Arsenal are showing remarkable ineptitude in the transfer market, despite having realigned their acquisition strategy in line with supporter demands.
The Gunners’ on-pitch success has been hamstrung by the club’s sustainability policy, which has grown and developed them economically but at the expense of a totally bare trophy cabinet.
But, having reaped the benefits of this half-generation of self-flagellation, their repositioning as courtiers of big-name signings has seen them gazumped – by smaller clubs than themselves.
In prior, more frugal times, Arsene Wenger’s concept of value saw the club refuse to even enter the bidding for major players, with the £12m outlay on Andrei Arshavin the biggest gamble they made in recent years, and one that failed spectacularly.
£15m players often fail – but the true quality rarely disappoints. Only Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll stick in the memory for £30m-plus transfer fees that have fallen on their backsides, but that was a perfect storm of collective lunacy at opposing geographical ends of the country, the exception rather than the rule – ED views Mario Balotelli’s time at Manchester City something of a success in terms of pure entertainment value.
Financial value is something Wenger is yet to get a full grasp of. In the last five years it’s been stuck in the economics of the early Noughties, operating in the £8-15m bracket and getting good – as opposed to great – players. To give context, Sylvain Wiltord was signed in 2000 for around the same fee as Arshavin nine years later. It was as if petro-ownership never happened.
Now, he apparently still does not understand what a great player costs. Prepared to break a comparatively meagre transfer record for Gonzalo Higuain, £22m would have been a steal; as it happened, Napoli got rich and Real understandably preferred their £34m offer. Which is a reasonable outlay for a player of his undoubted quality.
But for the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain would be rated as highly as the likes of Edinson Cavani and possibly Radamel Falcao. His record of 106 goals in 188 Liga appearances certainly implies he would have been as big a draw if first choice.
Higuain falls into the category of ‘great player’. He would have been a coup – but on a matter of principle, Arsenal withdrew from the bidding, despite the player’s preference for a move to North London.
Now a panicking Arsenal are exceeding £40m for Luis Suarez, an incredible player when not in self-destructive mode, and sniffing around Wayne Rooney, desperate to show they mean business.
And now they will either spend far more than the £30m needed for Higuain – or realise they are incapable of winning the bidding wars inevitably following the availability of such players, and return to the market for the good and not great players.
Perhaps that is where they should be operating anyway – even flushed with the benefits of a conservative outlook, plus the boosted TV coffers, Arsenal cannot compete with petro-dollars of the nouveau-riche, or the slickness of corporation-run, title-hogging megaclubs like the Clasico duo, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
If Wenger still wants great value, there is still some available – Swansea’s signing of Wilfried Bony, a classic Arsenal-type player, could prove the business of the summer. Arsenal’s own Santi Cazorla was one such gem at £12m.
Or Bony could be another semi-expensive failure. What Arsenal will get from operating at £30m-plus is next-to-guaranteed success.
And it's not sure anything would have represented a better deal than Higuain at £30m.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "In the period of time, he's missed a lot of games for the club through various reasons. And the people have stood by him like a son and really looked after him. So I'm sure whatever happens in the coming weeks, that will be in his mind because it's certainly something you can never forget” – Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers tugs at the heart-strings of Luis Suarez.
FOREIGN VIEW: The aforementioned Napoli look set to spend all of the money recouped for Cavani, and much of it with just one club. PSG paid £55.4m euros for the striker, and the Serie A club will have given approximately £45m of it to Real Madrid, if the deal for Higuain (£30m) adds to those for Raul Albiol (£8m) and Jose Callejon (£7m). One of the three is a coup for Napoli, and the two smaller deals at the level of good player they would usually approach. Excellent business all round.
COMING UP: The first semi-final of the Women’s Euro and it’s live on Eurosport. Denmark face Norway in what promises to be a highly-entertaining derby. Discount how poor England were, most other nations have been in excellent form – no less the Danes, who only went through on lots after a disappointing group stage, but stunned the silky France in the quarters and now have a shot at the final. Starting at 7.30pm UK time, with live text here. Chelsea are also in action at 2pm, a pre-season friendly against an Indonesia XI.