Underneath are some disorganised thoughts about transfers. It’s not that I’m particularly qualified to talk on the subject. All I can say is that I’ve paid it a little more thought during my rummage through transfer dustbins like Talksport and the Daily Star for dog-ends with beards of unconsumed transfer tobacco.
So anyway, as I drew my used dog-ends, I wondered about things; how much further into the gutter I could descend, but also what brought this transfer addiction on in the first place. And here’s some of what came to my addled mind:
Firstly I should make clear that I think the term, “project youth” is total nonsense.
Ideally, the way we went about our business from 2006 until last year is how we should be going about it forevermore. OK, we know we had to rein in spending thanks to the burden of a brand new stadium. But still, we shouldn’t think of that strategy solely as a compromise brought about by financial restraints.
Why’s that then?
The best teams in the world, assembled without the backing of a billionaire, have always been a product of homegrown players and continuity over a number of years. For a club like Arsenal, with a style of football that is now part of the club’s culture, this makes perfect sense. You get hold of the players young; at any point in their development between schoolboy and early-20s, and you train them up. Indoctrinate them early on with the tactics and skill-set they’ll need to be Arsenal players.
Not only will they be hardwired to play the Arsenal way, but they’ll also mesh with teammates, a number of whom will also be expected to make the transition to first team squad in the future. The “Arsenal Way” relies heavily on combinations, so we need players to get to know each other’s games down to the minutest detail.
It’s also been proved that transfer fees are generally a big waste of money; more sustainable to invest in a training infrastructure, bring players along, and raise the wage bill to be more competitive in the face of wealthy competitors – instead of habitually gambling £30 million on single players.
We’ve been accused of a lack of ambition – but if anything I think we were too ambitious. We flew in the face of received wisdom, and assumed the fans would get on board. By trying to build a team that would grow together in the face of competition for whom money was no object, I think we set our sights a little too high.
The fans had to buy into the plan, but you can understand how things didn’t quite work like that. We are told daily that ambition in football is only expressed by big transfer fees on big reputations. But there’s uncertainty when it comes to youngsters – so many variables, so much that can go wrong.
At the Olympics we’ve all seen the benefit of raucous home support for committed athletes, but at Arsenal, we weren’t sure what to make of our young millionaires.
And in aiming too high, the club wasn’t mindful of the threat to the system. It’s that other clubs are keen on players with a high level of technical ability, and double their wages. Our initial answer to this was to speculate on our young talent – fast-improving players needed competitive contracts.
There were wails of disapproval when Alex Song signed a lengthy contract in 2009, but with a few years still to run this is something that will dissuade suitors like Barcelona now, or at least make sure that we get a fair transfer fee should their reported interest be genuine, and we decide to sell.
All the same, we were naive in thinking that ours was the best gig in town.
And this is where I’m even less certain. I suspect that having trained them up, we counted on our players’ loyalty, and maybe having begun to weather Chelsea’s challenge, didn’t quite see Man City coming. Maybe we didn’t anticipate the PL wage explosion over three or four years, or that owners would happily part with outrageous sums with no hope of recompense.
Having had our fingers burned, maybe there’s some uncertainty about a couple of members of the squad, which might explain why we have so many options now. Maybe the recent signings are both a demonstration of our ambition and preemptive replacements. Lots of maybes!
Podolski and Cazorla can be compared, not so much in terms of style, but certainly in their employment situations. They are both stars in their respective countries, and have enjoyed long international careers. On joining Arsenal they both recognised that it was now or never for them – a last chance to make the move to English football – and what better club for lovers of stylish football to join than Arsenal..
Although we can’t be sure, these aren’t players who are going to use Arsenal as a springboard; rather they will give the club a few of their best years. We got amazing deals for them because their previous owners were distressed sellers – FC Köln were on their way down, and we all know about Málaga CF’s troubles now. We love to do business with that kind of club!
It makes you wonder how our plans will take shape in the future. The average age of the squad has shifted to the upper-20s, but we still have an array of international talent working its way through our system. Given the state of football finance, it seems possible that we’ll be able to find players like Cazorla around Europe when we need it, but is it sustainable to buy three or four stars every summer?
The way I see it, we’ll continue to bring young talent through in the future, but right now we’re ensuring that when they reach the first team they’ll take their place in a more mature group, that, hopefully, has had a taste of success and will want more. Ambition would never be reason to leave again, and we’d be able to use the transfer market to improve the squad rather than patch it up.
I think it’s not quite an overhaul, just a bit of reassessment. And in the meantime you’ll know where to find me.