By Tony Attwood
According to those who don’t like Mr Wenger, the Arsenal transfer policy doesn’t work. Wenger is lazy, won’t spend money, and each time there is a player to get, we let someone else get him.
As I have been trying to point out all year, there are some big problems with this analysis. Such stories take no account of the financial reality of clubs, with endless talk of clubs that are on a very tight line in relation to FFP, spending and spending without any reference to the restrictions.
Nor does such an approach take account of player’s own views, and instead promote the notion that notion that players can be equated to packets of meat that can be bought and sold at a market, without any reference to their own personal wishes and wants. This is sometimes extended to the assumption that players will go anywhere and do anything for money – this may be true sometimes, but not always.
Of course not all managers plot and plan as carefully as Mr Wenger. To my mind, B. Rodgers of Liverpool, and indeed the club’s owner, have not always been the best advocate of the club as a place where top players might want to play.
One thing managers really can’t afford to do is to attack journalists, because they will simply turn anything said upside down, inside out and round about. And this is where I think Rodgers is not helping a difficult situation.
He’s been expressing annoyance with the criticism of Sterling following Liverpool’s defeat to Man U. The newspapers quote him as saying that the press are “trying to kill us” through their “analysis” (I use the word lightly).
But the issue was not only Sterling: it is also of the tactics the club employed.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger get this all the time, day after day of course, and apart from the famous confrontation on the steps of Highbury on day one, Mr Wenger has the journalists get on with their wild ravings, including for many years their rampant anti-French and anti-foreigner approach.
But Rodgers now feels and complains about the exact mirror image of what happened to Mr Wenger in the early days, arguing that, “The other night it was a British coach playing 3-4-3 so he has probably thrown the team together. ‘He has played seven midfielders?’ If it was a foreign coach it would probably have been seen as a wonderful tactical idea of playing the game. ‘Sterling playing through the middle – what is he doing? Markovic out wide?’ But that is the key for us – trying to get the players in position who can make us effective.”
Naturally we don’t know if Rodgers said this or anything like it, it is after all only in the papers, but if he even touched on criticising journalists he has probably made he own situation much worse.
And I am not sure that he really helps himself by saying that he would have been better off if Suárez had been replaced by Sánchez. It doesn’t say much about the players he has, and given the journalists and bloggers insistence on the “players as meat” approach it is a story that is unlikely to be given much positive treatment by the media.
We know Sánchez was Liverpool’s first-choice target to replace Suárez in the summer but they lost out to Arsenal. That should be the end of it.
But if Rodgers said what some papers say he said (and I know that is a big if) then Rodgers has been generous in his assessment of the player his side will face on Sunday. And maybe not done his own cause much good.
Of Sánchez, Rodgers is reported to have said, “He was someone we identified who would be perfect for us. He not only has outstanding quality but an even bigger work rate. If you look at how I ask the team to play it is critical, not just with the ball but the intensity with the pressing. He was identified for us as someone who would have been a key signing and really just a roll-on to what we had with Luis Suárez. So to not get him was obviously bitterly disappointing but once he was gone that was it, we just had to focus on what we had.”
Faced with the same sort of questioning Arsène Wenger has a stronger situation for no one knows for sure which players Arsenal tried to buy in the summer and did not get. This is, I think, the better position to hold, and reflects Arsenal’s growing mastery of the Vapour Transfer, of which we have spoken before on many occasions.
It was particularly interesting that Mr Wenger gave the clear but quite misleading story to the anti-Wengerians that he was not focussed on the club, by allowing the press to photograph him playing foot volleyball on the beach during the World Cup, when the AAA were screaming for signings. It was a nice bit of camouflage to let the deal go through, just as the Higuain and Balotelli stories have been used at different times to cover the genuine transfer moves.
When asked, Mr Wenger has admitted that Liverpool were trying to do the deal at the same time. Mr Wenger had added to the smoke surrounding the issue with the fun and games over the £40m plus £1 “offer” which in turn caused Mr Henry, the owner of Liverpool to lie about there being no such clause in the Suarez contract. The lack of response of Arsenal to this claim (which as we’ve noted many times before, Mr Henry later admitted in a sports conference, was a complete falsehood) shows clearly that Arsenal knew exactly what was going on, and really were pulling the strings. Suárez was never a target, but Ozil was, and there was a need to get Ozil out of Real Mad without Tottenham being able to force their “don’t sell to Arsenal” clause in the Bale to Real Mad contract.
In a recent interview Mr Wenger said, “I thought Liverpool was a serious candidate [for Sánchez] because they had Suárez going to Barcelona so you think that’s an easy way to do the deal. But at the end of the day, the player always has the decision.
“Was I worried that Liverpool might get Sánchez? Yes. It could happen. There were some other clubs that were in for him as well. The fact is the transfers at that level today always take time to get every detail right so, because it takes time, you think always that somebody else can come in – Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern,– to do the deal.”
So what was Arsenal’s ploy to counteract such moves as Liverpool, PSG or Bayern screwing up the deal? Simple – long term planning – exactly the sort of thing that is not covered by the press or blogs today. Mr Wenger had Sánchez tracked by Arsenal scouts since the player’s days at Udinese, and he personally stayed in touch with the players’ agent. Where the current thesis is that everything happens in the last few moments mostly it is planning, planning and planning. But that never makes for an exciting back page story so it doesn’t get covered.
“The history of every big club is made up of many big players that you missed. It goes on and sometimes you get another one. I wanted to play Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka together. Maybe, if Anelka had stayed, Henry would not have become the player he became. Sometimes, it’s coincidence that decides your destiny.”
So when Arsenal went after Sánchez the door was already half open because of the long term contact, which told the agent that Arsenal were serious, and not engaging in a Vapour Transfer cover for some other deal. Liverpool could not show this – but needed to, because of their loss of credibility following the stories about how they lied regarding the Suarez contract. Arsenal showed how many years they had been in the Champions League and of course Sanchez wanted to work with Wenger (something the AAA can’t comprehend), wanted to play with Mesut Özil and fancied living in London. Plus, as Mr Wenger added, “I just tried, like every manager, to convince the player that you can help him to develop the quality of his game and that the way we play football would suit him. As well, we have continuity. All the players want to play in the Champions League – it is quite simple. And we have quite a good continuity on that front. At the end of the day, every great player has a choice to go where he wants today. He has chosen us and we are very happy for that.”
But he also admitted to one negative, “You have to say: ‘Be careful. In England, there’s no stop in winter.’ Many of them suffer physically.”
- Over half of the 92 league clubs have gone into administration this century. What next?
- Does spending on transfers automatically bring success? Arsenal compared to the rest.
- Manchester City v Arsenal: the team and the FA Cup
- Has Arsenal now caught up with Manchester City?
- Manchester City v Arsenal: the referee and the FA Cup