A piece of paper.

That’s all that separates us, the general public, from being a professional footballer.

You could be the most talented, skilful, athletic, dedicated person alive today, but without that piece of paper, you’re the same as the rest of us; just another fan with a dream.

It’s an easy cliché: “I’d give up anything to be a professional footballer.”, because of both the obvious potential gains; fame, fortune, etc. and the comparatively low stakes that such a gamble would involve.

I don’t own much.

I don’t drive and I rent my current home.

But even if I was of mediocre wealth and I had a nice car and my house had a pool, would I still give it all up in return for a realistic shot at my childhood dream?

In a heartbeat. And so would you.

Now, part of that is because of the scale of the opportunity that would be presented to me, but another part is that to attain such a prize, there would only be a handful of valuable items that I would have to give up.

But if I were to fail, I’d have confidence in getting back to where I was before I took the gamble, primarily because I had so little in the first place.

So what if we raised the stakes? What if there was a significant financial risk involved that could reduce your standard of living for the rest of your life?

Would you still take the gamble?

I would, primarily because I’d spend the rest of my life second-guessing myself if I didn’t do it. But I’d have to think about it for a while first. And I’d still back myself to bounce back if I failed.

Now raise the stakes again.

What if you’ve spent your whole life training to be a footballer. What if this is your last chance to make it at a Premier League club, your last chance to establish yourself at a club contending for trophies, your last chance to get another contract? Now, you HAVE to go for it, not because you have nothing to lose, but because you have everything to lose.

So here’s two questions:

  1. How desperate do you reckon someone would be when they’re doing something only because they can’t afford to mess up?
  2. Would you trust that person in that situation to continue that level of performance once the desperation went away?

I’m guessing that most of you answered the above questions with A) “Wildly.”, and B) “Not in the slightest.”

And here’s a third;

Do you still want to keep Francis Coquelin after this season?

As good as he’s been since coming back from loan at Charlton, and he’s been hugely effective, he’s only been back for six weeks.

In that time we’ve played a total of three tricky games (away to Southampton, West Ham and Man City).

He’s started in all three, and we’ve defended brilliantly in two of them, whilst the third had Calum Chambers playing in midfield, so he can’t be criticised too much for that result.

But can we really give someone another contract on the basis of six weeks good form?

All players have good stretches of games and bad stretches, this might just be a blip.

Then add in the desperation to perform that we mentioned earlier, that’ll at least make it look like he’s trying, which, when judging defensive midfielders, will always make him look good, as we want to see someone always putting a shift in and not just standing around whilst pointing.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using the goal of a new contract as motivation.

Footballers are often mislabeled as “money-grabbing” or “selfish“, when in truth, there are plenty of us out there that would work harder at the same job for the chance to earn more money. It’s only natural.

But it’s also only natural that once that goal is reached, that a person’s effort levels will return to where they were before that new contract was dangled in front of them.

Coquelin might be the answer to our prayers for a defensive midfielder. We know Mathieu Flamini isn’t, so Coquelin will get the benefit of the doubt for a while just because he’s not Flamini.

However, we can’t possibly make that decision with such a small sample size to judge him on, and with so many variables at play in regards to his contract situation.

We also have to factor in the possibility that, after the recent acquisition of Gabriel, the only position in the squad that will need upgrading during the summer will be at defensive midfielder.

Arteta is already getting one more year, is there then room for three DMs in a 25-man squad?

Coquelin counts a home-grown player, but is that enough of a reason to keep him?

I like Coquelin.

He’s done a great job since coming back from Charlton, but it’s far too soon to be discussing any future contract extensions.

He’s got to show that the last six weeks were more than just the last throw of the dice by a man desperate to save his career.

If he can do that, he deserves to be rewarded.

Until then, we can afford to wait.