By Billy “the Dog” McGraw
One of the big problems with analysing the emergence of playing squads is that the media has fixed the agenda so that only the transfer window is important. It can have a place in developing a squad, but there are other mechanisms. Since the media refuse to acknowledge them, I guess I will have to.
Since the Summer 2014 window closed five players have come into serious contention in Arsenal’s first team.
- Coquelin – whose current ratings put him in the top five defensive midfielders in Europe
- Bellerin – like Coquelin highly criticised when he first emerged last season but now a player most European teams would welcome as a permanent fixture
- Cech – highly regarded keeper; a dodgy start in the first game but picking up the pace now.
- Monreal – joined us in January 2013, and although he played a fair bit before, it is only in the last year that he has emerged as our first choice in his position, and become utterly reliable and a key player.
- Gabriel – joined in the last transfer window, and rarely played but is stating to look like a brilliant purchase, first to provide cover in the centre of defence, and then to take over a full time role.
Now if those five players had been bought to the club ready made and ready to play, in the two 2015 transfer windows, there would probably have been a much muted line of discontent from the media – although they would have found something else to moan about. They are five superb players – and although there are still people who write in each day to Untold complaining about Coquelin and the need for another defensive midfielder (we’ve stopped publishing them as they just say the same thing again and again) it is interesting that none of them ever report Coquelin’s figures from the second half of the season.
Indeed, just to pause on that thought for a moment, having moderated the discussion points this morning, I was struck by just how many items we get that simply say, “you are wrong, he’s rubbish” or words to that effect. As I say, they we stopped publishing most of them a few months ago as it was getting boring.
Anyway, back to my main point. An introduction of five regulars from a combination of sources (under 21s, backup players, new purchases) to my mind is rather a good ploy, since it stops one being utterly dependent on other clubs.
Indeed this transfer window some teams have particularly come unstuck. (I will return to this at the conclusion with an analysis of just how many top transfers do actually work, but first… Tottenham. Our old chums this time around failed with their famous hard line take-it-or-leave-it tactics, (the story is their offer for Berahino was seemingly somewhat less generous than the media made out and contained various stage payments) and they also find themselves stuck with Emmanuel Adebayor. The latest rumour is that Tottenham are trying to off load him on loan to WHU, with Tottenham continuing to pay the old buzzard £600,000 or more during the course of the year.
Incidentally Berahino has now stated that he will not play for his club again, and so has put himself in breach of contract. A quick tribunal should reveal that the player need not now be paid, and he can just sit there until he changes his mind.
But getting fewer high profile players like Monreal and Gabriel, and letting them mature, and capturing future top players as teenagers looks to me like a clever move – not least because those occasional transfers can come in under the radar, and who knows what other players will emerge this season.
Who knows if Bielik, or Adelaide will come through this season. I don’t know if Zelalem, Crowley, Maitland-Niles, Gnabry, Haden, Akpom, Jenkinson, Martinez, Crowley, Toral or Willington Silva will emerge as Coquelin and Bellerin have, but I would certainly guess from what I have seen of these players that at least one of them will. Indeed I would be surprised if we don’t see two emerge into the first team by the end of this season.
But of course the media don’t want to know. Their game is different and it runs like this:
- Determine that only big money transfers count. Everything else is irrelevant – so never mention the transfer in of Ramsey and players of his ilk, who took several years to develop and become first team regulars. It upsets the argument.
- Announce that Arsenal have signed a big money player even though it is not true, the player is irrelevant to the needs of the squad, and is not for sale.
- Ensure that the other papers pick up the story, and then constantly re-run it as the Mail says the Metro has reported it, and the Metro says the Mail has reported etc.
- When the story is exposed as gibberish in that the player deemed to be the great goalscoring centre forward isn’t, rely on those poor saps taken in by the circulation boosting charade to blame the club for being too slow.
- Start circulating another story – such as “fans demand Wenger gives his salary back because of his failure” – while very carefully ignoring the five players who have emerged as first team regulars in the past year.
- Quickly get the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust to demand an inquiry into transfer strategy after Arsène Wenger fails to buy a single outfield player – and again ignore the players who have emerged as stars these last 12 months, or the fact that Wenger’s big money purchases (like every other manager) are as likely to fail as to succeed. For every Henry there is Reyes.
- Always ignore the fact that Chelsea have not brought through a major first team player from the youth team since John Terry or that Man City despite spending £200m on their academy have so far just given first team experience to Dedryck Boyata. (Daniel Sturrridge was the star of the FA Youth Cup team, but he was sold). And of course keep knocking Jack Wilshere for post FA Cup chanting, because having home grown players come through from the age of 11 is just embarrassing.
- After the transfer window is over talk about an Arsenal supporter revolt, season tickets being torn up (have you actually tried to rip one of those plastic cards in half?) etc.
- Start running transfer rumours on the day after it is all over – and about a month later start the stories about high cost players who have not since played for their new club because they are not nearly as good as everyone hyped them up to be.
- But don’t ever do that last bit in detail….
Because it is really interesting. I must admit gathering the data on the “what happens to top buys” was beyond my ability to put together. So this comes from TomkinsTimes an excellent Liverpool web site. I don’t agree with every analysis, but my goodness this guy can do his work and I agree with most (and who is to say he is not right and me wrong).
The site analysed the “53 most expensive ‘big club*’ signings between 2003 (when Roman Abramovich started driving up prices) and 2014” and with some very detailed and sophisticated workings out that are totally beyond my maths, allocated each into one of three categories:
- Total flop – 14 out of 53
- Instant Hit – 14 out of 53
- Mixed Bag / Slow Starter 25 out of 53
So only one quarter of the big money transfers since the start of Abramovich, have actually made a total early impact, and to be fair, a few of the slow starters did go on to be real greats – but then others started ok but faded.
To use Paul Tomkins memorable phrase, “by my calculations, 74% of the most expensive signings since 2003 failed to have a clear and sustained impact from day one. That’s three-quarters who didn’t set the world alight early on, beyond perhaps a good game or two.”
Now as I say Iv don’t agree with the writer’s analysis of all the players in the list, but no one ever would – but there is a broader point here. Buying in high value players is the riskiest way of developing a squad and can lead to utter disaster.
Developing your own, or buying lower price players and letting them develop (while knowing it is not a total financial disaster if they don’t) is much more likely to get results. Bring in a big name player and you have to play him, no matter what. Bring in Coquelin and you can wait. Bring in Monreal and you can use him as a reserve in his position until he develops, and then use him.
The papers hate it, because it is a slow intricate process, but then, who needs the papers any more?
Untold Anniversaries – the full list of today’s anniversaries is here – just scroll down the home page
- 2 September 1893: Woolwich Arsenal 2 Newcastle Utd 2. This was the first ever league match of the club with the goals coming from Shaw and Elliott. Also see this report And the original reports in the press
- 2 September 2014: Arsenal confirm the signing of Danny Welbeck from Man U.for about £16m in the last few hours of the transfer window. It was a transfer that surprised and to some degree split the fanbase.
Latest from the Pre-season files
- 1980: The Arsenal pre-season after trying to win nearly everything
- 1893: The first Woolwich Arsenal pre-season
- Later today – 1903 – the best ever start.
- Latest news on the Untold Banner (as of 25 August)
- A Memorial to the founders of Arsenal’s Highbury dynasty.
- The petition to raise a Parliamentary Debate about State Aid for the new WHU stadium is running. If you feel that there should be an investigation and you are resident in the UK, please do sign the petition.