By Tony Attwood
You will have heard the story. Rejected by Leek Town, Nantwich, Market Drayton, and Crewe Alex. It is a story that even puts Charlie Austin’s move upwards from Poole Town in the shade, although of course it does happen from time to time. We might think of Chris Smalling (Maidstone), Michail Antonio (Tooting), Yannick Bolasie (Hillingdon), Ashley Williams (Hednesford Town), and the Vardy chap from Fleetwood Town.
But even so it seems a bit strange – how come everyone else missed him – even when they saw him? Sheffield Wednesday had the chance to sign him but couldn’t make up their mind and as a result left it all too late. And Crystal Palace, who had Cohen on loan earlier this season, but apparently didn’t like what they saw. (The story is they felt Cohen was so fast they feared the rest of the team would never be able to keep up with him).
There are however very good reasons why Arsenal should take him, and there are also some reasons why many other clubs would not. Here’s a rundown.
1: He’s English
That will appeal to Premier League clubs, although seemingly not enough to make them interested. The reason that Arsenal is just about the only club that have listed 25 players in their squad in the first part of the season is because of the regulation that says only 17 of those players can be “foreign”. The rest must be “home grown”. Such is the shortage of home growns that virtually all clubs have listed only 20 or 21 players – they simply don’t have enough home growns to make up the number. Arsenal however have made this a priority, either through finding English or Welsh born and bred players, or players like Coquelin and Bellerin who qualify through joining the club at a young age.
But despite the attraction of getting home grown players there’s still the feeling that foreign is best, and then when a home grown player is found, his price goes up, because he is home grown.
2. He’s young
Such is the demand these days for success now, and so short is the life of the average manager, than building for the future is no longer an option. If you take the two long term managers of recent years (Wenger and Ferguson) out of the equation, then the average tenure of a League manager is about one year three months.
So if you know you are only in the job for a short while, why buy for the future so that some other manager can come in and get the credit for your foresight?
3. He’s left footed.
True, school teachers don’t torture left handed children as they did up to about 35 years ago, so naturally left handed people can survive without deep rooted psychological harm in their school years. But they still only represent 10% of the population, but all teams would like to have three left footed players in their team – one at full back, one in central defence, one in midfield. (We’ve also got a left footed keeper, but that’s a different story).
Thus clubs need 30% of the team to be left footed, but only 10% of the population is. But they have got used to making do, and after Mr Wenger introduced the notion of a right footed player on the left wing with Pires, the search for left footed gems faded.
4. He’s fast. Like Bellerin
Not all teams are based on speed, and indeed the notion of very fast full backs being sought after is a modern phenomenon. The trouble is that if only one of your two full backs is particularly quick that gives the team a slightly unbalanced feel. It can be dealt with of course by adopting certain styles of play, but even then the team needs players with specific attributes, not least forwards who can keep up with the accelerating wing back. And not too many managers have such an array of talent. Arsenal however do.
5. Buying is the preferred option.
Of course all clubs have academies but there are many different models of academy, each attuned to certain outcomes. Some clubs nurture youth so that they can send the players on loan and then sell them. Some (Chelsea is an obvious example) seem to do it simply to stop other clubs getting hold of the players they spot. But overall it is the transfer market that gets the publicity. Indeed there have been a fair number of sneering commentaries already about Arsenal buying an unknown when what we really need is a proven international because both our left backs are useless.
In some clubs this total ignorance of what is likely to happen with big money transfers for established players (remember only 25% come good in their first year) or the bowing to pressure, makes buying the only option.
6. Transfers mean a quick fix – who wants to wait?
Not only is there pressure to buy but as we noted above, the average tenure of League managers is very short, so they know that if they find a gem the chances are it won’t be them who gets the credit. So they continue to believe in the transfer market for ready made players rather than bringing through youth players or buying players and giving them a year or two to develop.
At Arsenal it is different. Think of Coquelin, Iwobi, Martinez, Gibbs, Bellerin, Jenkinson, Holding, Ramsey, the Ox, Le Jeff, Akpom and Walcott. All are listed as members of the first team squad at Arsenal, and all have come in and developed at the club.
That is 12 players out of the 29 first teamers listed (excluded in the players out on loan this season) who have progressed within Arsenal rather than been transferred and come straight into the first team. This is incredibly unusual these days. Other clubs just don’t think this way.
7. No one is thinking of Brexit.
The UK looks likely to leave the EU in about two years two months, and no one seems to have much idea what this will mean to football. Obviously EU nationals will no longer have an immediate right of entry, and we are already seeing reports of some EU nationals being told to make arrangements to leave the country by the Home Office. Of course the open door policy that makes it fairly easy for non-EU nationals to join English clubs both as managers and players could be extended but at the moment the statements from the government suggest that stopping immigration into the UK is the government’s prime objective, and football may be granted special exemption status along with those who are medically trained
So buying English players has not yet become a priority – not least because no one quite knows what “Brexit means Brexit” actually means. But since a policy of bringing in English players also means bringing in players who count as home grown in the 25, it seems sensible to think British – at least until the government tells us what Brexit means Brexit means.
But then, when was football management ever sensible?
8. Ignore the cost, look at the quality.
There is no doubt that when a player is brought in, many journalists and bloggetta writers value the player not by the contribution he can make to the team but by the player’s cost. Teams which spend the most are seen to be the most forward-looking, the most adventurous, the most determined. So low cost youngsters are immediately diminished in value, which is what made it so easy to move in and buy Bramall.
9. Scouting systems were radically changed in the Premier League
After Mr Wenger arrived at Arsenal and started bringing in unknown foreign players with twice the ability of some English players, but for half the cost buying foreign became the rage. It was not just Henry and Pires that took the world by storm but also Ljunberg, van Persie, Anelka, Kolo Toure, Marc Overmars, Patrick Vieira…
It is hard to remember that prior to this era it was generally considered that foreign players were very unlikely to be able to cope with the speed and intensity of the English game. But such is the influence of Mr Wenger’s approach that now every club tries to buy foreign, leaving much of the English market unexplored.
10. The rumour mongers didn’t mention him.
This is the way with almost all Arsenal transfers – there is no mention of the event until the last minute. We showed this last summer, recording over 110 players who were supposedly signing for Arsenal, only to find that the players Arsenal did sign were not even mentioned until the deal was all done except the medical. So Arsenal targets come through under the radar as a matter of course, unlike transfers arranged by most other clubs.
Arsenal work hard to make this the case, knowing that if the word gets around that Mr Wenger is in for a player the price will shoot up. Although the anti-Wengerian camp like to portray the manager as a Mr Bean figure flopping around unable to cope with reality, in the rest of football there are many scouts who try to divine what players Arsenal are looking at, because of the club’s extraordinary track record at finding talented youngsters.
But this time the rivals failed to see what was going on until to late. The deal was done quickly (like most Arsenal deals, once the story breaks) stopping anyone else moving in.
And that’s the ten reasons. Arsenal do things differently, and when it comes to transfers, they do it with a certain level of success which others would love to have.
Untold Arsenal and the Arsenal History Society…
The index of the major articles about Arsenal players is now complete. It comes in two parts: A to K L to Z Of course there are many other sources of articles on Arsenal players but I do like to think that the articles here add a lot more detail, and have often found stories and issues that have been missed in other reports. I do hope you will give us a try.