How clubs decide on transfers
- The players Arsenal are buying and selling. What are they smoking in Fleet Street?
- Top six after six: how time and again surprise rises then head for a fall.
By Sir Hardly Anyone
One of the obvious complexities of discussing transfers is the fact, as we have often mentioned, that most seasons, 97% or 98% of the transfer rumours that are mentioned in the media don’t happen.
And unfortunately, it is impossible to say how many of these didn’t occur because terms could not be agreed and how many were never going to happen but were simply fantasies made up by journalists and bloggers keen to fill up a page without spending much time on the matter.
But it also seems from recent figures that of those transfers that do occur something like 75% don’t have the impact that was imagined. Which makes the key issue, how could the clubs constantly get things so wrong?
The current story doing the rounds is that Arsenal are willing to sell Thomas Partey and want to bring in Declan Rice from West Ham. To this is added the latest fantasy that Manchester City also want Rice, but rather annoyingly have not actually said so.
Also reported is the notion that Arsenal have agreed a deal with Chelsea for Havertz and are in the process of negotiating for Lavia from Southampton. There has been talk of Arsenal also bidding for Caicedo from Brighton, but Chelsea want him.
Bayer Leverkusen, we are informed have been about to sign Grant Xhaka since before the end of the season, and Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney are about to depart, with the Ajax’ defender Jurrien Timber coming in.
So let’s pause a moment and think of this. In that little commentary above four players are mentioned, and they might all be good players who could deliver further improvement to Arsenal. But there’s another question: can they play together as a team?
Indeed given that some transfers are not finished until the last seconds of the window, how does any manager work out who can play with whom before the window “slams shut” as the journos like to say.
If one then adds to this the notion that some of these stories are utterly untrue and simply invented by journalists who would rather make things up than do a solid day’s work in terms of research, we then have a problem in sorting out what is happening.
One way to make sense of this morass is to accept that a club like Arsenal might well have five players they would like to buy but do not have any expectation of getting all five. It is possible that two or three of them could play together, but almost certainly not all five. So any notion that Arsenal “failed to get three of their major targets” could be totally untrue – all they were after was two of those players, but sensibly lined up five possibles, the second always depending on who the first one was.
So as a signing is made, that means interest in two or three other players is immediately lost. Except that the media keep up their torrent of rumours, and when those two or three other players are not signed Arsenal is blamed as being “too slow” or “not offering enough” with the suggestion that with a little more effort the club could have had the player, had they made the effort.
So my point is that each purchase then affects what happens next. Thus clubs are not “failing” to get their targets, but changing their targets as they go along, to accommodate the success or failure of other bids. It’s just that the media don’t quite see it.
We might remember how Aaron Ramsdale was treated by the media when he arrived. The honest ones admitted they couldn’t work out why the transfer was made, the rest just criticized Arsenal.
Ben White was another Arsenal transfer that left the media (and fans influenced by the media) suggesting that it was a pointless transfer. And yet he has shone through with excellent performances at the back in the third-best defence in the league.
Meanwhile so uncertain was the entire media about Martin Odegaard that it seems hardly any other club was rivaling Arsenal to get him when he arrived.
Of course, not every player works out, but when a player doesn’t the media love to just put everything down to the player. Yet players are bought to fit into a system, and if that system has to change because the rest of the expected transfers don’t happen, then a player can be left looking like the proverbial squad peg. Albert Sambi Lokonga might be considered in this way.
But it is also possible that such players were bought for a system that so far has not come to pass, but could be completed by this summer’s signings.
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