by Stephen Bradley
For the last few years, July has often been an awkward time for Arsenal fans.
For almost a decade, we had to sit helplessly and watch on as our rivals spent huge amounts of money on marquee signings, all whilst we hoped that our young prodigies would keep us in with a fighting chance of silverware, even as clubs around us restocked and reloaded with expensive talent.
This has changed somewhat since 2013, thanks to the arrival of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez at the club, but there still lies a sense that we’re often reacting to other clubs’ actions in the transfer market, instead of following our own plan and getting the players we deem to be necessary to win, irrespective of cost.
Yes, we did indeed get Ozil and Alexis, but they were only available to us because Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively needed to raise cash to make transfers of their own. If Tottenham kept hold of Gareth Bale, and Liverpool never sold Luis Suarez, would Ozil and Alexis be at Arsenal right now? It’s pretty doubtful.
Even the Petr Cech signing came about because of fortunate circumstances. Chelsea had two world-class goalkeepers in Cech and Thibaut Courtois, the former being a decade older than the latter. Cech wanted to leave in order to play first team football, and the club were unwilling to stand in the way of someone who had helped them win so much in the time that he was there.
Cech also wanted to play close to his home in London,and he wanted Champions League football. It’s wasn’t that Arsenal was top on his list of preferred clubs to play for, it was that with all the criteria listed previously, Arsenal were the only club on his list. If he wanted to play at the highest level, with a credible shot at more silverware AND not have to go through the hassle of uprooting his family to go live somewhere else, he had to play for Arsenal.
Lucky us, eh?
But it’s transfers like this that should inform the average fan that buying a player involves more than just picking up the phone and informing another club that you’re buying their player. There is no better example of this than the Raheem Sterling saga at Liverpool.
A look at our rivals
Manchester City desperately needed an injection of youth in their side. They are a quality side with some truly fantastic players, but their tendency to put together bursts of form as opposed to a consistent run of victories has cost them dearly during the seasons in which they didn’t win the league, especially in Champions League fixtures when one bad result can mean disaster (insert anger at Monaco result here).
The best way to remedy this is with younger talented players, especially those who aren’t a liability defensively. Manchester City also needed to boost their number of ‘home-grown‘ players at the club. In their first-team squad, they had three such players; Joe Hart, Richard Wright and Gael Clichy. If a club wants to fill its 25-man Premier League squad, it must name EIGHT ‘home-grown‘ players. If it can’t do this, then the squad places must be filled with players under the age of 21.
In other words, Manchester City needed a young, top-class English player. The list of players that fit this description is not a long one, and it becomes even shorter when you remove players that would never be sold under exceptional circumstances, like Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley and so on. In the end, City were left with only one option; they had to buy Raheem Sterling.
Liverpool were well aware of this, and acted accordingly. They knew that Sterling wanted to leave, but with only one plausible bidder interested in buying him, they had to make sure that they got full value for him. Their previous intransigence in selling Luis Suarez to Arsenal two summers ago was about to prove extremely profitable for them, as City could not risk not getting Sterling. So when Liverpool kept refusing to sell Sterling for less than £50m, it was only a matter of time before City caved in and stumped up the cash.
But as much as Liverpool have profited from this, they are about to fall into the same trap themselves, just as they did last year after selling Suarez. Clubs now know that Liverpool will be desperate to repair any damage done to both their Champions League qualification chances and to the egos of their fans, and a marquee signing must now be made to address both causes. It just so happens that Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke has a £32.5m release clause in his contract. How convenient.
So, in order to make up for the fact that Manchester City desperately overpaid for their best player, Liverpool are about to desperately overpay for Aston Villa’s best player, even though they just desperately overspent for Hoffenheim’s best player two weeks ago. It’s flawed logic like this which leads to spending vast amounts of money on players that end up only minimally improving a team.
Spending money just so you can say you spent money is pointless. This is the third season running that the tactic of waiting for a club to screw up and be forced to sell us a great player has worked. The only difference between this season and the previous two is that in 2013 and 2014 we only had enough money to fleece a big club once. Because Petr Cech only cost £11m, we now have an opportunity to do it again in August.
Yes, hanging around and waiting for other club’s best players to possibly become surplus to requirements is a risky and often infuriating tactic, especially for fans wanting to see their club keeping up with their rivals. But is it worth missing out on Christian Benteke in July because Karim Benzema or someone of similar quality might be available in August? For me, it’s a no-brainer.
Not paying for a player who is good enough will always be a better strategy than overpaying for a player who might be good enough. We’re one top signing away from having a real chance at winning the league, it’s worth waiting five weeks to see who becomes available. And if no-one becomes available, then we still have the money available to try again next season.
Benteke or Morgan Schneiderlin won’t win us the league. £30m might. I know which one I’d want.