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Sebastien Squillaci: A New Lease of Life

Jeered and laughed at, Sebastien Squillaci was considered by many Arsenal fans as a joke of a centre back. Upon his arrival at the North London club in 2010, Squillaci brought with him a wealth of European football experience that Arsene Wenger felt the squad needed.

Having played for AS Monaco, Lyon and Sevilla beforehand, the then 30-year-old Frenchman was the subject of much antagonism from Arsenal fans because he was awarded a 3-year contract; when just weeks earlier Arsene Wenger had refused to offer compatriot William Gallas more than a one year extension, his justification being that his general policy was not to offer a player over 30 more than a that.

Arsene Wenger had contradicted himself just a month later and perhaps Arsenal fans expected this so-called exception to the rule to be worth it.

Over three seasons at the Emirates, Squillaci managed to participate in just 33 games, often filling in when Arsenal faced an injury crisis defensively. In his first season at the club, he was given a chance in the starting XI as Wenger tried to from a partnership between Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci after a rather long-term injury for Thomas Vermaelen.

Unfortunately, Squillaci made a string of high-profile mistakes and the pace of English football was ultimately something he failed to contend with. Perhaps it was too great a task for a central defender to adapt to a harsher physical environment when he has already hit the age of 30.

Either way, Sebastien Squillaci was from then on facing an uphill battle to win over the affections of the Arsenal faithful and the trust of Wenger and the coaching staff- a battle he lost.

Fast-forward to June 2013 and Squillaci is a free agent for the first time since his career began at Toulon in 1997. Unlike several other players in the Frenchman’s unfortunate position, Squillaci took his time to evaluate all the available options before making what is likely to be the last step in his already lengthy career.

His agent spent a considerable amount of time negotiating with Swiss outfit FC Sion, who would have been forced to give Squillaci a sizeable wage to convince him to sign in a rather uncompetitive league.

In the end, it was not to be. In fact, the next two concrete offers that were to come the Toulon-born Frenchman’s way were from the two largest Corsican football teams: AC Ajaccio and SC Bastia. Both these sides currently ply their trade in Ligue 1.

It is unclear what exactly swung Squillaci’s decision in SC Bastia’s favour, although they were likely to have been offering him a greater wage. Squillaci ignored the lure of rejoining a club where he had spent two happy seasons on loan at the beginning of his career; but the ex-Arsenal man will be the first to admit now that it is shaping up to be one of best decisions he may have ever made.

The Frenchman has played 9 Ligue 1 games for his new club at the time of writing and has been a figure of calm and experience as Bastia manager Frederic Hantz frantically tries to develop a starting XI after signing no less than 11 reinforcements in the summer transfer window.

Squillaci has been an imposing figure over opposition both offensively and defensively so. Last Saturday he scored his first Ligue 1 goal for 7 years with a header from a corner vs OGC Nice in a game the Corsicans went on to win 1-0.

Perhaps most importantly, Squillaci is starting to get the confidence back that so convinced Arsene Wenger to sign him from Sevilla over 3 years ago now. He is a respected voice on the football pitch that his teammates listen to. Although Francois Modesto, the other centre back in SC Bastia’s starting XI at the moment, is currently the club’s captain; one would think when watching the Corsicans play that with the amount of shouting Squillaci does it is he who wears the armband.

Squillaci is clearly relishing being an integral part of a squad once again, a feeling he was certainly deprived of at Arsenal. His passion for winning football matches has clearly returned. His ability to read the game and be a force aerially in both attack and defence has given SC Bastia vital stability at the back and a target man from set pieces. There is no question of the Frenchman’s ability, but Hantz has been able to unleash this aged talent.

Hopefully, Squillaci has now turned the page and he will be remembered for the seasons he is about to have for Bastia rather than for his demise at Arsenal.

[IMAGE: L’Equipe] 

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