January February: Juan Pablo Angel – The Galaxy’s Latest Star
Last month was guest post month on OTP, but those rascals at Twofootedtackle don’t play by the rules. Chris Nee sneaked this article through after the deadline like Harry Redknapp with Rafael Van Der Vaart’s registration forms.
It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. You probably know that from somewhere more high-brow, but I learned it from Scooter. Regardless, it should be as true in football as it is in life; in the case of Juan Pablo Angel niceness certainly outweighs importance – read value, popularity, spotlight – and his reputation is all the better for it.
It’s a funny word, nice. In primary school lessons we were told not to use it in our writing because it’s bland, almost damning its subject to a paucity of meaningful character. Some football clubs and players are said to be too nice when they don’t get stuck in or have a ruthless streak on the field or in the transfer market. Sod that – nice is underrated. We need more nice.
Angel was, and is, a brilliantly talented natural footballer, albeit not exactly the tidiest finisher you’ll ever see. Making his name as part of an extremely potent attacking quadrumvirate for River Plate, the boy from Medellin became the record signing for Aston Villa in 2001. He was quickly taken to the supporters’ hearts, no doubt aided by the perception that he was a “fans’ signing” thanks to a pound-sign placard protest that forced the hand of Doug Ellis, the club’s notoriously frugal chairman.
For all that, his return was disappointing when considered over the totality of his career in B6. Save for one wonderful season, Angel was a typical Villa frontman: at once talented, frustrating, adored and unable to harness his natural abilities into a world class package.
When Villa’s misfiring attack was revamped, the Colombian said his goodbyes – or rather didn’t, as we’ll come to shortly – and headed for Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls. Unsurprisingly, he scored goals there and had four efficient seasons in New Jersey as the club’s designated player. A change to the designated player rule and his advancing years caught up with him in 2010. The Red Bulls signed Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, and Angel’s days were rightly assumed to be numbered. In December, he entered the first MLS Re-Entry Draft having been amicably budged aside on the east coast.
Here’s where we come to niceness. Angel’s time at Villa started badly, with the club supposedly failing to adequately support his young family through a particularly difficult time that doesn’t need to be detailed here. He was, at times, unfairly overlooked by more than one Villa manager. Despite this and his relatively meagre goal return, some supporters still look forward to the day he is invited back to Villa Park for a proper chance to say farewell. In recent years fans have been afforded the chance to show their appreciation for Wilfred Bouma, Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg, while Paul McGrath and Ron Saunders have also soaked up the appreciation of the crowd during emotional returns. Angel’s next on that list in the minds of many, and it’s not because of his performances on the pitch.
In New York, he left on good terms with fans and crossed the nation to the Home Depot Center with their support ringing in his ears. Angel leaves nothing but goodwill behind him in his career and that doesn’t happen by accident.
Popular isn’t the right word for Juan Pablo Angel. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, David Beckham – they’re popular. Angel is well-liked, and that speaks volumes of his personality. He’s professional, unaffected and genuine. He’s humble and self-aware. He’s a committed family man. And, as far as I’ve heard, every journalist who speaks to him or player that plays with him is struck by just how ‘nice’ he is. Let’s give nice the credit it deserves – it’s far too rare these days.