By Tony Attwood
“How hard can it be?”
When said in a football context, this is a notion based on the belief that most football clubs are run by morons who don’t understand simple things like “get the best players and make them play together.”
So you go and buy the best (no question that they want to come to your club) and then because they are the best they play together (no question of egos or tantrums) and you win (no question of those pesky outside forces like bent referees, luck or other teams also buying very good players at the same time).
Sadly it doesn’t work like that. Liverpool got to second last season because they had no European distraction, a brilliant but morally flawed centre forward, and the right bit of luck without which no one gets anything.
Now without any of those they are sinking back to the position they occupied for the seasons before hand. 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 2nd… And just in case the position of 7th or 8th doesn’t sound too bad, these days, most of the time 7th or 8th means the club is closer to relegation than it is to winning the league.
At the moment, all the clubs from 8th down are in this position. This includes Swansea, West Ham, Everton and Newcastle. That doesn’t mean any of them is likely to go down, but rather than they have a hell of a long way to climb up to the top.
This season it is Man U who have benefited from the lack of European football. They also arranged for their to be no league cup distraction either, going out singularly early to MK Dons. Next season will be tougher – so they need some serious considerations of whom they should buy.
As for Man City, I think most of us can imagine that their owners think that it is easy to win everything. After all, back home the owner can have everything and anything he wants, and it is hard to drop such thinking. Get a new manager, and a new set of players. MEN WHO WANT TO WIN THINGS.
But Pep Guardiola doesn’t want to work for Man City. And seemingly nor does Carlo Ancelotti. And from what is being said (which of course is always a poor measure of reality) Diego Simeone doesn’t fancy it much either.
Which leaves Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp. Remember when Mr Klopp was touted as the man who could show Wenger a trick or two. Wenger’s bad seasons ended in us being in the “not a trophy” position. Dortmund are 10th.
The trouble at Man City however is not just that of the manager, because it was Txiki Begiristain who has spent £120m on a range of unsuccessful players. Ferran Soriano is largely thought of being the man who screwed up with Uefa in such a way that when Uefa did impose its modest penalties Man City didn’t even have a response ready. Maybe time to shift both.
The fact is, if it were easy, lots of clubs would kick people around and win stuff because they wanted it more. And those way down the league like Aston Villa would borrow money to do it in the sure knowledge that really they were risking nothing because it was easy as long as they wanted it.
Of course it isn’t easy. Here’s one example of why it isn’t: the problem of who the player wants to play for. Bacary Sagna successfully drove his career into the wall by moving to Man City and signing a three year deal. That uses up valuable Man City resources (valuable in that Uefa is watching them) and he gets the number 3 shirt and has played this season 14 times thus far. Last season with Arsenal (who wanted him to stay) it was 48 games. Who wants to buy him and pay a fraction of his Man City salary? No one. Man City will sell him – but keep topping up his salary for two more years.
£42m spent on Eliaquim Mangala and he didn’t play against Palace. A bit like Balotelli at Liverpool except he cost less – but didn’t turn up for the Arsenal game. It’s crazy, it annoys Uefa, and it stops players and managers taking the club seriously.
Yaya Touré didn’t get a birthday cake, Samir Nasri seems to be in a permanent strop, Fernando ain’t the gravy… one might even start to say that the policy of nicking other clubs’ best players isn’t quite all it is made up to be.
Put it all together and you have the sort of scenario that journalists were talking about last year for Arsenal: the need for a full-back, a central defender, a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder and a forward.
And a manager quite possibly, just to round things off.
That doesn’t mean everything is flowing our way – of course not. Chelsea will have to have significant cock-ups in four of their games for us to sneak up and win the league, which seems unlikely. But it makes the point that Man City had everything they wanted. The ground given to them by the state, an infinite sum to spend on training, a huge win-over-the-people campaign, a worldwide network starting to develop…
So I still ask, why isn’t it that easy to get right?
But in a sense that is like asking how did it happen that the Liverpool that won the league all those times from 1973 to 1990 suddenly stopped winning. From 1992 to 1994 they were 6th, 6th and 8th, and since then have drifted between periods with that sort of position and periods in which they are top four.
And here’s the problem: once players stop believing that the club is the real deal they won’t come and play. I mean, how would you behave if you were earning £1.5m a year and someone said he could get you four times that much. You’d probably say ok, and then starting considering the options – because if someone will pay that much, so will someone else.
And the next thing you know is that what the player wants, besides a big fat pay cheque is,
- A chance to win something
- A manager who will develop your talent – so you can become immortal
- Champions League football so the world has a chance to watch you
Which is where Liverpool and Tottenham fall down. In the past eight years Liverpool has won the League Cup once, Tottenham has won the League Cup once, and Arsenal has won the FA Cup once. So nothing much between them.
Except that Arsenal has been in the Champions League every year, and have already built their new stadium and have a manager with a reputation that is very high indeed among players.
And Arsenal have a reputation under Wenger of pulling rabbits out of hats. While the world marvels at the emergence of Kane at Tottenham those in the business are actually wondering how Arsene Wenger managed to programme up Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin out of obscurity this season. Amusingly Mr Wenger keeps saying he too was surprised by their emergence, but not everyone believes it is quite that simple. It might better be said that we had six or eight prospects who could have stepped up in our hour of need. These are the two that did. It could have been Oxlade-Chamberlain uninjured becoming a defensive midfielder. It could have been Jon Toral being called back from Brentford – who knows. It could have been…
Arsenal has a look, to people inside the business, of a club that knows what’s what, and it has a plan, and that is what people in football rather like. Not the “throw the money at it and see what happens” approach of some, but a proper working plan.
Not a “let’s keep Gerrard playing for as long as possible and never mind him slipping up, and never mind him going beserk and stamping on someone in the first minute, it’s Stevie and he is great” type campaign.
Nor a plan which hopes for being able to sell someone for £75m each year because that really does rely on luck. Had Barcelona not been about to be banned, they would never have paid that – they just needed players and players to get them through a year, so they did pay. That was luck.
But transfers can fail to make it – goodness knows we have seen that happen at Arsenal – but with us, transfers that don’t make it don’t worry us too much because we have the kids coming through from the Academy. With Liverpool, when Dejan Lovren turns out to be not much cop, that is a bit of a bummer. When £16m Mario Balotelli is in the business of declaring himself unfit, well, we nod and say yep, saw that coming, I wonder why Liverpool didn’t.
And what can be said about Emre Can? With others self-certificating or absent due to rank stupidity, he does an insane evil tackle and is added to the list of suspended through stupidity.
And that’s another bonus Arsenal have. Yes some Arsenal transfers don’t work out. But when we have spent big – like really really big – they do work. Ozil and Alexis. Money money money. Talent talent talent.
And the result is…
We have moved from a situation one year ago where every newspaper said that Arsenal had to buy players in each of the key areas of the team in order even to keep out top four non-trophy, to one in which this weekend Tom Peck in the Independent said, and I quote word for word…
with Manchester United likely to spend heavily again in the summer, and Arsenal so obviously superior in almost every part of the pitch, is Liverpool’s brief return to the very top table already over?
Did you get that
Arsenal so obviously superior in almost every part of the pitch,
Even the bizarre Rodgers said,
“I look at Arsenal and their bench, the players, the world-class players on the field with big talent, and it shows the continual work we have to do,”
Hang on, this is Arsenal. We need players in every part of the pitch. I know we do, because last summer everyone said so.
Or did I miss something?
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