There are some people who genuinely believe that the reason Arsenal seemed to get into the habit of selling their best player every summer for several years in a row was because they needed the money. This kind of belief really demands a willingness to ignore facts that must give hope to extremist politicians everywhere. There is one reason and one reason only that Arsenal sold the likes of Henry, Van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri: they wanted to go. And when a player wants to leave Arsène Wenger is not going to stand in his way. That’s partly why Arsène’s ex-players never have a bad word to say about him. He’s a nice guy anyway, but one of his traits is that he doesn’t like confrontation. He’s no Fergie, kicking boots around the changing room and smashing teacups; nor is he a Mourinho, shouting at his players and accusing them of betraying him, as he reportedly did at Madrid. Arsène likes a harmonious dressing room, so he will let people go if they want to rather than disrupt that, and he does all he can to stay on good terms with them.
But, you may argue, surely Arsenal did need the money, what with paying for that stadium move. If you’ve read all my previous blog posts, you’ll know that just isn’t true. There was only one year during the whole process of moving and since that Arsenal had less cash than if they’d stayed at Highbury. So if they didn’t need to sell their best players at Highbury, then they certainly haven’t needed to sell them since. Here’s a repeat of the table with Arsenal’s available cash year by year compared to what it would have been at Highbury:The full post that table comes from is here.
But, you may also point out, without the cash brought in by transfer profits, Arsenal would have lost money some years. Technically this is correct, but it’s still not the reason for selling the best players. Players who were surplus to requirements were sold because – guess what – they were surplus to requirements, and top players were sold only because they wanted to leave. If a few hadn’t wanted to go the books would need to be balanced, but that’s easy enough: retaining any player means at the very least you don’t need one other, so you sell someone else (albeit for less) and if possible get some other dross off the payroll a bit earlier, and you don’t need to buy a replacement (such as Park, Santos or Gervinho). If all else fails then just stop awarding such huge contracts to the undeserving likes of Almunia and Bendtner.
Arsène can only play with the money available, it’s true; he would just have to curtail his spending on second-raters to balance things if, for example, Nasri hadn’t decided to leave. But of course by the time the likes of Cesc and Nasri left anyway, not to mention RvP, Arsenal were well on the way to building up the cash balance, which has now reached a massive £140m. As we all know, not all of that is available to spend on new players as quite a bit is needed to pay the ones already there, but Arsenal aren’t going short. The cash balance topped £100m in 2011, so hardly proof of needing to sell anyone for quite a few years.
Let’s just look at who’s left since 2005. Did you think any of these had to go to balance the books?
2005 – the biggest sale was Vieira for about £14m. He was past his peak by then and we’d had an annual ‘will he, won’t he’ for several seasons. He wanted to go, and we can just be grateful he didn’t insist on it being to Man Utd.
2006 – amazingly Pascal Cygan was sold for £2m. Now that’s the kind of offer you can’t turn down, but doesn’t make a huge difference to Arsenal’s books.
Ashley Cole went to Chelsea for £5m plus Gallas, but it’s extremely well-documented that Cole wanted to go. No other big sales.
2007 – Thierry Henry for £19m. I think we all know that Henry wanted to go. That wasn’t a decision that the Board or Manager wanted to take. In any case some reports say no money was actually received up front, and the first payment wasn’t until 2008, which if true is hardly evidence of a forced sale for financial reasons. Reyes also went for £8m, but he was definitely deemed surplus to requirements and went for a loss.
2008 – Alexandr Hleb to Barca for £12m. His head was turned. Wanted to go and is known to have regretted it since. It’s worth noting that in the accounts up to the end of May 2008, before Hleb was sold, Arsenal had a cash balance of £93.3m, up from £73.9m a year before. So hardly struggling, even given that £23m or so needs to be held under the terms of loans to cover the repayments.
2009 – Adebayor for £25m and Toure for £16m, both to Man City. Adebayor definitely wanted to leave, and his behaviour over wages since amply demonstrates that money was a big motivating factor for him. To be honest, the money Man City were offering Arsenal was about five times what he was worth, so from that point of view you could say he was sold for money. You’d have to be a blithering idiot to turn down that sort of wedge for a troublemaker like him, who plays well for about a quarter of each season.
Toure was sold just after Vermaelen was bought, so he was clearly deemed surplus. I’m still amazed that someone would offer £16m for a used car salesman, but Man City seemed to be in a phase of collecting as many players as possible with Premier League experience, probably for the twin reasons of strengthening their team with players who wouldn’t take long to settle, and simultaneously weakening their rivals. The fact that the £40m for this pair to City was not invested in improving the Arsenal squad during the same or even the next transfer window was the most obvious sign that Arsenal were building a cash pile – it was up to £99.6m before these sales and £101m by November. The following May, before the 2010 transfer window, it had reached £127.6m.
2010 – The only relatively large sale was Eduardo for around £6m. Personally I always thought Eduardo was not a particularly effective Premier League striker, even before his injury. To me he was another Wiltord, mainly scoring soft goals against poor teams. Either way, £6m isn’t much in the grand scheme and even Eduardo’s biggest fan probably didn’t accuse Arsenal of selling their best player when he went.
2011 – In May 2011, before the transfer window, Arsenal’s cash balance stood at £160.2m.
Fabregas went to Barcelona for £30m plus various bonuses. Does anyone want to argue that Fabregas was deliberately sold by the Arsenal Board or Manager because they wanted the money? Thought not. Even ignoring the enormous cash pile, his hamstrings had virtually gone on strike for a year before he left, and the fact he only wanted to go to one club put Arsenal in a poor negotiating position; by common consent we’d have got closer to £50m in an open sale.
Nasri to Man City for £25m. Not quite as clear cut as Fabregas, but again who in their right mind is going to claim that Nasri didn’t want to leave? Arsène ended up having to swallow his own statements on ‘big clubs’ when two star players in one summer decided they’d had enough. Nasri’s departure was swiftly followed by the 8-2 Old Trafford humiliation and the infamous last minute trolley dash to bolster the squad. Arsène believing that his stars were going to stay and failing to prepare meant that our Premier League challenge was over before it had even begun that year. Great effort to recover enough to get into the top four, but he shouldn’t have put the club in that position at the start of the season.
2012 – Robin van Persie to Man Utd for £24m. Van Persie was very public on his desire to leave. Anyone think he was pushed out because Arsenal needed money? Anyone at all? No. That was the player’s decision. Cash balance before he left: £153.6m.
Alex Song also swanned off to Barca for a frankly amazing £15m. He’d had one great season of providing marvellous through-balls to the forwards and suddenly he thought was Zinedine Zidane. Good luck to him. But as there was now well over £100m of available cash to spend on any player in the world, no one can possibly claim he was sold because we were a bit short.
More details of Arsenal’s ever-growing cash balances here.
More myth-busting in my next post.
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