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October 2020

How a gap in the story can give a totally misleading vision: the youngsters who don’t make it at Arsenal.

By Tony Attwood

The big issues concerning transfers don’t  just relate to getting the player to transfer,  doing the deal with the agent, doing the deal with the other club etc etc, but also what happens thereafter.  You don’t see many articles that discuss issues like

a) Will the player settle into the team?

b) Is the player really better than we have got?

c) Could Arsenal give the player the exposure and opportunity the player justifies or we he just sit in the reserves or on the bench?

d) Will the player settle in London?

e) If it doesn’t work out, can we sell him on, and will there be a subsequent sell on fee if he becomes a star?

f) Is he temperamentally suited to life in England and the rigours of Premier League football?

g) How does his wife/girfriend/boyfriend feel about it all?

h) What happens if it doesn’t work out?

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These are all interesting questions – and all questions that were completely by-passed in a recent article which spoke about Arsenal’s “Lost generation” – a “generation” of players who Arsenal had brought into the club and then somehow “lost.”

You will notice the use of the word “lost”.  “Lost” implies it is the previous owner’s fault. “I’ve lost my watch.”  My fault.  And that was what was in Charlie Eccleshare’s mind when he concocted the “lost generation” story about Arsenal.

For the tale that Eccleshare invented (and believe me in terms of a “lost generation” the only word other than “invention” that could be used is “frabrication”) starts with this

“After Benik Afobe’s £12m move to Bournemouth, Charlie Eccleshare looks at other Arsenal youth players who Wenger let go, and whether he made the right decisions…”

Now you can see that this is immediately a change of stance.  “Lost” (“Arsenal’s fault”) becomes “let go”.  It is rather like the bloggettas that write about “Arsenal given the green light to sign Namea Player.”  Except when you read the story they haven’t – but if the sale doesn’t happen, it is Arsenal’s fault because the “green light” was given at least in the writer’s mind.

There are a whole range of issues in the article that are completely wrong but two stand out at once.  One is “what was the sell on fee?” if the player was subsequently sold on for more, and the other is “would the player ever have made it at Arsena?”

Because if the answer to the latter question is “no” then the story should be about Arsenal helping lesser players in their careers, giving them a training that is recognised worldwide, and giving them every opportunity to thrive in football.

So, two questions: did Arsenal protect their financial investment, and did they behave morally?

Let’s see how Arsenal got on on these scores, and what the Telegraph with its “Lost Generation” headline made of it.

Jermaine Pennant: sold to Birmingham for £3m

It was clear early on Jermaine would not settle at Arsenal unless he changed his way, but he didn’t and we sold him to Birmingham who sold him on to Liverpool.   Arsenal took a percentage of Birmingham’s profit, so protected their position, and also gave the player a chance in the Champions League through that.  Excellent on both counts.

Arturo Lupoli: free transfer back to his homeland with Fiorentina.

I watch Lupoli play a number of times in the reserves and his handful of first team games.  He was good but not quite good enough.  A loss on the investment, but a thoroughly moral stance by the club.  Now with Frosinone and earning his way as a footballer.

Benik Afobe: sold to Wolverhampton for £2m with a sell on clause.

With others coming through – Iwobi for example – and a whole range of players on loan, Arsenal could have kept Afobe just to stop him going elsewhere, but it would have harmed Afobe.   Wolverhampton have made £10 selling him to Bournemouth, with one third of that going back to Arsenal, and Afobe continues his career development.   As Mr Wenger said, “Sometimes you have to let people go knowing they could be successful. When they are we are happy because we know we have contributed to his success.”

Carlos Vela: sold to Real Sociedad in 2012 for a total to Arsenal of £14m over three years.

He is now flourishing, and Arsenal had a buy back option, but we saw our team moving on even faster.  The profit of over £13m was great business, and had we not had the other players coming through he could have stayed.

Oguzhan Ozyakup: sold to Besiktas for £350,000k 

Now this one is interesting because there is talk of bringing him back – although it seems to be at the level of gossip, not a real story.   He’s playing regularly in the Turkish league, so Arsenal’s moral stance on the player is maintained. We could have kept him hanging on but didn’t.

