Eight years ago Alex Song signed for the best club in the world, now he is beginning a new adventure at a side that the majority of fans will not have heard of until this week.
In midweek, Song ended his eight-month footballing wilderness by signing with African outfit Solar 7 who play in the country of Djibouti, on the east coast of the continent.
The 33-year-old had been without a club since March when he and eight other players were dismissed by Swiss club Sion for refusing to take a pay-cut during the coronavirus pandemic.
Midfielder Alex Song has made a shock move to east Africa to join Djibouti club Arta Solar 7
The 33-year-old had been without a club since March after being sacked by Swiss side Sion
That high-profile incident was the latest in a career that could and should have promised more for the Cameroonian, who was bought by Barcelona in August 2012.
The Spanish giants paid £15million for his services from Arsenal that summer – a snip considering the 2011-12 season he had just completed.
Song, then 24, had shone at the Emirates making 34 Premier League appearances and dishing out 11 assists as the Gunners finished third. He had come a long way from starting out as a youth player at French outfit Bastia and also spending a spell at Charlton during his early time at Arsenal.
Signing a five-year deal the Nou Camp, Song said at his unveiling to Barca TV: ‘I’m very happy to be here, this is the best team in the world. Playing at a club like Barca is something I wanted when I was young.
‘I hope the team will continue to win, this is a winning team. They win everything.’
Barca’s 2011-12 campaign was almost flawless as they collected the Copa del Rey, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup prior to Song’s arrival. They had finished second in LaLiga and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League too.
Song made a name for himself at Arsenal and shone especially during the 2011-12 campaign
His Arsenal form saw him sign for Spanish giants Barcelona, joining in 2012 for £15million
Song poses for photographers at the Nou Camp after competing his move in August 2012
The midfielder greets Barcelona supporters by signing autographs ahead of his unveiling
ALEX SONG’S CAREER
+ Arsenal, loan (2005-06)
+ Charlton Athletic, loan (2007)
+ West Ham, loan (2014-15)
+ West Ham, loan (2015-16)
Rubin Kazan (2016-18)
Arta Solar 7 (2020-)
+ LaLiga (2012-13)
+ Spanish Super Cup (2013)
As the club looked to regain LaLiga and the Champions League, they saw Song as a squad player – someone who would cover the role of Sergio Busquets in holding midfield, but also as a potential centre back option in future if injuries dictated.
Then-sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta talked up his versatility in his press conference to raised eyebrows at the thought of Song mirroring what Javier Mascherano and Rafael Marquez had done beforehand at the club by transitioning from midfield to centre back.
The late Tito Vilanova, then Barcelona manager, tried him in defence several times that season without much success.
However, three months into his debut season in Spain he scored an astute finish from a Lionel Messi pull back against Real Zaragoza – with the Argentine immediately rushing over to congratulate him.
Song would start 17 games that season and helped the club regain LaLiga as they finished with 100 points – 15 more than bitter rivals Real Madrid.
However, the Cameroonian’s time at the club would be more memorable for incidents away from the pitch – as the subsequent LaLiga trophy presentation proved.
A sense of pride for Song turned to one of mild embarrassment when he thought Carles Puyol was handing him the league trophy on the final day of the season.
He had to take an embarrassing step back when he realised it was Eric Abidal – recently returned from a liver transplant – who Puyol wanted to lift the cup aloft to a full Nou Camp.
Song’s second season was less successful. Then manager Tata Martino started him just 12 times in 2013-14 as Barca only won the Spanish Super Cup.
When the Argentine stood down at the end of that term, his successor Luis Enrique made it clear to Song that he wasn’t part of his plans in pre-season by not affording him a single minute of action in their friendlies. He was the only player not to feature. It was the clearest of messages.
