What people forget about Marouane Chamakh, when he is lumped in among Arsene Wenger's worst buys for Arsenal, is that he was actually rather good in his first six months in England. In the absence of Robin van Persie, he scored six goals in his first 12 games (not eight in nine, as his new coach at Crystal Palace, Ian Holloway, erroneously claimed). As a free agent signed from former French champion Bordeaux, he looked like a smart piece of business.
As Chamakh looked back on his career in England in an interview with French newspaper L'Equipe last week, he pinpointed three things that hampered his progress. One was that Van Persie returned from injury that first January and started showing the form that has continued ever since. In those six months from the start of 2011, he scored 21 goals in 23 games. "He was on fire," Chamakh said, "so, of course I could understand Arsene Wenger's choice."
The second was that, at the same time as Van Persie's return, Chamakh was the victim of a blackmail plot. A newspaper was sent incriminating photographs of him, which it did not publish. "The tabloids talked about it, even though they didn't have the right to show the photos or videos," he said. "Between training, matches and this affair, it was not an easy situation for me because things about my life private were disclosed. The story brought me down but I have moved on now."
Then there was his loan spell at West Ham. When Van Persie joined Manchester United a year ago, Chamakh thought he might get a chance, but once it was clear that Olivier Giroud was the Dutchman's successor, he moved on. "The manager promised I would play as Andy Carroll was injured but he did not keep his word. Alou Diarra warned me but I went anyway. It was a bad choice."
Chamakh's interview revealed to me a fourth reason for his lack of success in England. Everything is always someone else's fault. Where is the personal responsibility? Okay, Van Persie was brilliant and that cannot be helped, but what about a 'mea culpa' for putting himself in an inappropriate situation for which he was blackmailed? Maybe Allardyce saw his hour-long performances against QPR and Fulham and thought that he was not the solution.
Chamakh told L'Equipe that when he did score a goal, he was dropped for the next game. It's true that he scored two in the 7-5 League Cup win over Reading, and was not picked for the next month; but maybe that was because those goals (on October 30, 2012) had been his first for 13 months (his last was against Blackburn on September 17, 2011). "It was a bit frustrating," he said. "But I may have been too stubborn to want to stay as long as I did."
Now he is at newly-promoted Crystal Palace, and once again he has been promised game time. He turned down moves to Greece, Turkey, Spain, France and the Middle East to fight against relegation -- "it will be hard to stay out of the [bottom] three," he said -- so he'd better play.
He did start in Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Stoke City -- and he scored a smartly taken goal, bullying Ran Shawcross off the ball before drilling home from the edge of the area -- but whether we will see the Chamakh who led Bordeaux in goals when the club won the 2009 French title under Laurent Blanc seems unlikely. Back then he was wanted by Liverpool and Zenit St Petersburg, before Arsenal signed him; he was brilliant in the air, latching onto the right-foot, left-foot set-piece combination of Yoann Gourcuff and Wendel.
"As a player he offered us a lot of options," said Blanc of his forward then. "He enabled the team to move up as a unit because of his work-rate at the front of our attack."
Chamakh is no fool: during his time in France, he even stood as a candidate for the 'MoDem' centrist party in the local elections. He doesn't regret moving to England and, now 29, still thinks he can make a success of playing in the top flight. "I would have loved to score lots of goals, but this championship, this atmosphere, it's extraordinary, even at a small stadium like Crystal Palace. And this is what I want. I'm going to get chances, and find the net." But if he doesn't, and Saturday's effort was just a flash in the pan, it will probably be someone else's fault.