This question arose because yesterday I made the point that I couldn’t see Arsenal screwing up its contract issues with a player so that he left. One commentator wrote back and suggested that Flamini was one such case where Arsenal had done just that.
I beg to differ – and I believe Hleb and Flamini should be lessons to everyone.
Wenger said that Flamini could leave 18 months ago if he wanted to, but without a good offer from anywhere, Flamini chose to stay for the last year of his contract. During that final year the quality of his performance improved greatly, and as we all know Wenger offered Flamini a new contract, and Flamini turned it down.
The point is quite simple – Flamini had not been good enough, but then had one great season. Wenger had not wanted to offer a contract extension earlier because the quality was not there, and when it came to the time for offering a new contract, he still wasn’t sure the change in Flamini’s ability would last. So the new offer reflected that.
In that regard he may well have been right. Since moving to Milan Flamini has had a paucity of games, and has been reported in the press (which of course is an unreliable source) to the effect that if he doesn’t start getting some more matches he will ask to move again.
Of course we could argue that had he stayed at Arsenal his standard of performance would have stayed high – but there is no real evidence either way. The point is Milan have been disappointed by what he has to offer.
As for Hleb, the following comment was posted yesterday on Untold Arsenal, which quotes from the Mail
“Former Arsenal star Alexander Hleb has admitted to being unsettled in Spain, hinting that he may want to leave Barcelona at the end of the season. The 27-year-old Belarus international says he is not getting enough first team action…”
So it would seem that both players are not having such a great time of it away from Arsenal, either because Arsene Wenger got the players playing above their normal level, or because they were both at their peak, and have now gone into natural decline.
Either way the truth is, their employers are unhappy (as witness the fact that they bought the players who were first team regulars and are not playing them that much) and the players are unhappy (they want to play more – and in the case of Hleb is seems he has not learned Spanish fast enough for his employers likes).
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If we take this back to the issue of screwing up contracts by not signing up players quickly enough, the answer seems to be that Arsenal have got it absolutely correct by not paying the earth for players who simply can’t deliver at the highest level year after year.
It does seem to me (and it is just a personal matter of course) that there is an assumption over Flamini in particular that having discovered great form after several years of being a bit-player, this would automatically continue. I think that when a player suddenly comes good after several years, there is no guarantee at all that his quality of form will continue, and it is more likely that the one year will seem to be an oddity, not the start of performances at the highest level.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009
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