the club as the curtain came down on last season’s Premier League season and Emery, formerly of Paris Saint Germain, Seville and Valencia, was handed the vacant hotseat; and with it comes great expectation.
But it is to his diplomatic skills rather than his tactical knowhow that the Gunners chief executive Ivan Gazidis has called to placate an irate group of footballers from, wait for it, the Galapagos Islands.
Just before he departed, Wenger seemingly agreed that Arsenal would send a team out to the islands, which form a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean (one of the world’s best destinations for wildlife-viewing).
The whole episode came about when a tourist with a season ticket to the Emirates Stadium managed to coax a penguin enough to put on it a Gunners shirt before attempting to take a selfie with the perplexed amphibian (Spheniscus mendiculus, seeing as you ask).
Alas, the penguin did a bunk wearing the shirt before a snap could be taken and was last seen disappearing over the horizon. Two weeks later a third-generation local fisherman, Manuel Costa, spotted the red-and-white clad figure and after luring it in with some fish, managed to alleviate the bird of his top. A little bit of research followed and his love of Arsenal started. Within two years the islands had their own team, Galapagos Gunners, and a year later GGFC were the islands champions (the islands’ only other team, Galapagos Gunners Ladies, came second).
News reached Arsenal of their far-flung supporters and after some persuasion over the course of a decade, it was agreed that the Gunners should travel to the islands to play a friendly match in the only ground in the region, the Georgie Armstrong Memorial Stadium (capacity, 637).
You know the rest. Wenger was moved aside, Emery came in and it was immediately clear he had no conviction to fulfil the fixture, especially in a World Cup summer. Naturally, there was huge disappointment amounts the GGFC players and supporters.
Bergkamp Esteban, GGFC chairman, says at least he has footage recorded of the Skype call Emery, in person, made to tell then that the Arsenal weren’t making the 12,000-mile trip.
He said: “He was very charming, very diplomatic and his English is improving. He couldn’t have been more pleasant. But it is a blow. Everything was in place and we were beside ourselves with joy ahead of what we thought would be a momentous occasion. Imagine the delight to have Arsenal here. The whole population supports the club because of the penguin story, though, actually I don’t think it is true. I’ve never trusted ‘Costa the imposter’.
“But, no matter. We’re all fans and had made plans. The grass was cut, the pitch rolled and the half-time oranges were being flown in from Bogota but all that has been a waste because Unai isn’t keen. I can see his point of view, I suppose, but it is still a real kick in the teeth.
“But I must stress, it won’t affect our devotion to the Gunners and we have been given free tickets to a game at the Emirates Stadium so are planning a trip to the home of football very shortly.”