Song, pictured in action against Celtic in 2012, made 65 appearances for Barca over four years
The midfielder mistakenly tried to take the LaLiga trophy from Carles Puyol back in 2013 – Barca’s captain had actually wanted Eric Abidal (right) to raise the trophy with him
Song was shipped out to West Ham on a season-long loan in August 2014 making 34 appearances for the club. He impressed to begin with but his form worsened as the side began to slump.
Under Sam Allardyce they were third in the Premier League on Christmas Day but won just three matches between Boxing Day and the end of the season to finish 12th.
It was a case of deja-vu for the midfielder in 2015-16 as he re-joined the Hammers on another season-long loan. Under Slaven Bilic the club fared better, finishing seventh in the league that term. However, Song made just 15 appearances in all competitions.
Upon his return to Barcelona, in the summer of 2016, the midfielder saw his contract cancelled by the club – despite having one year left. It was a mutual agreement and one that allowed him to join Russian outfit Rubin Kazan on a free transfer.
However, the move to Russia wasn’t one of bliss. After one season he was close to joining Championship outfit Birmingham City in summer 2017. That move failed to materialise and just a months later he was back training with Arsenal having been released by Rubin Kazan.
In August 2014, Song would join West Ham on loan and started brightly there before tailing off
However, he re-joined the club on another season-long loan in 2015 but featured less regularly
Song was one of many players who had their contract terminated due to Rubin’s inability to pay their players’ wages – with he himself owed £7.9m. He eventually got the money after FIFA intervened.
To emphasise the dire situation placed upon him in Russia, Song was forced to live at the club’s training ground following a false promise of being given a house.
After six months of living in a hotel, he was told of the distressing news.
‘I spent my time sitting in my room and I would never even put the lights on when I was in there. I just sat with my computer, no television on, nothing, because I couldn’t understand any of the Russian TV,’ he told the Telegraph.
After having his contract mutually terminated by Barcelona, Song joined Rubin Kazan in 2016
‘My whole life was just a computer and phone, and that’s not healthy. I don’t know why I didn’t switch the lights on. They worked, but I suppose I was feeling low and I was on my own.’
Things did get brighter for Song though with the move to Sion on a free in August 2018 as he noted in his Telegraph interview of November 2018.
‘To have no money coming in made it very difficult. I had all these people working for me and helping me, and I had no income of my own.
‘I basically lost a year of my career in Kazan. Now I am starting games [at Sion] and I am happy again.’
That turned out to be a nightmare though as the Russian club soon ran into financial difficulty
However, that happiness turned to sourness as once again Song became embroiled in a dispute with the club he was at.
In March this year, Sion sacked nine players including former Arsenal duo Song and Johan Djourou after they refused to take a pay-cut in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to decimate the finances of clubs throughout Europe.
The Swiss league was halted indefinitely at the time because of the outbreak – which is still severely hampering teams’ abilities to bring in much needed revenue to continue paying their playing and non-playing staff.
Song and eight other players were fired after either failing to respond to a WhatsApp message to the squad from club president Christian Constantin or refusing his offer. Constantin wanted the Sion players to take a ‘technical unemployment’ deal which would see them receive a reduced payment of around €12,000 (£10,750) to help the club deal with economic difficulties caused by the league season being halted.
Speaking out on the situation, Song gave his version of events – adding that he is prepared to take Sion to court over what he perceives to be unfair dismissal.
After leaving as a free agent, Song (pictured in 2019) joined Swiss outfit Sion on a free in 2018
The former Cameroon international told RMC Sport: ‘My lawyer will take care of it, let’s go to FIFA. We will defend our rights.
‘We played a friendly on Friday (March 20) and we were supposed to meet with the president on Monday, then on Tuesday. We had no news.
‘We received a WhatsApp message on Tuesday afternoon to tell us that everyone had to sign a paper telling us that our wages were being lowered, that we were going to be paid around €12,000.
‘We were to return the paper the next day at noon. We received this document without explanation.’
Song explained that he was reluctant to return this document without fully understanding its implications.
