By Tony Attwood
Over the years of building and paying for the Emirates we’ve had a few experiences of players trotting off to other clubs rather than continue at Arsenal. Not all of them have enjoyed the experience but they have kept on doing it.
Van Persie, Nasri, Cole, Adebayor, Toure, Hleb, Flamini, Clichy, Fabregas, Vermalen, Sagna, Song, Henry, van Bronkhurst, Overmars…
The list goes on and on. Not all left despite our desire to keep them, but some did, and indeed Barcelona alone have spent over £125m on Arsenal players during the reign of Lord Wenger.
Much of the time the moves – even the ones like RVP where the player forced the move against the management’s wishes and despite the contract, were greeted by the media with a shrug and a comment about Arsenal not being able to hold onto players.
But when a player dares to say he wants to leave Liverpool, then all hell breaks lose. Today, driving home from work I heard a veritable stream of ex Liv players saying what a disgrace it was that now a Liverpool player wants to go.
Now as a strategy I don’t think that is one that will work very well. Man C and Chelsea have strategies – unimaginable amounts of money and ways of twisting and turning as long as FFP lives. Man U have a strategy – worldwide marketing based on fifty years of growing the brand across the world.
Arsenal have a strategy of building a sensational stadium that brings in vast sums for each match, combined with a youth policy that provides a production line (next up Gnabry), and an eternal run in the Champions League with all the dosh that brings.
But Liverpool… what is their strategy. Over Sterling Liverpool look to me like a club of denial, simply saying he can’t go when they know, as we know that under CAS rules, he can go. Pretending black is white is what Liverpool did when Arsenal played silly buggers with them over Suarez, and it fooled the press once, but I am not sure that they can do it again, by just pretending that the “Webster case” (which lays down when players can be transferred) didn’t happen.
And just pretending that Liverpool is an institution, and relying on the admittedly wonderful trophy cabinet of the past won’t work very well either.
Sterling has turned down £100,000 a week in order to win trophies, and Steven Gerrard said, “I think there is no one better for him than Brendan Rodgers,” which is interesting to say the least. I wonder what basis he said that on and whether many people outside Liverpool agree.
Of course Liverpool can always find support for what seems (to me) to be a non-policy of building for the future, for just as the Daily Telegraph refused to publish John Henry’s admission of his guilt over the incident of lying about the release clause in Suarez’ contract, so it has refused to recognise that the CAS has ruled that players can move after three years irrespective of what the contract says.
But this is dangerous. The Telegraph lives in this fairyland of unreality, and pontificates about a parellel universe where the events that we see around us didn’t actually happen. Accepting the notion that Smalling can’t leave (when the CAS regs say he clearly can) is downright dangerous.
But the Telegraph continues to talk up the fallacy and lastest to join in with commentaries from the other side of reality is Chris Bascombe. Now he ought to know that Sterling signed a five year contract in 2012. So the third year (at which time a player can walk from a contract under CAS rules) is up… oh, when it is it, oh, yes, hmmmm, now.
But Bascombe doesn’t know this because the Telegraph denies that the rule exists. As I said it is called the Webster Ruling and it is embodied in Fifa’s rules. It stipulates that that players are able to unilaterally walk away from a contract after a fixed period, regardless of the duration of the contract itself. But the Telegraph says, “No!” and so pretend it never happened and sadly for them, Liverpool’s management and owners seem to have been sucked in.
But there is a further problem. For the fact is that just as Arsenal were short of money during the build and pay period, and so couldn’t hold on to players, now Liverpool have the same problem with lots of players wandering away. Their problem is greater though, for although it is quite true that they won the Champions League in 2004/5, something Arsenal have singularly failed to achieve ever, they haven’t qualified for it for the coming year, nor five of the last six years. And they haven’t won the top division in England for 25 years. Nor the FA Cup for nine years.
Liverpool’s problem, rather like Tottenham’s is that during the rebuilding programme they will have shortages of money similar to Arsenal’s – remembering that the repayment of debts goes on for maybe eight or ten years after the rebuilding is done.
And this comes just as Michel Platini tells us that Uefa is more or less throwing in the towel on FFP.
A year ago the Guardian ran a story about the infamous JW Henry in which he is quoted as saying, “We wouldn’t have moved forward on Liverpool except for the passage of FFP.”
But what Henry didn’t really grasp is that Uefa is run by a bunch of nincompoops who really would be better employed in a Disney cartoon than football management. What Liverpool needed was a constant stream of youngtsters to bolster their team. An approach that Arsenal have revealed with players as diverse as Fabregas, Ramsey, Coquelin, Bellerin, Gibbs, etc etc etc.
When RVP or Fabregas or Nasri wanted to leave we were all annoyed and frustrated, but the production line of Wenger during his reign has been so good that we knew we would always have more and more coming through, no matter how short the club was of the readies.
But Liverpool isn’t like that. Sterling has asked to go aged 20 saying, “I talk about winning trophies throughout my career. That’s all I talk about. I don’t talk about how many cars I’m going to drive, how many houses I’ve got. I just purely want to be the best I can be.”
And to be fair he has a point in that he has turned down £1m by refusing to re-sign at a higher level last year. But in focussing on this, as the Telegraph has done several times, they miss another point, and I am wondering if Liverpool has missed it too.
Yes Sterling is losing money by not signing, but Liverpool is doing immesurable damage to its own image. It is now to be seen as
a) a club that although having won many, many trophies in the past, including the Champions League / European Cup five times, it hasn’t been winning so many in the past ten years,
b) a club that isn’t actually competing in the Champions League next year and doesn’t look close to winning the league,
c) a club that is rebuilding its stadium step by step, and is having to find money for that,
d) a club which the owner admits was reborn on the basis of FFP which has now been set aside,
e) a club run by a man who lies during negotiations, and then reveals to the world that he lied,
These things, I would submit, when put together, don’t make the best PR case for bringing in new players. The lack of recent success, the lack of a fully built new stadium, the business model dependent on a Uefa policy that is now vanishing, the lack of Champions League in quite a few years of late…
And there is another problem. Liverpool’s transfer record is considered by some as not very good in he last few years. Suarez was good yes, but they had to sell him. Sterling was good yes, but he wants to leave. While Man C and Chelsea can buy anyone they like with FFP restrictions going, and Arsenal seem to be able to pluck one or two young talents out of a hat each year while buying Ozil and Alexis, Liverpool buy…
Mario Balotelli on £80,000-a-week doesn’t help either. The manager saying last summer he was going to sign two superstars before he bought Mario didn’t help either.
My point is, doing what Wenger has done through his reign is phenomenal, and those who do the “fourth is not a trophy” bit should look at Liverpool and understand just how much Liverpool would love the non-trophy of fourth, and the production line of young players. They should think back to the way they sneered at Coquelin and Bellerin this year, and realise just how much Liverpool would have loved to welcome in such players.
We have the youth, the stadium, the profits, the business model that works, and above all the credibility. I rather suspect Liverpool would like some of that.
From the anniversary files…
19 May 1980: Liam Brady’s last match for Arsenal, a 0-5 defeat in Game 70 of the season. The sadness of Brady’s time as an Arsenal player is that he was there during Mee’s declining years, and the only moderately successful Terry Neill.