Gooners are desperately hoping for some solid news, the signing of class players. We need more than “Fellaini is at the disco with Arteta,” or “Higuain is in AN Airport.” In the meantime, equally “reputable” reports have suggested that Arsenal have made bids of £30 (and/or £35) for Luis Suarez and, a couple of weeks back, £20 Million for Wayne Rooney. What do these two players have in common?
Some would say they’re both world class forwards who would instantly make Arsenal into title challengers. Others would argue that they are both troubled players whose teams are willing (if not desperate) to get rid of them. Without going into the litany of the troubles Suarez and Rooney have brought upon themselves (and their teams…), I think it’s very interesting that Arsenal have inserted themselves into the “bidding process” (for want of a better term), or at least made a little noise about these players. I believe there’s a dual strategy at work. On the one hand it’s all about our own tangentially related transfer targets. On the other, it’s a continuing public relations strategy to divide (and ultimately conquer) Arsenal supporters.
The first half of the equation is the one which concerns most of us—for the moment at least. We’re all desperate for an improvement to the squad. Last season, though we met “minimum” requirements by getting up for the final CL place, it was at the expense of pleasing (attacking) football and by the skin of our teeth. That we had to clear our schedule with depressing exits from the cup competitions was likely necessary but a further indication of our malaise. Now we need reinforcements. During the run-in we had trouble scoring. Many have called for a better #9, a real leader of the line, someone to fully replace and challenge the sort of contribution made by (Captain) Robin van Persie. Others want a ‘#10’ or a (real) replacement for the contributions of the previous Captain, Cesc Fabregas. Still others believe our troubles lie deeper, at the defensive mid-fielder position(s), where some have gone so far as to say that we need a single player who can do the work of the two (Ramsey and Arteta) we employed in this area down the stretch. Oh, wait, that would be me…
We’ve been heavily linked with Gonzolo Higuain of Real Madrid, and Marouane Fellaini of Everton. Before that there was a lot of talk about Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina, who now appears headed to ManchesterCity. There have also been plenty of stories about the possible return of Cesc Fabregas and bids for Lars Bender. More recently we even appear in for older players like Gareth Barry.
The “links” to Suarez (and Rooney before him), however, seem really strange (to me at least). In recent years it’s always been about Chelsea and ManchesterCity when it comes to really expensive, successful players already playing in England. Torres to Chelsea (£50) is the big one, but the many playersCity have bought from Aston Villa (Milner, Barry) Everton (Lescott, Rodwell) and (mostly) Arsenal (Adebayor, Toure, Clichy, Nasri) has shown that the teams with bottomless pockets can afford to pay absurd amounts for players who may not make the grade.
During this same period, and in what we now know to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final years, Manchester United was also willing to spend sizable amounts to plunder talent from other English teams (Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, Robin van Persie, etc.)
Are Arsenal suddenly amongst the clubs that are willing to “take a punt” (for giant money) on players (with issues) who aren’t quite content at (or even blame their troubles on) their current (English) clubs?
I don’t think so. If we did, it would be a stunning turnabout and it would mark a sea-change from a risk-averse (penny-pinching?) financial strategy to a no-holds-barred, approach. Please keep in mind that salaries also come into play, and, in the case of Rooney, in particular, would almost certainly represent a bigger cost than the transfer fee itself.
It’s hard to make sense of things but we must remember how transfers really work. If a team wants a player the first thing that must happen is that they must be lured to the club; in paper-talk, their head must be turned. This is done by promising a good contract and a prominent role at the club. After that is in place, a deal must be worked with the player’s current club. Following the news this summer this would appear the process with Higuain. With Suarez (and Rooney) the process seems reversed. And, of course, there is endless background noise from agents with players looking for a move. Arsenal, a club touting our “money to spend” (“powder we have kept dry”) and a team under pressure for improved results, gets even more of these planted stories, the equivalent of a player giving us the wink.
No, what Arsenal are doing is playing a high-stakes game of chicken, inserting our nose into other people’s business. Gazidis’ not-so-cryptic comment, “We could (even) buy Rooney” puts pressure on United (and new manager, David Moyes) to work it out with the spread-eared one or declare him unwanted. Our “bids” for Suarez are broadsides at Real Madrid—Get your Uruguayan (biter, racist, cheater, but clearly the best from that country…) and give us our guy (Higuain) who needs to be a starter if he wants a role for his (bigger, more competitive Argentinian national team) at the South American World Cup next summer.
So we must wait. In the meantime, however, we stew and we argue and the support divides along lines that have been developing over these “desert” years (since the move to the new stadium which neatly coincides with our trophy drought). The typical divide is AKB (“Arsene Knows Best”) vs Realists/Doomers, those who can see that it’s been an inferior product on the pitch, year upon year. It’s also a divide between those willing to take some time for the club’s prudent financial policies to pan out (on the backs of high ticket prices) and those who want it all now—The Veruca Salts of the Arsenal support.
In addition there is a boardroom divide at Arsenal. Two thirds of ownership resides with “Silent” Stan Kroenke who (it appears) is supportive of the Wenger/Gazidis management team. Lurking in the background is (nearly) 30 percent man Alisher Usmanov, the Ukrainian Oligarch, who, many assume, would prioritize winning over the bottom line. Many supporters want the latter to take charge and get Arsenal the results we “deserve.” This group might best be characterized by the chant that went up (spontaneously) in the desultory final match 3 seasons (2 years) ago: “Spend some f*cking money.”
Indeed, there are many who want signings that show “intent.” To me this translates as “buy someone with proven ability no matter what the cost nor the risks with the players.” Often these same “supporters” suggest, with a smirk, that if Wenger is so good, he should be able to handle the “problems” associated with such players. Suarez and Rooney would seem to fit that bill. In my opinion, to get them, we will have to overspend relative to the combination of their talents and their problems, but that is subjective and my opinion only.
So, are we pandering to this branch of the support? I don’t believe that we are.
The real story, I think, is that Arsenal really aren’t interested in these players and instead are using statements of interest (and maybe even registering bids) to agitate other clubs so that the deal(s) we are after can happen (and happen as quickly as possible). Additionally, by polarizing support, it’s (another) high-stakes (hubris-laden?) attempt by current management to say “we know what we’re doing,” … “and if you were good, i.e., smart, supporters you would let us do it.” If I’m right, Wenger (and Gazidis?) is actually making misleading statements (aka “telling lies”) or maneuvering for less than obvious ends.
It is similar to what he does when he says a player is “injured,” when he means dropped. That sort of lying seems harmless or even worthwhile for protecting the confidence (ego) of the dropped players. Hints of “interest” or below market bids (which, if accepted, would be accompanied, one would guess, with low–easy to reject—personal terms) ratchets up the game significantly. Is Arsenal branding itself as the thinking man’s (and woman’s) club?; The Club that says one thing but means another, and the one where only the intelligent, calm and savvy (not to mention dedicated) can “truly” be supporters?
I’m curious to know what others think. To me it seems a fairly desperate gamble but one which may pay off. If we get the player(s) we’re after, win something (a lesser cup) and/or appear competitive in the bigger competitions (Champions’ League and Premier League), I would consider it a success. Wenger is getting old and the pressure on him is nearly unbearable. We haven’t lost a match since 3 March, but when (not if) we do, the calls for his head will begin anew. If those same “Wenger-Out” people believe that we should’ve spent the money on Suarez or Rooney, the anger will be even more intense.
Here’s to hoping our moves pan out, i.e., not Suarez and Rooney, and that we have enough success to keep the lynch-mob at bay.
Written by: 17highburyterrace