So the worst kept secret in football is out and Mathieu Flamini has signed a four-year deal with AC Milan. I wish him well and thank him for the service he gave the club last season. His decision appears to be driven by money but with his family heritage coming from Italy, it might be too simplistic to put it purely down to that. Without wishing to seem nasty or to have sour grapes, I will be disappointed if he plays at Sunderland this weekend. His time at Arsenal is over and Arsene should continue to play those who will be at the club in the future.
Even if it had been a home fixture, I would have been dead against Flamini appearing in an Arsenal shirt again; there is no ‘fond farewell’ for services rendered – one excellent season does not warrant that and it is more important that planning ahead takes precedence. Indeed, with second place now out of sight, there is a strong case for Arsene to put youngsters into the squad and to exclude Flamini entirely. That might seem churlish but it is pragmatic. It is another match for someone to gain experience in, particularly as it is away from home against a team who will play with a more direct style.
It does seem a case of the biter bitten though and for Arsene it is depressingly familiar. Flamini joined with some rancour from Olympique Marseille and history is repeating itself, someone who has turned into a valuable player has left for peanuts or in this case, absolutely nothing. For Arsenal, it is another player who they have signed through contractual escapism leaving in similar circumstances; Sol Campbell tucked them up like kippers to join Portsmouth, having apparently indicated that he wanted to move abroad, given a ‘free’ to facilitate this. More disconcertingly, the hierarchy at the club have allowed someone who was important to go through running down their contract, in a similar fashion to Edu. The question is why have those lessons not been learnt?
No doubt, there will be calls that this would not have happened had David Dein still been at the club. Well, he was there when Edu left so that is no guarantee and in any case, one set of circumstances does not dictate that he should be welcomed back now especially considering he would be smuggling in a twenty-stone suitcase full of unwanted baggage. Indeed, Edu and Flamini are similar cases. Both had struggled to get into the midfield on a regular basis and once they had achieved their aim, they left through negligence on the Board and Arsene’s part.
The key issue for the club is that the long-term replacement for Keith Edelman must have football connections. It is no good using the ex-CEO of Birds Eye if the man cannot open doors; Arsenal have to decide if the Board is there to service the City or the football club. Whilst the property revenues are as important as the football-related revenue streams, the club will be around long after the flats and warehouses have been developed and sold. The gene pool might be smaller for them to choose from when selecting the new man or woman but it is the busiest time of the year in the transfer market and a repetition of last seasons timing for transfer deals hinders rather than helps. I would almost beg the Board and Arsene to get all deals done and dusted before the start of Euro2008 to get matters resolved.
Alexander Hleb seems to be the most likely target next for press speculation, followed no doubt by a summer of Spanish-based rumour about Cesc Fabregas. The Times this morning seeks to cast doubt on the Byelorussian’s future, printing unsubstantiated claims that Hleb ‘has confided in several of his team-mates that he is planning to join Inter Milan and his representatives are understood to have agreed a four-year deal with the Italian champions’.
According to the paper, ‘Hleb is understood to be frustrated by Arsenal’s failure to win silverware, as well as concerned that the club’s pay structure will prevent him earning what he could pick up elsewhere particularly given the policy of awarding only one-year extensions to players approaching 30.’
That last part is, as I understand it, incorrect with Arsene offering that type of deal to those over 30. However, as I mentioned the other day, it strikes me as curious that the club knowing the FIFA Article 17 and its contents have not moved to offer Hleb a new deal. Arsene’s reaction to the meeting in Milan in February suggested that he wanted the player to stay and his subsequent desire to report them to the highest powers in football indicate the same. This last part is a hollow threat and Inter know it.
Arsenal had the chance to report Real Madrid when they defaulted on part of the Anelka fee but chose not to; the same club tapped up Vieira and received no complaint other than in the media. Even Fabregas admits to meeting with Calderon last summer and nothing was done about that. If the Board are to do something, do it otherwise silence is golden would appear to be the better option.