Right, I’m still Stateside and as such didn’t see the match which renders a report impossible. Will be catching up with that and all things Arsenal later on. In the meantime, some more thoughts from Chairman Consolsbob.
Love of Arsenal, therefore of the players who sign for Arsenal, whether as naïve schoolboys, free transfers from Colchester, or multi-million pound investments…
The success of Arsene Wenger in the transfer market is a widely held ‘given’. A few duffers of course but that is true of every manager’s record in transfer dealings. Overall, there is a pretty generally held consensus that Arsene has performed wonders in the market and, along the way, earned a few bob for the club. Any criticism has been of his perceived lack of willingness to spend more.
Certainly I have never had any doubts as to the success of his transfer dealings.
Then I got an email from an old friend who, apart from being a gooner and contemporary of mine, is also an academic. He actually enjoys all those things that academics do. You know, research, polemics, generally being a bit scientific and finding a sound basis for his arguments whereas I am more of an intuitive thinking sort of bloke. Perceptions, that sort of thing. His argument perhaps cast a different light on both our continued loss of senior players and the repeated failings of successive Arsenal squads.
He sent me this link to help inform some ideas he has regarding Arsene’s transfer business, which, he believes reveals a marked change in Arsenal’s transfer policy after his arrival:
There are some errors and omissions, but it seems to be generally accurate although the transfer prices here are significantly different from those quoted in the British media – usually a lot more such as Bergkamp for £10m; Reyes for £30m;
His first major point is that the success of Arsene’s transfer record is open to question as a high proportion of the players bought for significant sums were later transferred for nothing. Further, that many players, if not given away, have been sold for much less than they were bought for such as Reyes, a thumping great loss of £20 million.
Given the number of players transferred for nothing or for a loss, it’s strange, he argues, that there is a widespread impression of Arsene doing well in the transfer market – he actually loses on most players. However,, if your main strategy is to buy players for use (not value), and make losses on the majority, you have to make a correspondingly large surplus on a small number of stars – you have to sell at least one player a year for a £20m profit in order to cover the hits you’re taking on all the others; so you have to engineer repeated sales of your best players, while, for obvious reasons, protesting disappointment at the loss.
His second point is the effect that this policy has had on squad development and player loyalty.
He argues that for the players staying put, seeing senior players regularly sold as assets, nurtured for re-sale value, is bad enough but even worse might be the unloading of players at a large loss. First they buy you, then if you don’t excel, they dump you, so that your value is diminished. It’s best to get out before it happens to you. As soon as you can, do a Bosman; as there is no point negotiating a new contract at Arsenal because they will either happily sell you on as soon as it suits them, for a big fee, or they will give you away as soon as a promising youngster appears in your position.
As soon as Arsene arrived, there was much more transfer traffic both ways, every season, including loans out and back, but also purchases who came and went relatively quickly – such as Diarra, most obviously, but lots of others as well, bought and then sold on within two or three seasons – so that the players were much more like instruments in achieving the plan, every one dispensable (Diawara, Suker, van Bronckhorst, Jeffers, Vivas, Silvinho, Luzhny, Silvestre, Wiltord, Reyes, Kanu, Overmars, Petit, Anelka and countless youths) which was not the case in the previous era with players like Davis, Merson, Adams, Wright, Keown, Parlour, Smith, Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, and Bould himself – some of whom provided the ballast, and crunching tackles, for the trophies, and losing finals, from 1998 to 2004.
Does it make a difference whether a player comes and goes in two or three seasons rather than four or five?
Not individually – Kevin Richardson won a league championship and left before the next, and there were a few others like this back in the 90s; but if you bulk them up, yes, it makes a big difference to supporters’ identification with the team, and therefore how loudly they chant, and keep the chant going, and therefore how crunching the tackles are.
Watching a boring, boring 1-0 in 1990, with crunching tackles and a lucky penalty, we would have said, “don’t worry about the quality of the football, at least they won again” – partly because they were the same players who had lost the equivalent fixture the previous year, so they cared in a particular way, so we cared too; but by 2010, we were saying, “don’t worry about the result – look at the artistry” – and it didn’t matter who the players were.
His sense (maybe inaccurate, as he admits) is of Arsenal over a long period (70’s and 80’s) having not bought and sold lots of players, compared with most other English clubs – of stability being reflected in the playing staff; Liverpool, over a similarly long period, had a similar profile (and were much more successful than Arsenal).
It was very unusual for Liverpool to buy three new players at once, as they once did Rush (on his return), Barnes, and Beardsley. They usually replaced one key player at a time, as did Arsenal. Then Liverpool changed, and started buying and selling apparently indiscriminately, and apart from cups, have done badly ever since.
When Arsenal bought Kiwomya, Helder and Hartson, it indicated (or led to) similar instability – suddenly they were another in-and-out club. No-one knew where they were, or who was who, or who mattered most. And as we now know, there was another dimension to the odder transfers made by George Graham.
Manchester United’s dominance correlates with a steady turnover of playing staff most years – one or two leave, one or two arrive; when it’s more than that, they stutter; Chelsea and Manchester City have defied this rule only because they can buy whoever they want so they always have adequate cover in all positions.
It made sense for Arsene to make major changes when he arrived, and it looked like a new broom sweeping clean; however, it has turned out to be a change of club personality in how it sees and treats playing staff; while players recruited earlier remained, there was some stability, masking the increased player turnover – and there were trophies; but once they were gone, there has only been player turnover, and the result, since 2006, now resembles that of Liverpool’s pattern of player trading since 1990: good players in, good players out, good players in…
It’s right to ask: what’s the playing philosophy? Will this player fit? But it’s just as important to ask: who are these people? Is this how they want to play? Do we like them? Can they express themselves here? Will they stay? And is this the right philosophy for this club, now, in the situation it’s in?
There is a strange psycho-social phenomenon at work: players sense the club’s willingness to let them go easily, because the nature of the playing philosophy makes them individually dispensable, so there is always likely to be some movement, and therefore instability, and they know in their bones that big trophies are not won by unstable teams, so they reckon they may not win one if they stay; so all of them, at one level or another, are always comparing their chances at Arsenal and elsewhere, rather than committing themselves to winning trophies at the club they are at; and this is reinforced by the club accepting fourth place as the equivalent of a trophy; it is almost as if this cannot change while the playing philosophy is as it is, and the playing philosophy won’t change while Arsene is there.
My mate reckons there is a similar problem at his University…senior management do not love their academic staff, and their academic staff become daily more cynical and uncommitted to the institution – why should they do endless unpaid overtime to provide the Vice Chancellor with a 9% increase on his £200k salary?…so the best young researchers move to other institutions, the best mature teachers retire, and it’s the students who suffer.
A final interesting fact from those statistics: 13 of Arsenal’s 25 most expensive signings ever are in the current squad.
(On the other hand, their combined cost was only £142.5m, ie. about three Van Persies and two Fabregases.)
Bob Wall. Bovril at the Clock End. Jumpers for goalposts.