by Tony Attwood
The story of Arsenal’s apparent bid for Luis Suárez last summer is one that was used extensively by anti-Arsenal commentators as an example of how ineptly the transfer process is handled at Arsenal.
It was back in November 2012 that the Daily Mirror ran the headline, “Red alert! Buy-out clause means Suarez can leave Liverpool for £40m”
Undoubtedly others already knew of the clause, and in 2013 Arsenal offered £40,000,001 for the player. Liverpool made a lot of noise about how silly Arsenal were because there was no such clause and they didn’t have to talk to Arsenal.
The story didn’t of course suggest Arsenal actually wanted to buy the player, because it always looked like Real Mad were the club most likely to take a player with a history of instability on the pitch, and the bid may well have been part of the vapour transfer trail that Untold has highlighted over the years. Indeed it was an excellent cover for the early discussions about the possibility of getting Ozil.
But Liverpool made their noise, and with the media and the AAA always ready to jump on Arsenal, the “failure” of Arsenal to get their facts right became the story. However it now seems that the owner of Liverpool FC lied, lied and lied again over the issue. The situation was exactly as Arsenal stated. There was a buy out clause.
Mr Henry, the owner of the club previously owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, has now made a speech at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference says that he lied to Arsenal and the media on the grounds that contracts in English football are meaningless. His exact words were, “apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold”.
No one should be surprised at this, because the story followed all the normal processes of the media believing one club, any club (as long as it is not Arsenal) and then creating a story around that. The AAA lapped it up.
The Liverpool owner also said at the conference that Suárez “had a buyout clause of £40m. Arsenal, one of our prime rivals, offered £40m plus £1. What we’ve found … is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually, in world football. It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving.
“We sold a player, Fernando Torres, for £50m, that we did not want to sell, we were forced to. Since apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold, we took the position that we’re just not selling.”
In one sense Henry is right as Arsenal found when Barcelona did their infamous “DNA is in his blood” transfer of Cesc, who was on a very long contract with Arsenal at the time.
But the Liverpool statement, is to say the least, a little less than the truth. Yes Liverpool took the position that they were not selling, but also they took the view that they could lie to the world’s media with impunity. And indeed they can because the media were not ready to go digging – except of course that for a few weeks no one will ever trust a word out of Liverpool FC again.
However that is temporary. In a few more weeks they will be the bright lights, and this story will vanish.
Yet it is not just Liverpool who have been shown to be ignoring contracts and lying to the media. In August 2013 ESPN ran the story that Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the players’ union, had said that the club are not obliged to sell Suárez.
This followed articles in the Telegraph and the Guardian in which Suárez was quoted as saying that he had the legal right to force through a move to Arsenal, despite Liverpool’s rejection on 23 July 2013.
Liverpool then countered with the statement (now shown to be untrue) that they only had to inform Suarez of any offers above £40 million – and do not have to sell at that price. Suárez countered with a statement that Liverpool had promised that he could leave if the club failed to qualify for the 2013-14 Champions League, which of course did happen.
At one stage Suárez said, in the Telegraph, “We have the backing of the PFA,” but Mr Taylor, the head of the union, refuted this and said that the clause did not exist in that form.
Quite how players and agents will now treat the PFA after this revelation remains to be seen, but it can’t really have done the union’s standing any good. Either the PFA lied, or else it relied on evidence from Liverpool FC – and an employees trade union should never just rely on information from employers. That’s rather obvious really.
But Taylor at the PFA was clear, saying in an interview with the Press Association: “If you are going to have a supposed buy-out clause, it should be that – but it is different as it says [that] if there is no qualification for the Champions League and if there is a minimum offer of £40 million, then the parties will get around the table to discuss things. But it does not say the club has to sell….
“It is not edifying and that is why I feel we had to do our best to get round the table and see if there are grounds for consideration for the move but it (the clause) is not specific and 100 per cent certain.
“We are in touch with both parties to try to see if some resolution can be achieved that is satisfactory to both sides.”
Of course the PFA can argue that they acted in the best interest of the player – especially as it emerged later that Suárez was able to get a massive pay rise in return for not pushing through his desire to leave, but even so it still does not speak well for the PFA in my view.
Nor does it say much for the management at Liverpool as Suárez repeatedly stated in his interviews that Brendan Rodgers had assured him he could leave with the failure to get into the Champions League in 2013.
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