Did Arsene Wenger drop a clanger by not signing this Gilberto Silva replacement for Arsenal?

This blog
piece is the third in the series “The Ones Who Got Away”, following on from
entries on Franck Ribery and Yann M’Vila. While the previous two players are
rather well known, one for his skill on the ball and the other perhaps more for
his long running transfer saga with Arsenal, this piece will focus on a player
that is a little bit more of an unknown quantity.

Felipe Melo, born in 1983, started his professional
career with Flamengo in 2001. Within a couple of seasons, Melo made subsequent
moves to Cruzeiro and then Gremio, spending a season at each. This last season
at Gremio would prove to be largely unsuccessful (with Gremio getting
relegated) as well as his last season in Brazil as Melo soon transferred to the
Spanish club, Mallorca.

Again, it would not prove to be a long stay with Melo
making only infrequent appearances over the 2004-2005 season. The following
seasons saw him earn transfers to Racing Santander and then Almeria, where he
spent the 2007-2008 season. It was from Almeria where Melo would make his move
to Fiorentina, the team which would ultimately see Melo become a regular for
the Brazilian national team.    

First linked with Arsenal around January of 2009, Felipe
Melo was seen at the time as a perfect replacement for the last of Invincibles,
Gilberto Silva. With Gilberto Silva himself aging and Flamini having left in
the previous transfer window, there was a huge demand for a defensive-minded
midfielder to partner the more creative Fabregas.  

So with reports of Arsenal’s interest being reported
in a variety of sources ranging from the Guardian,
to the BBC
and even the Daily
over a couple of years, it seemed to be only a matter of formality
before Felipe Melo was playing in an Arsenal shirt.

As it is a common theme in this series, the move
destined to happen never did with Juventus coming in to sign the Brazilian for
around €20 million; a few million more than Arsenal were ever willing to pay.  So what kind of player was Felipe Melo when he
wasn’t playing as a

Looking at the following video, we can see some of
the qualities present in Melo’s natural game:

As can be seen, he is very much a defensive-minded
central midfielder. Standing at 6ft and boasting a powerful frame, Melo is
still extremely mobile and possesses a fantastic work rate, two qualities which
combine well to ensure he carries out the tireless midfielder role excellently.

Furthermore, Melo possesses an intelligent sense of
positioning which enables him to make numerous interceptions, breaking up any
attacking plays before they can progress any further. Adding to this the fact
that his general tackling style seems to be in closing down the opposition
players quickly, Melo has earned a reputation over the years as a
“destroyer”-type midfielder.  

In fact, it is these qualities which caused Melo to
earn the nickname “The Gladiator” from the Fiorentinian fans. A little while on
this would change to “The Pitbull”, a name he dubbed himself when, in an
interview, he spoke on his role in midfield, “I’m the team’s pitbull, I run, I
chase down and I bite my opponents”:   

Felipe Melo: The Pitbull of Galatasaray 

Unfortunately it is this nickname which also gives
an indication to one of Melo’s bad qualities, specifically his temperament and
disciplinary problems. Although he has expressed regret for the more extreme of his actions,
he still has a propensity to gain yellow cards in abundance, something which
would only serve to put additional pressure on his team mates. 

In conclusion, did Arsenal miss out by not signing
Felipe Melo? In my opinion, they did not. At the time, it definitely felt like
a bad transfer target to miss out on. With Gilberto Silva seemingly past his
best and Flamini strutting his stuff in Milan, getting someone as a defensive
foil to the attacking Fabregas was known to be a key priority for Arsenal’s
midfield. While Melo might have met these criteria at the time, I believe the
cost to buy him coupled with his distinctly average subsequent performances for
Juventus (and hasty resale to Galatasaray) show that he might have turned out
to be a bad signing. Furthermore, in the emerging Alex Song, I believe Arsenal
found a more than able replacement ensuring Felipe Melo was never really widely

John Daniel

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