At the end of the past season, Arsenal fans were delighted to hear that money was available for new signings. And, there was optimism that the club was headed in the right direction when three top players were brought in: Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla.
While some so-called fans are already slating the goalless draw against Sunderland, it’s clearly going to take time for the new additions to fit in, and for Arsene Wenger to determine his preferred starting line-up.
However, with the news today that a £15 million fee had been agreed for Alex Song to head to Barcelona and team up with Cesc Fabregas again, Arsenal fans need an answer to one question: Are the departures of Robin van Persie, Alex Song and Carlos Vela, for around £41 million combined, meant to balance the cost of incoming players, whose combined transfer fee is probably in the region of £37 million, or is the money for new signings still available?
With Nicklas Bendtner expected to also leave, that £4 million profit margin could grow. Even if Nuri Sahin joins the club on loan, there is still a profit being made on the three players out, four players in. And while the rumour mill continues to turn, there haven’t been too many other players strongly linked with a move to Arsenal.
Of course, two top quality players have left but, on past exploits, the talent coming in to the club is also quite special. Managing a football club is difficult in that players have good and bad seasons, and selling at the right time, and for a profit, is sometimes part art, part knowledge, part luck and part instinct. And while it’s a passion, football is also a business.
Also factored in to the equation is the wonderful subject of contracts. Arsenal is not the first team, nor will it be the last, to suffer from players having good seasons and then wanting to leave. Swansea’s Scott Sinclair and Fulham’s Clint Dempsey both appear to be on the way out of their respective clubs, and if someone in the last year of their contract signals a desire to leave, then making money, especially when the value is highest, makes sense. And, arguably, both of those clubs rely upon these players much more than Arsenal did on van Persie and Song.
Tottenham have also discovered that keeping a top player when his mind has been made up about a move is difficult. Last year, Luka Modric was Chelsea bound. Now it’s Real Madrid. And most managers, when interviewed on the subject, admit that it’s very difficult to include a player in the team if they don’t want to be there. It even happened with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, although neither ended up jumping ship.
So, the departures of van Persie and Song were next to inevitable, and simply a sign of the current state of football, not the sign of weakness or a team in decline.
However, the most important part of the question still needs an answer. The departures are fine, the new players are good, but the transfer window will only have been a success for Arsenal if they bring in some more players. Other teams have spent beyond their means (again), adding to already talented squads. Arsenal fans were led to believe money was available to augment the squad. Somewhere in the £30 million range would not have been extravagant and yet, currently, the transfers have resulted in more profit.
With the transfer window slowly closing, time is running out on big deals, and often clubs sense an opportunity to make a little extra – or not budge from an asking price – when the doorbell rings at the eleventh hour.
While the previous criticism of transfer policy no longer holds – Arsenal have brought in some major talent – there may still be a sense of disappointment and the frustration of a missed opportunity if Arsenal don’t do as well as expected; which for fans means a minimum of a top-four finish in the league and a decent showing in one of the other trophies. Of course, even spending that extra £30 million might not make the difference, but at least if it is spent, fans can’t argue that an unsatisfactory season was the result of transfers.