Why Highbury beats Bernabeu for Lauren

Alex Hayes hears London's lure is greater than the magic of Madrid
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The Independent Football

Spanish football was all the rage last year. Barcelona, Valencia and the eventual winners, Real Madrid, set the Champions' League alight;La Liga was receiving worldwide acclaim and Spain's players, managers and tactics were the envy of Europe. So whydid Lauren decide to come to England?

Spanish football was all the rage last year. Barcelona, Valencia and the eventual winners, Real Madrid, set the Champions' League alight;La Liga was receiving worldwide acclaim and Spain's players, managers and tactics were the envy of Europe. So whydid Lauren decide to come to England?

And it is not just Lauren who opted for the Premier League instead of La Liga. The two other Arsenal new boys, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord, also turned down lucrative offers from Spain. Both Pires and Lauren share the significant honour of having rejected the chance of signing for Real Madrid in order to join Team Wenger. The national game may be in crisis, but there would appear to belittle wrong with England's leading clubs, especially Arsenal, who have breezed into the next phase of the Champions' League.

Lauren did not join Arsenal for the money. Indeed, he stood to make £40,000 per week in the Spanish capital as opposed to £20,000 in London. Nor did Lauren join Arsenal for the climate, the tranquillity or the food. Lauren chose Arsenal because he felt people at the club spoke his language. Not literally - the Cameroon international speaks only Spanish - but from a sporting point of view. "I was very close to signing for Real," Lauren said. "But, while they were promising me the world, Arsenal were telling me clearly what they planned. I came to visit Arsÿne Wenger at the club's training ground and that's when I knew. Both the manager's thoughts and the facilities were so impressive, I made my mind up there and then."

Lauren was Wenger's first purchase of the close season, at £7.25m from Real Mallorca. Few English people had heard of the 23-year-old, although he was part of the Mallorca team - alongsideDani, now of Barcelona, and Marcelino, of Newcastle - who defeated Chelsea in the Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final in 1999. Hector Cuper's men then went on to lose the last final of the competition against Sven Goran Eriksson's Lazio at Villa Park.

Wenger's ability to pick out unknown quantities is second to none. "He has the vision," Lauren said of the Frenchman. "He sees a player and knows exactly what he wants from him. It means Wenger is strong, but it also helps players feel more confident because we know what's expected of us."

Laureano Bisan-Etame Mayer was born in Cameroon and lived there until he was three, when his family decided to move to Spain. It was then he shortened his name, which should be pronounced Lowren; not Lorraine, Looreign or Lawrin. "I've had the lot here," he said. Minor language problems aside, though, he has found England to his liking. "I'm getting there with English," Lauren explained in Spanish. "I'm taking lessons with a teacher and guys like Silvinho and Bobi Pires [a Brazilian and a Frenchman] are helping me out as well. If I stick at it, I'll improve quite quickly."

Progress on the pitch has been faultless. Since his arrival, Lauren has wasted no time in establishing himself in the team. He has shown determination and a willingness to learn; most of all, he has demonstrated he possesses that precious quality, versatility. Right-back, right midfield, central midfield or in the hole - Lauren has fulfilled all withimpressive ease.

"I learned to play at right-back when I was at Mallorca," he said. "It was a real education, because Cuper put me there but told me not to lose my attacking instincts. He liked us to push forward as a team and defend as a team. I think Arsenal are the same, so maybe that's why I have settled in OK."

It is a measure of Lauren's impact that he has immediately settled back into the first team following his three weeks away at the Olympics. Perhaps the fact that Cameroon won the gold medal played some part in Wenger's decision, but that alone does not explain the respect in which he is held.

Lee Dixon, who is captaining Arsenal in Tony Adams' absence, believes Lauren's main attribute is his adaptability. "He gives us options," Dixon said of Lauren, who has played in three different roles in the last three matches. "He can play most positions, which not only helps the team but also makes it very hard for opponents to know how to mark him."

Escaping defenders' attentions is something which Lauren's hero, a certain Ian Wright, was more than capable of during his time at Arsenal. Lauren is not in the same finishing mould as the club's all-time record scorer, but his two goals from eight starts bode well for the future. "I loved watching Ian making those powerful runs of his and scoring goals," Lauren said. "He was a great competitor, a wonderful player and all I want is to be remembered that way at Arsenal as well."

You could be forgiven for thinking that a player who has been collecting titles for the best part of two years - the last 18 months alone have seen Lauren win the Cup of Spain, Cup-Winners' Cup, African Champions' Cup and Olympics in Sydney - may be starting to rest on his laurels.

Not Lauren. "I will not be satisfied until I have won first the Premiership, and then, most importantly, the Champions' League," he said. "And I want both with Arsenal."

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