The Telegraph says, might have been easier to keep hold of him, and that is always true, except in the end the club would be like Chelsea with 30+ loanees all existing in a wilderness established simply to try and get some, any, transfer income to pitch on the income side in FFP calculations.  Had we kept him, would he have got match time?  Certainly not at the moment, so the moral stance is indeed right.

Matthew Upson:  sold to Birmingham in 2003 for £1m 

He looked good but was not good enough, especially in an era when Mr Wenger had the back four he inherited from George Graham and was later able to bring in Campbell etc.  The player was always a backup, and as Mr Wenger got to terms with the European transfer market once again, and with Bosman in full swing, there was never any need to hold on.

So the list goes on and on.  Every time we look at whether Arsenal looked after their own interest financially and behaved morally towards the player the answer is always a double yes.

Some players simply could not adapt to the rigours of playing at the top level.  Quincy Owusu-Abeyie is probably one such.  Some never made the final step to the Premier League level but were still perfectly good players in the end.

I remember think Jay Emmanuel-Thomas would make it but no, he’s a player who fits in a lower division, and that’s why I’m not a manager.

Emmanuel Frimpong looked a possible for a moment, but goodness knows what his deeper mental problems are.  Arsenal were there to help him if he wanted to help himself, and in the end that is always the issue.

We can go on Diarra who got us a huge sell on fee when he went from Portsmouth (to whom we sold him) to Real Madrid, but he was surrounded in argument and controversy.  No one ever knew where the next rumour was going to come from, and his point that he had a guarantee that he would be played as a first choice in all games was clearly nonsense.  Arsenal never make those promises – especially with the team that he came into.

And we can go on further…  Fran Merida, David Bentley (fantastic sell on fee), Mark Randall….

The issue is always the same.  The players are given every opportunity.  If they have their own problems, they are offered support, but in the end these young men will only seize their chances when they are ready to.  If they are not ready, nothing happens.

One should ask, why did a player as superbly talented as Bentley give up playing football aged 30 to open a restaurant in Spain?  I can tell you, it wasn’t a physical injury.

Arsenal by and large do the right thing for the club and its supporters, and the moral thing for their young players.  What more could you wish for?  Apart from fewer silly stories in the Telegraph.


Latest thoughts…

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23 comments to How a gap in the story can give a totally misleading vision: the youngsters who don’t make it at Arsenal.

  • Usama Zaka

    This article reminded me that just this week Steve Bruce of Hull City said in the interview that he like to sign Isaac Hayden on a permanent basis at the end of the season. He said that Hayden fits excellently in to team. He also said that Hull City have not yet made any formal offer to Arsenal but they will be ready to do so.

    Hull are currently in a very strong position for promotion, and if they get promoted I think Arsenal will negotiate with Hull City about Hayden.

  • insideright

    If you want to go back further perhaps the outstanding example is Andy Cole. But, as you say Tony, if it’s for the player’s good (and Arsenal make significant cash to reinvest in the future of others) then maybe it’s for the best.
    I can remember Ivan Gazidis saying, when he first joined the Club, that there wasn’t a manager in the EPL who cared more about his players (and less about himself) that Arsene Wenger. And given that Wenger also said that he and Arsenal were a match made in heaven we can only assume that there isn’t a club that cares more either.
    All of which is a fantastic message to be able to put out when you are trying to attract talented players (of any age) to join you.

  • goonersince72

    Great stuff Tony. Your post illuminates the difficulty in managing a football club. Getting it right even half the time is hard. Another reason we, as AFC supporters, are fortunate to have AW at the helm. Any so-called fan who criticises or complains about the great man will realise the error of their ways whenever he decides to step aside. Let’s hope it’s not any time soon.

  • Gord

    I asked about this in the other thread. How can this be a real story, when Bruce had him nailed to that darned substitutes bench just about every game? All I see, is that Hayden was good at going to fill everybodies water bottles, or something silly like that. And Bruce is going to sign him to do that permanently? It just sounds like yet another fabricated story to me.

  • Usama Zaka


    You’re right, even I was surprised when I heard that.

