(Editorial note: I changed the title of this article at the last moment, and in so doing so mis-spelled the name of Flamini. I have now corrected it. Apologies).
By Tony Attwood
During my week off in Cornwall I spent a pleasant hour outside a pub on Porthleven harbour thinking about players who had left Arsenal because they wanted to move on to pastures new. Not players that Arsenal wanted to sell, but those who wanted to go.
I wondered: how did they do? And slowly it occured to me that Mr Usmanov and his allies in the Guardian newspaper (of whom more in a later article) may have missed something very profound – for his vision that it is awful that we are losing a top player, may in fact be the reverse of the truth. The historic facts of the Wenger reign reveal something utterly different – that Arsenal’s apparent inability to hold onto top players has actually strengthened Arsenal and damaged some of our rivals.
Here’s a list of the players I found who I think wanted to leave when seemingly (in some, although I admit not all) the club didn’t really want them to. Of course I have missed some out and made some mistakes – I am after all still technically on my holidays, so maybe we can fill in the gaps. Throughout Arsenal have huffed and puffed about losing these players – and sometimes quite rightly. I don’t think Arsenal wanted Cesc to leave – but I am starting to believe that quite often Arsenal were very happy to see the players move on.
Nic Anelka. Here is the prime example of what has happened over and over again. In 1997 he signed for £500,000. In 1999 we sold him for £23m. Within a year he was back with PSG, then Liverpool… By 2005 his value was put at £7m. His transfer fee paid for the new training facilities.
Cesc Fábregas. Fàbregas joined a team that had won three La Liga titles in a row and two Champions League titles in three years, and … came second in a two team league. The profit to Arsenal was virtually his total fee, and the club actually improved its league position without him (although I am sure they would have liked to have kept him). Barca (in order to end Real Mad’s endless laughter at them for failing to hold onto their children) were forced to buy back a player for £35m whom Arsenal had taken from them for 1% of that amount.
Samir Nasri. Was an obvious choice for every match when at Arsenal but managed only 31 for Man City. He did indeed get the medal he craved (on goal difference), was warned by the manager that he had to up his game if we wanted to play more often, and played in the Europa league and League Cup. Arsenal’s profit: £13m.
Emmanuel Adebayor left Arsenal to join Man City on a five year contract in July 2009 for around £25m. In under two years Roberto Mancini confirmed that Adebayor, (along with Craig Bellamy), were no longer part of his plans and could leave Manchester City. But knowing a free lunch when he sees one he went to Real Madrid for whom he played 14 times before they had seen enough. He refused to train with the reserves. He then went on to Tottenham and suffered the ignominy of Man City subsidising his wages while there. He is now back with Man City. Arsenal’s profit for a player who has made trouble everywhere he has been was around £12m. Man C are still paying his wages.
Mathieu Flamini after whom the Flamini Effect is named had one brilliant season for Arsenal playing alongside Cesc, but then decided to move. Unfortunately his move was a cock up from the start as having announced his move to Milan, he found that Milan failed to qualify for the Champs League while Arsenal, as always, did. (I remember him playing in the Europa League for Milan vs Portsmouth). In the four seasons with Arsenal as he found his feet and moved from being a reserve to a first teamer he played 102 games. In the four seasons since, as an established player with Milan he played 78 games, many of these as a last minute sub. In 2007/8 he played for France 3 times. Since then, zilch. On 20th June 2012, he left following the end of his contract but then reached a new agreement for a 1 year contract, at a much, much lower salary. Good one Mat.
Alexander Hleb. At least Alex has had the honesty to admit leaving Arsenal was his biggest ever mistake. After just 19 games for Barca (remember guys, they eat players alive, and don’t always pay the wages), he has been out on loan to Stuggart, Birmingham City, Wolfsburg (four games), and is now with Krylia Sovetov Samara. Ooops. Barca paid around £15m for him, which with wages makes his price just under £1m a game. Ooops again.
Lassana Diarra. Diarra looked to be one of the exceptions to the rule, moving quickly from Arsenal (claiming that he had been promised a place in the starting line up) to Portsmouth (remember the management team of that club at the time as this story goes on) to a dream place at Real Madrid. Then the French financial police investigated that transfer from Portsmouth to Real Madrad, and Diara was investigated for tax evasion and money laundering. The transfer fee was being estimated at EUR 20 million at that time. Arsenal made a considerable profit from the sell-on clause.
He played 7 times for Arsenal, 25 times for Portsmouth and 85 times for Real Madrid over the last three seasons.
