There can be no greater sign that the Interlull is bad for football.
Despite having a week of international football to indulge in, the only thing that everyone one wants to talk about is an England international player’s contract negotiations.
It’s not like we haven’t seen this movie a thousand times before: Player becomes good, club wants player to stay long-term, player wants vastly improved contract, club doesn’t want to pay player as much as he’d like to be paid, player gets annoyed, club caves under pressure from fans to sign player, player says he would have signed anyway because he loves the club……………………and so on.
What’s fascinating though, is the identity of the player.
Because even though it’s Raheem Sterling who has filled the back pages and the blog sites with his now very public contract negotiations, there’s another England player who started up front in Turin on Tuesday night who finds himself in the exact same situation, and barely a word is mentioned about it.
Theo Walcott is in a bizarre position right now.
It was only two years ago that he had Arsenal fans literally begging him to stay.
He asked for £100,000 a week, we said Arsenal should give it to him. He said he wanted to play as a striker, we convinced ourselves that it might work. Now? Not a murmur.
Yes, articles are being written on whether he’s good enough or not to get in our first team, (here are two excellent examples from a very reputable website, cough, cough) but the clamour from fans calling on the club to re-sign him have disappeared almost completely.
Right now, Arsenal fans are pretty nonplussed in regards to Walcott either staying or going, and it makes no sense at all that we feel this way about it, because whether you think Walcott is good enough to be in Arsenal’s starting lineup or not, there can be no disputing that he’s at least good enough to be in the squad.
If Theo Walcott is your second best winger, then your first choice must be very good indeed.
So why are we so blasé about this?
Is it just emotional fatigue from the last time we went through this with Walcott? Do we think he’s under-delivered after we went out of our way to accommodate him?
That would be extremely harsh, seeing that of the two years since #SignDaTing, he’s spent half of that time out injured with a serious knee injury that always takes a while to recover from.
One look at Radamel Falcao’s struggles to regain match sharpness should be enough to show how hard it can be to get back to full fitness.
Or, maybe we’ve just forgotten about him. Seriously.
As fans, we love when a new player arrives, especially if he has a reputation as a top-class player. So when Alexis Sanchez strolls onto a pitch to play right wing, it’s hard to fault fans for thinking they don’t need another winger, and then focus their attention on parts of the pitch that may need addressing instead, like a goalkeeper or defensive midfielder.
With the the continuing trend of top-level players becoming concentrated between fewer and fewer clubs, it’s crucial that Arsenal try to keep up and not let quality, affordable back-up players leave the club. The money is there now, not only to build a team that can compete for trophies, but a full squad.
All of our competitors have superstar substitutes at the moment.
Real Madrid have Isco, Barcelona have Pedro and Ivan Rakitic, Bayern Munich have Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze, Chelsea have Juan Cuadrado and Willian. It may seem like a waste to spend £100,000 a week on a player who may only start one of every three games, but that’s the way football is going right now.
You can’t have only 11 good players, you need 18, if not more, in order to compete for the Premier League or Champions League.
Then there’s the problem of replacing Walcott if he decides to leave.
If we do sell him, we’re not likely to receive more than around £20 million for him, bearing in mind that he only has one year left on his contract and is still recovering from injury. Is there a player available for that price as a replacement who will come in and be happy as an back-up? I don’t think so.
There will be the inevitable talk of a deal with Liverpool in which we give money and Walcott for Sterling, but would we be any better off as a result?
Sterling is an exciting prospect, but he’s no more than that. He’s started 27 games in the Premier League this season, and he’s scored six goals. If the only reason that you want Sterling over Walcott is because you want a new player over an existing one, then that’s not enough of a reason to sell Walcott.
As the next few weeks go by, Walcott will get fitter and better. His form will improve and then we’ll start wondering out loud if he’s going to stay or not. But the right time to offer him a new deal is at this exact moment, when he has the fewest reasons to leave.
The only reason he tweeted last week to deny reports of a bust up with Arsene Wenger, was to raise awareness of a lack of a contract offer. Compare that to two years ago, where when asked about a new contract, he brought up specific issues that he wanted addressing.
Now, he just wants an offer to sign.
As the NBA’s Jalen Rose always says, “You never get what you deserve, only what you have the leverage to negotiate.” Theo Walcott had all the leverage in 2013 to negotiate a good contract for him, and that’s exactly what did. Now, he has none, and delaying any offer would mean losing an opportunity to secure a quality player for the next few years at a possible discount.
Fans will always criticise a player for being ‘greedy‘ when that player seeks to maximise their own value, yet at a time when it would benefit the club to take advantage of a situation like Walcott’s and sign him up long term for around market value, nothing is said about it.
It’s as if we don’t care what happens, because he’s somehow seen as expendable.
Theo Walcott is not expendable.
He may never be Arsenal’s best player, but he’s far from being our worst. If £100,000 – £120,000 a week is the going rate for an England international forward, then that’s what we have to pay. Now isn’t the time to be looking for bargains, because Arsenal should be building a squad that can beat anybody.
Two years ago, Theo Walcott was too good to leave Arsenal.
The same applies today, just for different reasons.
It’s #SignDaTing, the remix.