I feel I’ve written too much about Theo already, but it’s a subject that bugs me to some extent. Firstly I’m bugged by the player’s own bland pronouncements about how he hopes things will be sorted out soon, when he could sort them out in five minutes himself one way or the other, then we’d all know where we stood.
There are many who say ‘You’d do the same, he’s only trying to get the best deal for himself. You wouldn’t turn down a 100 per cent pay increase, would you?’ And of course I wouldn’t, if it was to do exactly the same job as I’m doing now. Though if it was in Liverpool I’d certainly think twice.
However, the other bugging aspect is the whole concept of whether Theo owes Arsenal or the fans anything other than to not bullshit us for months on end? Does he owe any loyalty to the club, or to the manager who has nurtured him over the last six years? Not really, no. If loyalty counted for anything he’d still be at Southampton, the club that discovered him.
Arsenal fans complain that they have become a selling club. This is true up to a point – the point being that we do what every other club does: we sell to the clubs above us in the pecking order. In Arsenal’s case there aren’t many, it’s just that as a group of fans we’re annoyed because there are a couple more in England than there were a few years ago. Man City and Chelsea are above us purely because they can and will spend more. We can criticise Arsène Wenger for sticking to what he perceives is a value offer for any player, but the fact is if a richer club wants a player we want, then whatever we offer they are likely to offer more, so there isn’t much point trying to break the bank and sacrificing your principles if you’ll be outbid anyway. We celebrated the signing of Cazorla last summer, but if the oil clubs needed another small Spanish playmaker, they’d have bought him. They’re both stuffed with such items, so they didn’t bother, and Fergie prefers English or South American players. Barca and Real didn’t need him either, and Bayern and Inter weren’t interested, so we were next in the queue.
So we sell to City and Chelsea because they have the money, and we sell to Barca and Man U because they’re bigger clubs. And that’s the way it’s always been. In the seventies Brady went to Italy (because Italian clubs were bigger at the time) and Stapleton went to Man Utd. My memory of the eighties is hazy, I can’t remember who went where, but in the early nineties we had no one that a bigger club wanted to poach – or if we did, they were Arsenal through and through (eg Tony Adams). Then – amazingly – we got Bergkamp. Then Arsène turned up and we got a whole load of great players and for years didn’t need to sell anyone to anyone until they were past their best (with the one glaring exception of Anelka, who went to the biggest club in the world). And that’s what people are comparing to now: Thierry was on the cusp of going downhill by the time he left, Vieira didn’t have long left at the top, but we’ve sold Cole, Nasri, Fabregas and Van Persie, and to a slightly lesser extent Clichy, Song, Adebayor and Flamini, when they were clearly still at the top of their game or not yet there. (Flamini walked on a free, but the point is he chose to go well before the end or even peak of his career.)
Arsène used to buy low, get the best from a player and sell high. He’s still buying relatively low, but he’s struggling with getting the best and he’s unlikely to make a profit on most of his recent purchases: Arteta, Mertesacker, Podolski, Cazorla, Gervinho (God help us!).
What gets overlooked by Arsenal fans calling us a selling club or attacking the Board and/or manager for selling our stars is that we also buy from all the clubs below us in the pecking order. We shaft them by becoming stronger at their expense just the way Man U have strengthened by buying our best player of last season. In the seventies Ball came to us from Everton and MacDonald from Newcastle, before Brady and Stapleton left. As ever, we took advantage because we were a bigger club than those we bought from. While Arsène famously loves to nurture young talent, the fact is we’ve got Jack Wilshere as just about the only major player not bought as a professional, and even Jack was poached from Luton as a boy.
Can we or should we expect loyalty from players we have taken from other smaller clubs? Should Arsène keep trying to play the loyalty card with someone he’s bought? It’s a bit bizarre.
Let’s face it, if a club higher up the pecking order wants Theo they’ll pay enough (or tell him to wait till summer and pay Arsenal nothing) and he’ll go there. There were rumours yesterday that he’s now signed an extension with Arsenal. If it’s true, good, because he has become an important part of the team, but if he doesn’t sign then that’s just the football pecking order, like it or not. There’s not much point Arsène Wenger complaining about his best players’ disloyalty when he’s continually screwing everyone below him.
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