Despite Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ and owner John W Henry’s vehement arguments to the contrary, it remains possible that striker Luis Suarez may join Arsenal this summer. So might Wayne Rooney, despite team mates including Robin Van Persie making noises in the press urging him to remain at Old Trafford. Admittedly, with the beginning of the League season now less than a week away, the chances of Arsenal pulling off a “marquee” signing appear to be lessening by the day, and in terms of bedding in any new players for the new campaign, the opportunity has long gone. Ever since Arsenal first bid for Suarez over a month ago, every journalist, ex player and pundit – as well as key figures at Arsenal and Liverpool – has weighed in with their opinion on the rights, wrongs and machinations of a deal which may not ever come to fruition.
But what of the ubiquitous “advisers,” (the term “agent” seems to be slightly passe these days) who lurk behind the scenes, and try to set up the most lucrative deals for their clients? What is their take on the whole Suarez situation? The information which they feed journalists remains strictly anonymous, and is usually attributed to an “insider,” “close friend,” or “source close to the club.” Of all the journalists to pursue the Suarez story this summer, the Mirror’s John Cross has been most prolific in his output, and his pieces are littered with titbits which only an adviser could have revealed. Yesterday, several tabloids broke the news that Arsene Wenger was prepared to offer the Uruguayan £160,000 a week, a deal which would shatter the Gunners’ wage structure. Again, only someone seriously close to the action could have revealed that. The whole saga is a big, big deal for Arsenal…whatever happens. If they land Suarez, (and all his baggage), they will have proved themselves able to operate effectively and close a deal in, as Ivan Gazidis recently described it, a financial climate similar to that of “the Wild West.” If they fail, they’ll show that despite the money pouring in from the new sponsorship and TV deals, they’re simply not big time players.
For the first time in 8 years, Arsenal are looking to add talent, not cash in on their best assets. Yet the mood amongst Arsenal fans – and it’s partly fanned by the media hyping up stories– is that this close season could well turn into arguably the most embarrassing of the lot. But it’s not just the media printing anti Arsenal stories or setting the mood – the perception of the club by the network of advisers who hover around the top players is that Arsenal are sorely lacking in their business acumen when it comes to landing their transfer targets. In short, the Gunners aren’t a serious proposition when it comes to landing the highest calibre players.
Arsenal Insider met one of football’s leading advisers in London. His comments left this Arsenal fan feeling uneasy about the future in both the long and short term. “The problem is that Arsenal haven’t been in at the kill for a top player for too long,” he says. “Since they last won the league in 2004, the world has changed, and the feeling in the game is that Arsenal labour and prevaricate just when a deal seems to be in the offing. They’re not aggressive enough. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are more adept at closing deals quickly, whereas Arsenal always seem to be unwilling to pay the going rate for players. That message comes out loud and clear from the manager and from all those concerned with signing transfer targets. It comes down to inexperience, and a certain level of naivety. Possibly even arrogance.”
Admittedly, the adviser I interviewed is but one man, and events may prove him wrong, but it is clear that if the club had moved to tie up the Gonzalo Higuain deal more quickly, Real Madrid wouldn’t have had the opportunity to shift the goalposts once Napoli became interested. The adviser adds: “David Dein was extremely proficient in conducting business around Europe and further afield. Arsene Wenger left him to conclude the respective deals, and they were often completed with the minimum of fuss. In fact, they often went through without the press becoming aware. Now, other clubs do what David Dein used to be able to do. Does the Arsenal management team now have the skill set to tie up deals like Dein used to be able to? So far, the evidence is to the contrary.”
It’s now been 8 years since Arsenal won a trophy, and with the memory of recent ghastly close seasons still fresh in the memory, the perception of Arsenal is that although they may no longer be a selling club (“They’ve sold off all their bankable assets though, haven’t they?” comes the terse response from my interviewee), they’re still not exactly big game players either. Announcing the signings of Suarez, or possibly Rooney of Fellaini would change the perception of the club from a fan’s, journalist’s and adviser’s point of view. It could prove a pivotal moment in the club’s history, and usher in a new age of prosperity. Fans would be able to look to the new season with genuine relish, something they haven’t been able to do since Patrick Vieira departed for Juventus in 2005.
“If Arsenal land him (Suarez), it could all change for them, and within a year or two, other great players could follow him in to the club. People would then take Arsenal seriously. That’s the effect a ‘signature’ player has,” the adviser tells me. “My gut feeling is they won’t get him, which means that yet again, Arsenal’s realistic rivals next season will be Liverpool and Spurs for 4th place, who have both strengthened their squads during the close season. And in recent weeks, Arsenal have put all their eggs into one basket. Quite what the feeling amongst fans will be if they don’t land him, I dread to think.”
The pursuit of Suarez is not just about Arsenal landing the player, it’s about fundamentally altering the perception of the club from being muddling middleweights to serious big hitters.