By Tony Attwood
I appreciate that to many Arsenal fans of a younger vintage, or perhaps converted to the cause by the success and high profile brought to the club by Arsène Wenger, might not remember or even know that once upon a time we had a forward called Nic Anelka.
But Anelka is important in the history of Arsenal, because he established a pattern that we have seen repeated many times since – and which we are seeing now with RVP and his transfer. A pattern which, in fact, has been the bedrock of Arsenal’s success in staying in touch with the Billionaire clubs.
In February 1997, Nic Anelka aged 17 joined Arsenal for a fee, eventually agreed at £500,000. When Wright was injured Anelka took over and was significant in the Double win in 1997/8. Indeed he scored in the Cup Final – which endeared him to many hearts, despite his seeming lack of interest in the club or its fans. ( I can remember watching Anelka score for Arsenal at Coventry, and seeing his total lack of celebration or enthusiasm as he trudged back to the half way line, saying to my mate Roger, “that kid has real personality problems.” Not my most definitive psychological profile, but one that was made long before we started calling the lad “Le Sulk”.
Having won PFA Young Player of the Year Anelka demanded a huge hike in salary (I seem to remember his brother was his agent) and all sorts of other stuff too – so Arsenal transferred the lad to Real Madrid in the summer of 1999 for £22.3 million. He won the Champs League with them, but quickly fell out of favour and started his tour of the clubs of Europe, as Real Mad threw away some money transferring him back to PSG, who in turn ended up paying about 30 times what they had sold him for, eventually selling him on once again for less.
This “sell a player on for a mega profit while bringing in the next likely lad” was new to us then and seemed curious. And what we now see as the normal “Arsenal is a selling club” nonsense, was started up by rivals for the first time.
However what us old timers remember is that Arsenal used a bit of the Anelka cash to build the new training facilities, which were the foundation of our new youth policy. Oh and we used half of it to buy Thierry Henry in the same transfer window. (T Henry worth half N Anelka! Amazing!)
The pattern has been repeated over and over again, with players coming in on the cheap and being sold on for crazy prices. Even what seemed to be pricey purchases like £11m for Henry (“pricey” it seemed because at the start he had difficulty in locating the goal) turned out to be bargains – especially when we recall that Henry, with injuries, was sold to Barcelona for €24 million – and cost them almost half a million pounds a game thereafter.
Vieira went on to Juventus, who were then relegated in a match fixing scandal – again for a huge profit. Barca got caught also with Hleb and Overmars – the latter being sold to Barca carrying an injury which eventually finished his career. He cost Barca €40.6 million (having cost Arsenal one fifth of that amount) and managed just 99 games in those four years – which when his salary is added in, worked about at around three quarters of a million euros a match.
There are many more examples – but in one case, Flamini, Arsenal were caught out by a player refusing to re-sign. It didn’t do Flamini much good – he managed 78 appearances in four years with Milan, many as sub. But his salary of 22 million euros over that time has made each appearance cost Milan over a quarter of a million euros, and helped push them into financial difficulty and a need to restructure to meet FFP regs.
Watch Arsenal Live Streams With StreamFootball.tv
Flamini of course only had one great season with Arsenal – his last – but even so Arsenal were, I believe, determined never to be caught again in this manner , and so decided to deal with players who wanted to leave, before the contract ended.
So players near the end of the contract were to be sold on but always at a massively high price, that allowed the club to bring in more money to buy more players. And it was to get this high price that supreme reluctance to sell had to be brought into the mix. No, no, no, you can’t have Nasri! No! OK, all right, because we’ve got Arteta for a lot less both in terms of salary and fee paid.
However one question arises from this ploy – namely why do the clubs fall for it? After all they must know that most of the Arsenal sell-on players cost them a fortune, and don’t play that many matches – and of course eventually get sold on for a much smaller fee (or in the case of Hleb, are virtually given away).
(Actually there is a second question – why do some people believe that Arsenal are reluctant sellers – but that’s for another day).
The answer to the first question is that the clubs are buying not just for the player’s worth, but also to impress the media and the fans. The media love transfers because it ups the level of sales of the papers. And the fans want to see their club being “ambitious” (a word introduced into the footballing vocabulary by agents who are also keen to promote their clients’ interest).
So RVP to Man U gives a chance for lots of “Arsenal in despair” stories, although very little in terms of commentary on the fact that Man U have just paid £22m plus four years of mega wages for a player who next summer they could have had for free.
Also they have just paid £22m for a player whose injury record is awful. True he played 48 games last season, but before that he was much more restricted. Of course if you are quite sure that he will reproduce that approach again this coming season, that’s good, but even so, the cost is about £60m in terms of transfer fee and salary. Is RVP worth £60m for the gamble of one brilliant season and several slipping away seasons? I doubt it.
But Man City have backed Man U into a corner over this one, through all their purchases, and Man U fans are happy because they perceive that they have got one over on both Arsenal and Man C. But in fact it is quite possible that they have done neither, tying Man U into a very expensive player who they will never be able to unload if he ever gets injured again.
Initially I had the feeling that this blog was the only place where the vision of selling players from Anelka onwards was seen as a brilliant positive move. However I was amused yesterday to see the joke going around that Mr Wenger had been arrested for stealing £22m from a befuddled old age pensioner. Maybe others are starting to see it this as another example of the Anelka Principle.
Which takes us back to Anelka himself. What was better – to take the money and spend it on Henry and our new training centre which is still considered one of the best on the planet, or should we have held onto a player who didn’t want to be with us?
Of course we don’t know if RVP will be injured in game 2 and only manage 10 matches a year for Man U (while still taking his salary). Of course we don’t know who Mr Wenger has up his sleeve in terms of the next transfer.
Time will tell, but in the past Mr Wenger has been right (think of players from Bentley to Adebayor) – little to no cost to bring them in, huge income on selling them on. The past speaks hugely in Mr Wenger’s favour – my guess is that he has indeed done it again, and that RVP’s name will slip away from the Man U hall of fame, just as the memory of selling worthless shares on the New York stock exchange will hardly be recalled as one of the club’s finest moments.
- Van Persie has gone to Man U; can Arsenal expect to push past them this season?
- Pest Control: Barcelona
- The Anti-Arsenal vision for the coming season
- 2012 – Ref by Ref – Jonathan Moss
- Pest Control: Sam Allerdyce
- Why is Radio 5 losing its audience
- Football as an indication of a source of madness
- Pest Control: Adebayor