  • Josif

    Sometimes it’s not just question of talent. In my humble opinion, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are more gifted players than Aaron Ramsey and Joel Campbell respectively but I would always pick the latter two. In 2012-13 I wrote that Arsenal would solve their problems in a DM-area if melting Coquelin and Frimpong into one player could be possible. I got it half-right, I guess.

  • colario

    Piers Morgan on BBC Radio 5 last weekend berated and berated Arsene for selling the Dutch traitor to manure. He claimed that had it been him he would have made the DT sit on the bench.

    You can imagine what the mantra would be now if Arsene had done that.

    ‘You can’t make a player play for you. What you have to do is let the player go. Take the money……. Arsene just doesn’t know what he is doing.

    Its pathetic. Arsene has never stood in the way of a player’s future. If its not to be at Arsenal then no matter how good the player might become then Arsene will help him. He doesn’t keep a player who might have a long wait to reach the first team squad.

    Arsene has brought in players that haven’t made it but then what manager hasn’t done this?

    All the so called ‘great managers’ of the recent past and present have made £20 -30 million mistakes. Even this Monday on BBC Radio 5 some ‘know it all’ was naming present ‘splashed the cash’ players who are failures playing in the Premier League.

    Yet they dare to criticise Arsene!

    What did we do to deserve to be lectured at by such gutter intellectuals?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Would add Fabrice Muamba to the list of youngsters Wenger did right by, he was clearly respected but could not force his way into a regular first team slot at the time, so he was granted a move, and carved out a nice career until that fateful day.
    hopefully, he and his family are pretty well set up.

  • Pete

    It is really simple. Name me one young player Arsenal have released, in the 20-odd years of Wenger’s tenure, whose subsequent progress has come back to haunt us? I can’t think of anyone at all. By contrast old Red Nose released both Pogba and Pique, to give an example.

    The journo must have been absolutely desperate to pick this as a story line – about as an uphill battle as one could wish for!

  • Andy Mack

    Gord, Sorry but I need to point out that by your reasoning we should have sold Gabriel this summer. He hardly played any games last ‘half’ season.

    He’s 25 whilst Hayden is 20. You don’t have to play a guy in many games to appreciate he’s got loads of potential…

  • Gord

    I wasn’t asking to sell Hayden. I just think it is a bunch of lies that Bruce now wants to sign Hayden. I think Bruce has been playing some stupid game with Hayden.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Think we are going to have to keep more of these youngsters, apparently we are funded by an……erm……rich Russian businessman who has just lost a billion due to falling oil prices, which may affect the club…..Think the daily mirror is wrong on a few counts there……..

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Chief Tony, you’ve reminded me of Quincy Owusu Abeyie. What a name! I think I’ve heard of his name on the Chana radio football match commentaries before. But I never knew he had at one period of time played for Arsenal but never made it there. Arsenal FC is like the military barracks where soldiers come, soldiers go. But the barracks remain. Not every players that comes to Arsenal will make it there. Some will, some will fall by the wayside. When one is gone to a place to take up employment, it is always good to first pray to God for divine intervention and not to just go there on face value. Because it’s never known what is going to happen to one there. The Boss has tried to by first give his signed ones a chance to go out on loan(s) afterwards, he could stay on at Arsenal if he has met the required Arsenal grade.

  • Tai

    Great article as always Tony…

    Now, talking of Diarra … I believe Flamini had all the blame for letting Diarra go in the first place. It’s like Flamini became a monster in Arsenal’s midfield once he sighted Diarra.

    For forming a seismic partnership with Fabregas, Wenger knew, and rightly so, that he had found a midfield fulcrum of Flamini and Fabregas to win a title he lost to the Eduardo leg break at Birmingham. Diarra saw he couldn’t displace Flamini and didn’t want to stay on the bench. Can’t blame him. He forced his move to Portsmouth. Again, the Brazilian, Gilberto was his national team captain. Flamini equally was keeping him on the bench…Wenger wouldn’t dishonour a Brazilian captain with early retirement and sanctioned a move to Fernabache.

    Then Flamini…after clearing the coast for him broke Wenger’s heart – left on a free to AC Milan! Arsenal suddenly lost three great DMs! Remedy? Wenger kicked off the season with pairing Song and Denilson or Diaby whenever fit. How Wenger managed to forgive Flamini and brought him back to Arsenal is a case study of how great a man our manager is.

