By Sir Hardly Anyone
After the summer transfer rumour table reached record proportions, I thought that even the most rabid “buy buy buy” website would realise that maybe just buying more and more players doesn’t work. Getting the players bedded in and working with the team, is also a major part of the equation.
Yet it seems not as the raving over new players goes on and on and on.
But a moment’s thought about great players from the past ought to give us a clue that one or even two seasons at the club is not always enough for a player to learn how his new club is playing and where he fits in.
Take Dennis Bergkamp. In his last two seasons with Ajax he played 84 games and scored 63 goals – an amazing achievement.
By the time of his second and final season at Inter Milan he played 26 games and scored four goals – and the Milanese newspapers were running columns about the worst howler or miss made by a player in the weekend’s games labelled “Bergkamp of the week”.
In his first season at Arsenal he took a while to settle down but did manage 11 goals in 33 games, but it was only in his second season under Mr Wenger that he really began to flourish.
The fact is some players fit in quickly, some take a while, some last for just one season, and some never make it.
Let’s consider some of our recent purchases and loans from the most recent transfer windows…
|Players||Club||Transfer fee||And now|
|Nicolas Pépé||LOSC Lille||£72.00m||Considerable doubts expressed|
|William Saliba||Saint-Étienne||£27.00m||Not playing; played for u-23|
|Pablo Marí||Flamengo||£7.20m||Not playing|
|Gabriel Martinelli||Ituano||£6.03m||Not playing, long term injury|
|Cedric Soares||Southampton||Free||Not playing|
|Dani Ceballos||Real Madrid||Loan||Playing|
|Lucas Torreira||Sampdoria||£25.79m||Loaned to At Madrid|
|Bernd Leno||B Leverkuson||£22.50m||Playing|
|Sokratis||B Dortmund||£14.40m||Not in squad|
|Mattéo Guendouzi||Lorient||£7.2m||Loaned out|
There we have 14 players, and of course you might disagree with my assessment in the “and now” column, but the question that is worth putting is how many of these players who have come to Arsenal in the last couple of years are the equivalent of the transfers that we had in the early days of the Wenger period?
I have six out of 14 who are playing for us on a regular basis. Maybe that should be seven if Martinelli is included – not really the fault of the purchasing department that he is injured.
In 1996/7 two players were brought in: Vieira and Anelka. Between them they cost £5m. Vieira went on to be one of our all time greatest ever players, and Anelka was sold for about 20 times what we paid for him.
In 1997/8 eight players joined Arsenal. Here is what happened…
|Players||Club||Transfer sum||Result of transfer|
|Marc Overmars||Ajax||£6.75m||Brilliant and sold for huge profit|
|Emmanuel Petit||Monaco||£3.38m||Key player; utter bargain|
|Gilles Grimandi||Monaco||£3.38m||Decent fill in defender|
|Matthew Upson||Luton||£2.52m||Back up player, didn’t make it|
|Luís Boa Morte||Sporting CP||£2.16m||Didn’t make it|
|Alexander Manninger||Grazer AK||£1.31m||Sold for sum as we paid for|
|Alberto Méndez||1.SC Feucht||£338Th.||Didn’t make it|
|Christopher Wreh||Guingamp||Free||One good season|
My point is that out of the first 10 players that Mr Wenger bought we had three who I think can be rated as brilliant buys in terms of our squad: Vieira, Overmars and Petit. One (Anelka) came at a low price, did well, but wanted to move and was sold for a mega profit.
One, (Grimandi), was one of those regular players who didn’t shine, but played well when called upon, and went on and played 114 games for Arsenal, later becoming our chief scout in France. He was also, in the early days of Mr Wenger at Arsenal, the player who was the manager’s eyes and ears in the dressing room. We could also include Wreh as a success in that although he faded totally after that first season (including let us not forget, scoring in the Cup Final), he didn’t cost anything and we were able to move him on.
But let’s not push it – so let us just include Overmars, Petit, Grimandi, Vieira and Anelka as successes. That gives Mr Wenger a 50% success rate.
We now have 12 players bought in. If we are looking for a 50% success rate that might be Thomas, Gabriel, Tierney, Martinelli, Leno, David Luiz…
Of course you may have a different take on things, but I would say the simple fact is that only half of all transfers really make a big difference to the club.
We have just had two summers in which we have spent something like £210m. First are we likely to have more money to spend in the next window, and second, can we go on having this level of turnover of players?
In his first season Mr Wenger took us to third in the league, in the second season, we won the double. And in that second season he had no doubt who his first team selection was. So the board kept giving him money. At the start of his third season he brought in Kanu and Freddie as successes and Diawara and Vivas who by and large were not. In the next season it was Thierry Henry, and so on. A manager, to keep getting the money has to deliver either success on the pitch or success in the transfer windows. Wenger did both.
My point is that 50% success rate with bought in players is normal, but one can’t keep on bringing in multiple players on the scale that we have had for the last two years, both because I don’t think the funds will be there, and because multiple changes to a team upsets the balance of the squad.
In short, I doubt very much that we can go on buying more and more and more players. We have to let those we have got settle down, and we have to get rid of those who are not playing (which of course includes two who are frozen out and not even in the 25).
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