A guest post this morning from Alex Anderson
We hear a lot about “ambition” in the modern Premiership. When it comes up in relation to AFC it’s usually a negative. A player like Robin van Persie, Ashley Cole or Samir Nasri announcing to all and sundry that he has to leave because the team does not match his “ambition” or he “wants to win trophies.”
It’s nonsense of course. Suggesting a professional sports team doesn’t want to win is like accusing Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of not wanting to make money. Damned straight they want to win. The manager wants to win; the players want to win even the accountants on the board want to win. After all, winning means more profile and increased brand power which in turn means more money. But professional sports franchises are businesses too and this is where it gets murky. Like Gates, they want to make money and they have to balance the amount they can invest today with their ability to at least break even tomorrow – preferably without dipping into the staff pension fund.
All the players referenced above claimed their concerns had nothing to do with the size of their personal weekly pay-cheques. In van Persie’s case I want to believe him. (I’m not sure I do, but I want to if for no other reason that he has shown a measure of respect and class.) The claims of the others I dismiss out of hand. Of course, even if we are kind to van Persie in this and accept that his position was not built on a foundation of personal avarice it is impossible to escape the fact that he was still talking about money. In his case “ambition” referred to squad investment.
In these terms it is not reasonable to compare the ambitions of AFC with the financial recklessness of Chelski, Manchester City, Paris St. Germain or any of the other teams that have been acquired as playthings for the mega-rich. That accepted, however, it is perfectly reasonable to expect to see appropriate investment in the squad. As supporters we have seen a lot of players leave Emirates over the past few seasons and the amount of money coming into the club through these sales dramatically outweighs the amount that has gone out on new players. This gives sad credence to those decrying Arsenal’s ambition and leaves the rest of us scratching our heads. Comments from club officials about aiming for the top four have been especially damaging to the club’s image.
Wenger has told us he doesn’t want to block the development of the young players he has coming through the ranks by bringing in big name players ahead of them. Clearly one of his ambitions was to build a squad from the youth team out that would play proper football and win everything a la Barcelona. This has led to a number of acquisitions that were at best dubious as he has expanded the squad with older, less skilled players rather than people who will challenge for genuine starting spots. It’s like he has been trying to bridge the gap to the time when the youngsters will be ready in a year or two. For example, is Squillaci merely holding a spot for Miquel? Is Santos doing the same for Meade?
If true, this is of course completely misguided. You should never be shopping for squad players. You shop for starters and your current starters either work harder – showing their own ambition – or they become the squad players, making substitute appearances and taking a reduced role in the rotation. Quality will shine through no matter what and the team will be better off.
Now that December is upon us we are already well into the Silly Season and the rags have been talking up the possible targets upon which Arsenal can demonstrate its ambition for weeks. Huntelaar, Zaha, and Goetze are just the tip of a very large rumour iceberg. Personally, I think we already have a lot of quality in the side, but we are shallow and the players have been under-performing.
Wenger has said he will buy new players. Without getting specific about names (other than Sagna and Walcott who need to be locked up for the next few years at least) let’s hope he brings in the kind of players who will challenge for starting spots and put aside the disheartening claims of those who have questioned the club’s desire in the past. It might be expensive in terms of upfront investment, but the residuals down the road will make the bean counters a lot happier than missing out on the Champion’s League will.