Thierry Henry. Terry Enry went to Barca and played 80 games. The transfer fee is quoted at around £22m. His salary was reported £4.6m per season. He was there for 3 years and the total cost to Barca was £35.8m. His goal account dropped to 0.43 per game from the 0.69 he had at Arsenal over a much higher number of games. The cost to Barca was thus £447,000 per game, and considering that a number of these games were as sub, it doesn’t look like a great deal for them. I doubt that it was that good for him either, although the bank balance would have looked good given Spain’s low level of tax for foreign players.
Ashley Cole. Horrible oik though he is, Cole is the one man who beyond doubt did well on leaving Arsenal. He went because an offer of £50k a week made him feel physically sick (yup, know the feeling). He played 156 times for Arsenal and 181 for Chelsea.
David Bentley. We could call this the Bentley Bollocks instead of the Flamini Fallacy. A player of reasonable talent he played 88 times for Blackburn, 42 for Tottenham, 13 for Birmingham, 5 for WHU. Tottenham paid £15m for him, and his salary was estimated at £2.5m a year. That is about £8m salary and £15m transfer for 42 games making his cost to Tottenham £547,000 a game. I last saw him playing in a reserve match against Arsenal reserves whose average age was 18. He scored an absolute stunner. I wonder what he thought.
Patrick Vieira. Patrick must have thought he had broken the jinx on ex-Arsenal players when he signed for Juventus and won the league. But then it was taken away from him, as Juventus were relegated in the “Bribesville” scandal. Last time I mentioned Juve some of their supporters wrote in and said I have got the scandal wrong and that most people now agreed that Juve’s relegation was fixed by Inter. Which makes Italian football even more crooked than I thought. Interesting also that Patrick went to Inter after Juve. In the six seasons after leaving he played 126 games – average 21 a season.
It is rare that I can say “a very high source in Arsenal told me” because a) I don’t get told that much by very high sources, and b) most of the time I pick up anything, I am told that this is not to be said ever to anyone, but is given by way of background explanation to me. But I was told, without any command not to repeat it, by an incredibly senior person at the club, that after Patrick left Juve he was endlessly back at Arsenal, looking to see if there was any way back. (Endlessly meaning, if he was playing on a sunday, he’d be at the Arsenal training ground on the monday). Makes you think.
Juve paid about £19m for Patrick, and a year later got £8m back for him.
So what do we conclude? First that players regularly want to leave Arsenal. And second, Arsenal often manage to move them on just before their form goes, for a price that would herald bankruptcy in most sane businesses.
In this regard we must note that the transfer of Van Persie, and the Nasri-Cesc affair last season are not unusual in the modern era. It is much harder to find such transfers before Mr Wenger took over – we think of Brady, Stapleton and Kennedy leaving against the club’s will, and flourishing. Not too many others left, supposedly against the club’s wishes, and then didn’t do that well.
As such the Flamini Fallacy does several things
a) It brings the club a profit on players who are just about to see their value drop. Of course some players are excellent when they leave – Cesc is an obvious example – but looking at most of these players two years after leaving Arsenal there is no doubt that they are really not producing it any more.
b) It costs some of our rivals sensational sums of money for players who really can’t be worth that much. I worship Thierry as much as the next season ticket holder, but watching him on TV at Barca was a deep disappointment, and when you come to see how much he cost them per game one wonders about their judgement, not Mr Wenger’s.
The fact is that the nutter clubs like Barca are funding Arsenal by buying players whose career is faltering. Compare much of Nasri’s work this season with last.
So to RVP who has played an average of 24 games a season and scored 0.49 goals a game. Last season, by any analysis was extraordinary. The question is can he do it again, or will he go back to being injured quite often? The chances are, the latter, and indeed before I knew he was going I assumed that the new forwards we were buying were coming in to help cover for his absences.
My point is that this tactic of buying, getting the best out of a player and selling on for crazy sums has been going on since 1997, and is a standard part of club policy – and a very effective part of club policy. No one complained about it during the double seasons and the unbeaten season, before Chelsea and Man City got their billions.
Of course it doesn’t work every time – but it has worked brilliantly much of the time. Watching Nasri at Man City was he worth what they paid? Or Anelka at Real Mad? Or Henry at Barca? No – their value had declined greatly – it was just that no one told the buyers.
I do believe that Mr Usmanov has mistaken the situation here for it is not the policy of Arsenal that is weak – that policy has served the club brilliantly for years. Rather it is the arrival of Man C and Chelsea that has changed matters. For Mr Usmanov not to realise this suggests a weakness in football knowledge that bodes ill for any club that he takes over.
The Van Persie files