Arsenal want €20m to let Aaron Ramsey leave for Juventus now but the Italians are only prepared to pay €10m, €1m more than Ramsey’s agent will get if the player moves for free in the summer, so why are Arsenal so bad at getting decent transfer fees for their players?
Since the summer that concluded in Mesut Ozil arriving, Arsenal have spent £378m on transfer fees.
While these outgoings pale in into insignificance compared with the two Manchester clubs and are still behind Chelsea and Liverpool, no-one can accuse the club hierarchy of not investing in the squad. The real issue has been that money has not been spent with any coherent squad building process taking place and, with a few exceptions, precious few ‘excellent value for money’ signings.
We could argue that we got the best years of Alexis Sanchez’s career, and that Cech, Lacazette, Aubameyang and Xhaka are sort of on-par for the fees paid. Rob Holding appears to be well on the way to proving a real bargain. That’s about it. Indeed the fact that no convincing defensive midfielders were signed during those five years and that we failed to find a real partner for Laurent Koscielny, despite spending nearly £400m, shows what a complete failure of recruitment the club has undergone in that time.
That explains ‘the why’ the team hasn’t been challenging despite significantly out-spending Spurs.
However, it is only one part of the problem.
Of greater concern than the mediocre, at best, incoming transfers, has been the club’s complete inability to get good prices for outgoing players. We are comfortably the worst team in ‘the big six’ at selling assets on the evidence of the last 5 ½ years.
It’s a staggering list of failure when one takes the time to look at it.
During that time the club has parted with Johan Djourou, Denilson, Andrei Arshavin, Andre Santos, Marouane Chamakh, Sebastian Squillaci, Gervinho, Nicklas Bendtner, Lukas Fabianski, Bacary Sagna, Lukas Podolski, Serge Gnabry, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel Paulista, Wojciech Szczesny, Francis Coquelin, Oliver Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Lucas Perez, Joel Campbell, Mathieu Debuchy, Jeff Reine-Adelaide (who is currently creating chances for fun for the awful strikers who he plays with in Ligue 1) and soon Aaron Ramsey, Petr Cech and Danny Welbeck for a grand total of £77m.
Every single one went for a lower fee than we got for Kolo Toure almost a decade ago or Thomas Vermaelen who wasn’t even fit to play the previous or following season.
Apart from the players who came through the Arsenal academy system and Oliver Giroud, that represents a significant financial loss on every one of those players. Given that domestic homegrown players normally have a significant premium on any transfer fees if sold to other EPL clubs, having nine in that list leave for nothing or well below market value shows a spectacular failure of asset management.
Add in having to effectively sacrifice an £80m transfer fee on Alexis Sanchez and a plethora of those outside the first team squad leaving for peanuts, and the big picture is ugly. There is no doubt that the club has thrown away between £150-250m in transfer fees through mismanagement in that time period.
What makes it worse is seeing what our Premier League rivals are recouping in sales for significantly inferior players.
Liverpool have just recouped what could become £19m for Dominic Solanke, a £15m profit for a player with one goal in English football and way down the pecking order.
Similarly, two weeks after we sold Gabriel for £10m to Valencia, Spurs recouped £20m from Stoke for Kevin Wimmer, who promptly got relegated.
Man City got almost the same for Angus Gunn, without a single top-flight appearance to his name, as Arsenal recouped for Szczesny, a guy with 40 caps, nearly 300 top flight and European appearances (for Arsenal, Roma and Juventus), who has seamlessly replaced one of the best goalkeepers of the past 30 years.
Part of the issue is the failure to be decisive about players with contracts winding down, leaving the club repeatedly in a situation of players having control of their destiny at the expense of the club. It’s as if nothing was learned from the situations with Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie.
The same issue forced our hand in letting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leave, albeit for nearly £40m. Combined with previous transfers we’ve gone from having the largest number of home-grown players (as far as the rules go) in the top 6 to having the fewest alongside Man City, which could yet force our hands in uncomfortable ways in the seasons to come when you consider impending departures.
Part of Arsenal’s indecisiveness with contracts has been hubris. Having been forced to sell Nasri and van Persie to rivals all those years ago, the club and its leadership were determined to not be kowtowed into doing so again where possible. This is acceptable when you are consistently challenging for major honours or have the financial muscle to allow players to leave for free, but not when you are in Arsenal’s situation.
Refusing to sell players at the peak of their value, or when it has become clear that they aren’t going to renew their contracts on terms acceptable to the club has been a disaster, and one born of a totally unrealistic stance. Arsenal are not on the same footing as Man Utd, Man City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG or Bayern Munich, and simply cannot afford to waste asset value as they have done in recent years.
The net result of doing so has seriously handcuffed the new manager and recruitment team in terms of what they can do in order to refresh this squad whilst keeping us in running for Champions League football, both in terms of spending money in the kitty and the ‘own revenue’ element of the Premier League’s version Short Term Cost Controls (STCC).