To some the transfer window is a joyous time filled with hope and wonder; to others, it holds the same appeal as a state visit by Donald Trump at the taxpayer’s expense. For Arsenal fans, it’s as awkward and embarrassing as a Trump and Kanye West meet and greet.
It’s hard to adequately convey Arsenal’s failings in the transfer window in recent years. Strike that, not just in recent years but in the past decade or so. Valued players have left for free. Aging players have been signed to new contracts. Mediocre players have been bought to replace great ones. And throughout this, there has been little in the way of joined-up thinking.
Throughout this period of squad mismanagement, the Arsenal board have failed to learn from their mistakes – like a Loony Tunes character who continues to be outsmarted, the board’s shortcomings have become embarrassing. As such, I have devised a small five-part transfer guide through the medium of Elmer Fudd. For who else perfectly encapsulates the failings and idiocy of the Arsenal board than the man who has spent his entire existence chasing the same rabbit.
Lesson 1: WHAT?! A Buck Wogers Wightning Quick Wabbit Kiwwer!
There is no easy solution to transfers. No formula or mathematical equation to surmise a player’s chances of success. No transfer guru that will immediately come up with the answers. Someone like Sven Mislintat may have received the plaudits for acquisitions such as Kagawa, Dembele and Aubameyang, yet these are players that were meticulously scouted and observed for many seasons by a series of scouts before fees were negotiated and contracts signed.
Furthermore, clubs have rolled the dice in the past on similar scouts and personnel and simply failed to see results. One need only look at Liverpool’s former Director of Football Strategy Damien Comolli who spent quite a chunk of change on the eclectically talented Stewart Downing, Sebastian Coates, Jose Enrique, Charlie Adam, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. While Suarez was undoubtedly a success – the others were most certainly not. To this end, it is important to remember that a chief scout or a football strategist often rely on others; his success comes from the hard work and the network of those on the ground. While there are obviously individuals in football who are well positioned to identify talent, there is no exact formula and no one individual who has an impeccable track record.
Lesson 2: My name is Elmer J. Fudd. Miwwionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht.
This shouldn’t need to be said – but if you begin any negotiation by telling the seller you have a lot of money then you are likely to have to pay more than the average consumer. Ivan Gazidis once said ‘We can compete with Bayern’. While this may have made the crotch of each and every Arsenal fan’s trouser become that little bit tighter, it probably wasn’t a wise negotiating tactic. Thankfully it seems that the Arsenal board have sensed this and have released a spurious rumour that Arsenal have very little cash money…at least that’s the hope.
Lesson 3: Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits!, He-e-e-e-e!
The world is a smaller place these days. When Wenger used his contacts to scour the French leagues for unknown talents, Arsenal were at the forefront of player acquisition. These days, most clubs have access to endless footage and countless scouts. Subsequently, there is little doubt that the players Arsenal are targeting are subject to the wanton looks of other clubs. As such, the club must act quickly and quietly. In 2004, Sir Alex Ferguson met a young Arjen Robben (he brought his birth certificate to prove it) in a London hotel. United, sure that their status as a big club would help secure the transfer, were pipped to the post by Chelsea who had gotten wind of the transfer. The message of this story does not need to be spelled out. Money talks and so do agents – with that in mind, stealth can often be the deciding factor.
Lesson 4: Oh boy! Rabbit tracks! There’s something screwy around here.
Many teams have fallen foul of this next lesson. Agents are nothing more than inflated hucksters, purveyors of players who leech of other’s successes – their aim is to get the most money for their client. Nothing else. When an agent approaches a club and touts his client’s sudden availability, there is often more to it than meets the eye. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have all been duped in the past when a hotshot player from another club has used their interest to re-negotiate their contract.
There is, of course, no sure-fire way of discovering what the intentions of a player/agent are but if it’s too good to be true, it often is.
Lesson 5: Come over here you scwewy wabbit.
You don’t catch flies with vinegar. Nor do you sign great players by lowballing their club. I have often thought that Arsenal have underpaid for transfer fees and overpaid on wages. This has left the club in the unenviable position of having second-tier players stuck on first tier wages. Consequently, Arsenal are saddled with players who, quite often, are satisfactory but have no ambition to make the next step up.
Exhibit A: Granit Xhaka. Despite the rumours, I will admit to having doubts over Xhaka’s unwavering desire to ply his trade in the Champions League next season. One suspects that he sees Italy as an easier life in a league where his mobility is less of an issue. There doesn’t appear to be a desire to make himself an asset to the club nor does it seem that he has the belief to one-day play for Barcelona or Madrid or Juventus. While Arsenal are no longer an elite club, that doesn’t mean they can’t acquire elite players, or at least players who have an elite mind-set. Liverpool were able to acquire Suarez at a young age and eke out the maximum value for a player who was ambitious and hungry for success.
Yes, Liverpool fans were disappointed when he left but their fears were allayed as the club sought to reinvest almost immediately. It wasn’t long ago that Arsenal went into each and every transfer window terrified their best players would be snapped up by a bigger club. The greater fear has only become apparent now: we no longer have players that other clubs covet.
Should the Arsenal board adhere to these five simple precepts, Arsenal fans will at the very least begin to trust that the club is moving in the right direction, should they fail then once more we will be left cursing the ultimate wascal Stan Kroenke.
Til next time,
Level-headed columnist who secretly gets excited by wildly improbable transfer guff. Optimistic Arsenal fan, keen writer and a passable centre half (on a good day).