A guest post from Andrew Luck (aka ArsenalAndrew) this morning…
Tony Adams made some interesting points during a recent radio interview in respect of contracts. In the Dein era, contracts were never allowed to run down to the last year; they were settled two years or more from expiry. He credits his continued survival under AW to the fact that he was on a long contract. Tongue-in-cheek it may have been but in his case, the long contract worked to the benefit of both sides.
Such contracts have now come to be seen as a double-edged sword, one which the club is increasingly reticent to gamble on. It’s fine if you nail down a player who avoids a career threatening injury or never loses form. Had Arsenal granted RvP a five year contract 2 years ago, detractors would have doubtless formed a disorderly queue to attack the club for its evident stupidity.
On the other side of this, if the likes of Jack, Ox et al etc., are not nailed down early on long-term contracts, there is every chance they will depart. And sooner, rather than later.
That Theo’s contract has run down is a more perplexing situation given his age and potential for further development. He has had fitness issues in the past whilst his development as a player has been very much in the public eye. A year ago many were critical of the player. Should he end up leaving in January, those same critics will no doubt be demanding to know why he wasn’t re-signed.
How have these contracts come to wind down? Are the players refusing to sign up to deals perceived as ‘below market value’? Or is it due to concern on the part of the club management, a concern that is resulting in a drive to restrict the number of long term contracts agreed? Exactly why was Theo not re-signed two years ago? Was the club being cautious and if so, why? Was it both player canniness AND club caution?
But one player supposedly nailed down on a long contract was Cesc Fabregas and we still lost him. Had he stayed and been injured, we’d have paid a high price in honouring our side of the contract for many years. Could it be our ability, our willpower, to retain players in the years ahead is somehow being influenced by that particular experience? Why take the risk if players can walk away whenever it suits them?
I don’t think back in May, any of us could have possibly conceived of a situation whereby we would go on to fail to re-sign RvP, Song and Theo. Whatever revisionists might now say, that particular triumvirate represented a key part of last year’s squad.
Is the consistency of Kronke in not committing funds a fundamental problem for the club? Is there a very real fear of failure, resulting in players being sold rather than risk losing them on a free transfer, as well as other players not being re-signed early enough in case their injuries or loss of form cause problems tomorrow?
Ultimately, is Arsène’s extraordinary work on the pitch being undermined by a lack of clarity in contract negotiations?
The case of Theo Walcott could prove very interesting. Unlike RvP, clubs are not queuing up to offer him £250k+ contracts. Unlike Cesc or Song, he’s not being chased by an impossible to refuse Spanish suitor. He is also young, improving and, these days, generally injury free.
If he does leave for a relatively modest additional weekly salary like Ashley Cole, this represents a real problem for the club. The threshold at which rival clubs can come in and cause mayhem is reduced to a figure so low that even 2nd tier clubs can enter Arsenal waters and create havoc.
The AGM saw most attention given to FFP and new commercial contracts. Is there far greater pressure being applied from Kronke to balance the books, pressure justified by FFP but also, conveniently, one that overtly acknowledges that there’ll be little in the way of extra funding if it all goes wrong?
He was invited onto the board as a benevolent facilitator, one who would allow the club to be run in a responsible, sustainable and self-sustaining fashion. Is he now obligating the board to adhere to these principles to the point that is causing real difficulty when it comes to managing player contracts? Stan may not have changed position but the market distortion introduced by the Oil Clubs has altered contractual dynamics.
It is one thing for the club to be unable to buy the very best players on the market but quite another to be unable to retain the best players, as this opens us up a whole new front of vulnerability to the activities of predator competitors.
If the club is now unable to retain its key players – and the loss of those key players cannot be explained by Spanish DNA or exceptional Dutch greed – then the lack of will power or perception of our financial weakness by others, could conceivably threaten the longer term security of the club.
Many of us, with good reason, refuse to welcome the long-term risks inherent in getting into bed with a Sheik or Oligarch in favour of short-term glory. Equally, if Stan’s rigid position is such that we are now too nervous to freely sign players on longer-term contracts, then that is as risky to our interests as anything else.
Do we have the willpower to control our destiny in this way? Walcott and an examination of how the club manages the contracts of the currently less-senior players may tell us if there is now a real fear of failure gripping the board. It could tell us if the latitude for error has become fatally compressed to the extent that far from being ‘one-offs’, future player losses could more likely become the norm.
And if you are Arsène Wenger, what’s the point of that? Sobering stuff, Tony.