Song is prepared to take his case to FIFA and take legal action against Sion after he was sacked – along with eight team-mates – for refusing to take a pay-cut during the coronavirus crisis
The former Barcelona player added: ‘I am a footballer, it is not my job. There are people to verify that [the document]. I couldn’t sign it, we didn’t have any discussions.
‘All the clubs are talking today. Our captain didn’t know anything. We decided together not to sign this document. We wanted to talk.
‘I did not make any professional misconduct. All the clubs talk to their players to find solutions. We do not understand what happened. No one can understand.’
As well as Song and Djourou, the other players let go by Sion were Christian Zock, Pajtim Kasami, Ermir Lenjani, Xavier Kouassi, Birama Ndoye, Mikael Facchinetti and Seydou Doumbia.
Despite having been without a club since March before joining Arta Solar 7, Song still hit the headlines in May when he opened up on his obsession with money and revealed he ‘didn’t think twice’ about leaving Arsenal for Barcelona once he learned how much he would be earning at the Nou Camp.
The Cameroonian hit the headlines in May as to why he really joined Barcelona from Arsenal
His move to the Nou Camp saw his wage increase from £55,000-a-week to £70,000-a-week
Despite being told he wouldn’t play much, Song didn’t care due to the increase of his wages
The move to Spain saw the midfielder earn a pay rise from £55,000 a week at Arsenal to £70,000 a week at Barcelona.
‘I met Barca’s sporting director, and he told me I would not get to play many games,’ Song said, in an Instagram live chat with professional basketball player and compatriot Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors, as reported by Cameroonian website Lion Indomptable.
‘But I didn’t give a f***. I knew that now I would become a millionaire. When Barcelona offered me a contract, and I saw how much I would earn, I didn’t think twice.
‘I always say, a young man of 20 who drives a Ferrari is poor, because at 20 you haven’t done anything yet. But a man of 50 who drives in a Bentley, is a man to respect.’
Song, who signed for Arsenal in 2006 and made 205 appearances for the club, has also revealed how he was blown away by Thierry Henry’s car when he arrived at training.
Song pictured on top of his Rolls Royce Phantom in 2015 – one of many vehicles he bought
Possession of cars are clearly important to the midfielder – judging by this Instagram post
‘When I arrived at Arsenal… I arrived at training then I saw the king arrived (Thierry Henry) with a car but damn, the car was a jewel and therefore I told myself that I needed the same car whatever the cost,’ Song admitted.
‘I swear that after two months I had my car returned, all my money was going to fuel and I told them give me a Toyota.
‘When I got to training, Titi asked me “but son where is the car”, I told him “this car it’s not at my level!”‘
May’s comments were astonishing admissions by Song. At 24 he had the footballing world at his feet playing alongside the likes of Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. However, he was too concerned by the money.
Now 33, that won’t be the case at the humble surroundings of Arta Solar 7. The club play in Dijbouti which is situated on the east coast of Africa. The country itself is currently ranked 185th in the world out Fifa’s 210-strong list, while they are 51st in Africa – with only Somalia, Seychelles and Eritrea ranked lower on the continent.
Song says Thierry Henry’s car at Arsenal motivated him to earn more and buy a better car
Last season Artar Solar 7 won the Djibouti Cup and finished fourth in the country’s top flight. As a result of their victory in the former, they have qualified for the Confederation Cup, the second-tier African club competition, where they will face Egyptian side Arab Contractors in the preliminary round.
Song has signed a two-year deal and will wear the No 17 shirt at the club.
‘I have signed a two year contract with Arta. This is an opportunity to promote Djibouti football,’ he tweeted.
As well as playing, local media report that the Cameroonian will oversee the team’s youth development – a decision made after he met with the club’s president.
If that is the case hopefully Song will tell those next generation of footballers to learn from his mistakes. Song won 49 international caps for his country and was part of a Barcelona title-winning squad but his career went off-key.
It’ll be interesting to see if he can hit the right note at Arta Solar 7.
The ex-Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder will be hoping for a fresh start at Arta Solar 7