    Now the question – why didn’t Arsenal buy back Diarra from Portsmouth…instead let him go to Madrid? I still don’t know what happened. Please can anyone here enlighten me?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Sometimes when a player leaves , it opens the door for another to stake a claim. Like in the case of Martin Keown and Tony Adams in the mid 80s.
    Both were of the same age , but Keown was given more chances in the first team .
    With his leaving , Adams became more involved and became a regular and was even chosen for England for Euro 1988 .
    That Arsenal brought back Keown later , only for these two to form a strong centerback pairing ( along with Bould and to a lesser extent Linighan ) which was part of that famous defence, is now history.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    While reading the article , my mind too , like insideright’s , went to Andy Cole . I watched his only sub appearance on tv , and was quite impressed with his performance . Especially after when he took a fierce shot that hit the side netting.
    I was happy that day in the knowledge that we had a very promising and up and coming reserve player.

    Kevin Campbell was in red hot form that year and we also had Alan Smith and Paul Merson in the team. Ian Wright was still yet to come .

    When we sold Cole to Bristol City for 500,00 Pounds , it was probably a record for a reserve player with only one sub appearance in the league !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    In 1992 , when Andy Cole left Arsenal the record transfer at that time was
    Paul Gascoigne , Spurs to Lazio for £5,500,000 . While that between English clubs was Bryan Robson ,West Bromwich Albion to Manchester United £1,500,000 ( Oct 1981).

  • nicky

    The professional game is now big business. The sporting side is important but money is the controlling element.
    Once upon a time young players were sent out on loan in order to gain experience. Now, the added possibility of eventual sell-on fees has to be borne in mind.
    The inflationary bubble of wages chasing fees and vice versa will one day burst. You can depend on it.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Diarra was a strange one. Yes he wanted to play, but it seems he was never really given a chance.
    My guess, either Wenger realised he didn’t need him, or he found out something, but guess that one is an issue we may never know fully

  • Andy Mack

    Gord, Hayden is competing with Meyler, Huddlestone and Livermore for a DM role. Those 3 may not be ‘world class’ but they’re reasonable mid table PL midfielders. For a 20 year old to get over 350 minutes in that company isn’t bad (it’s actually pretty reasonable). According to the media Bruce always said that he didn’t want Hayden to leave but he couldn’t give him the time he wanted as Meyler was in great form (plus I think he had expected Livermore to get a long ban after testing positive for cocaine). He’s never said a bad word about Hayden and I’m sure he can see that the boy’s good and would probably get more time if they weren’t fighting for a promotion spot. But at 20 he is still a boy in football terms. I’m sure Bruce would like to buy him the same way he’d like to buy Akpom, as they’re both future PL players. Whether there’s any truth to the story that he’ll try to or not isn’t clear but It looks to me as though it’s a story from the newspapers rather than from Bruce. Even though I don’t like Bruce, If the story is correct I can’t see that he’s trying anything odd in this case.

  • Josif

    Speaking of huge Arsenal talents…

    Serge Gnabry. Gave three excellent away performances in 2013-14 (Swansea, United, Palace). Got a chance due to Chamberlain’s injury under Anthony Taylor’s watch. Then, something weird happened.

    We were mauling Sunderland at the Emirates with Tommy R. scoring a brilliant team goal. Gnabry was one-on-one with their goalkeeper but his finish was rather poor. I think it was the very last piece of action for Serge in Arsenal shirt. I have to admit that I’ve always suspected there was something between him and Wenger after the game. Maybe Wenger gave him a critic for that poor shot and Serge responded badly? I don’t know but sending a player to Pulis on loan must be regarded as a cruel and unusual punishment from European Convention.

  • Andy Mack

    Josif, There may be a Wenger/Gnabry issue but by far the main reason for his stuttering progress has to be the serious knee injury he suffered towards the end of the 13/14 season, and his fitness battle since then.

  • Menace

    Colario – Piers Morgan can move on a free – in fact I’m sure a few fans will pay for him to support some other side. The gun lobby in US will be glad to have him as ambassador!