This transfer season is already set to give me a huge headache but I think I’ve found a coping mechanism. I’m calling it the Rick Pitino coping mechanism. When Rick was coach of the Celtics, the fans were all over him to buy a bunch of players so they could get back to winning ways. One day, at a press conference, he broke down and in an attempt to protect his players made his famous “Larry Bird is not walking through that door” proclamation.
Well, to paraphrase Rick: “Thierry Henry is not walking through that door fans, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires are not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door? They’re going to be gray and old.” After this morning’s spate of telling newspaper articles I feel very strongly that Arsenal are preparing the supporters for an off season with no big signings. So, for my money you can add to that above list Quaresma, Ben Arfa, and anyone else that’s linked to the club.
First, there’s the “I want to keep the club together” thing that Arsene keeps saying as if it’s a mantra to ward off evil spirits. Of course ‘footballistically’ you want to keep a solid team together. Any professional sports team that I have ever followed that broke off even one key player immediately went into what we Americans refer to as “the holding pattern.”
The Seattle SuperSonics spring to mind. One year they are good enough to make it to the NBA finals and take the Chicago Bulls to 6 games and the next year they sign Jim MacIlvaine to a big contract, which causes turmoil on the team, Shawn Kemp leaves, and the team is left with no one but Gary Payton and a few role players. Sure, they make the playoffs, but they never go very far and can never manage to piece together a winning team. That’s the holding pattern: your team is stuck in 4th place until one day, the star gets sick and tired of being on a 4th place team and leaves — then you’re left with a team rebuilding from scratch. So, from that perspective you definitely want to keep the team together.
But from a money perspective too, you can’t always be transferring players in and out, and no more so than this season. See, if Hleb and Flamini leave, the transfer fee will be only a portion of what they are worth due to the “Webster Clause.” I’ve tried to explain this “Webster Clause/Article 17” thing before and let me try again: basically, Arsenal would get a transfer fee equal to each player’s salary (for the remainder of their contract) plus a prorated amount based on their original transfer fee, unless the transfer fee has amortized to zero. There are some other rules, such as the club’s ability to dispute the amount that the player is worth, but what I said above is pretty much the long and short of it. That means that Hleb could leave for as little as £8m and Flamini could leave for almost nothing. On the open market Hleb and Flamini would be worth at least £20m. So to replace them is (in the simplest terms) going to cost Arsenal at least £12m out of pocket. And that’s a serious problem if Arsenal’s transfer kitty is as small as some people are reporting.
So, yes, Wenger wants to keep this team together because of team chemistry or adapting to English football or fitting into Arsenal’s system but he also cannot afford (literally) to lose players on what is essentially a free transfer. Every one of those players he loses represent players he must buy just to keep the squad at its current strength, never mind improving the team.
Second, I’m starting to see a bunch of “There’s not as much money as people think” articles. The most dubious of these articles claims that the Arsenal Supporters Trust has discovered that Wenger will have as little as £25m this summer to sign players. I can find no such news release on the AST web site so I report this “news” with reservations. But I am passing it on because there are quotes from the boss that indicate that the piggy bank doesn’t have as much money in it as we all were told. Remember the £70m number? Arsene poo poo’s that number…
There is money there [for transfers], but not as much as I read in the newspapers, because that is not true… It is not as simple as it looks when you read there is so much money available to buy players – that transfer budget also includes the improvement of the wages.
There you have it, two definitive statements from Arsene Wenger himself that there isn’t some £70m war chest lying around that he can crack open to buy Lionel Messi or whomever fans think Arsenal ought to buy. How much money is there? I don’t know. But I do know a “leak” when I see one and this is a leak to the fans that they need to be less optimistic about signing some really big names this summer.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsenal only have the money to buy replacements for Hleb and Flamini and neither should you. Lionel Messi is not walking through that door, folks.