Arsenal - A club in transition
It has been a sadly familiar summer transfer window for Arsenal Football Club. After the past few summer sagas involving Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie has added his name to the list of world-class players who have made a bee-line for the Emirates exit door and he made it, moving to despised and detested rivals Manchester United for 24 million pounds, a move that before the Emirates Stadium era would have been absolutely unthinkable; verily, it is almost just as unthinkable at this point in time as well.
Robin van Persie is a world-class footballer. It would take the staunchest, most biased Arsenal fan to deny that now that he has moved to Manchester United. Arsenal’s financial restrictions, more prominently in their inability to compete when it comes to wages, have been thrown out into the fore. One can now understand why Arsene Wenger’s youth project has failed him and in turn, Arsenal Football Club, on the football pitch. The transfers of van Persie and last year, Samir Nasri, have exposed the flawed system of buying young players and giving them wages that at such a young age, they simply don’t deserve.
Robin van Persie was signed by Arsene Wenger from Dutch club Feyenoord in 2004 for 2.75 million pounds, having been observed by Arsenal scouts over 50 times. Despite many spells on the sidelines and on the treatment table, he became a top player over the course of his 8 year tutelage under Wenger. This culminated in a phenomenal 2011-2012 campaign where he netter 30 goals in the Barclay’s Premier League.
The other big deals of the Emirates Stadium era up until now are Emmanuel Adebayor’s move to Manchester City in 2010 and Alexandre Song’s transfer to F.C. Barcelona, which netted Arsenal a total profit of 32 million pounds. These players arrived Arsenal early in their careers as well: Adebayor at 22 and Song at 17.
In Arsene Wenger’s mind, these transfers weren’t supposed to happen so early in the aforementioned players’ careers. Wenger most likely intended to sell them on the same way he did with most of the Invincibles team. That squad broke up when they were all around 30; the current crop all left before 26.
The key to this flurry of players leaving or wanting to leave is simply put, money. When Arsene Wenger brought this new generation of players to Arsenal he gave them wage hikes to the 50,000-70,000 a week range very quickly. Thus, when they reached the ages where they would expect another pay rise, Arsenal refused, not wanting to disrupt the club’s wage bill by doling out 100,000 a week contract renewals left and right. This is where clubs with less stringent finances such as Barcelona and Manchester City come in for these players, willing to increase their wages. Arsenal are forced to sell or lose the player for free when their contract runs out. Emmanuel Adebayor, at 25 years old, demanded more than 150,000 a week. Even Gunners legend Thierry Henry never received such wages until he was a very senior member of the squad. Samir Nasri went from making 60,000 a week to roughly double that at 24 years old. Robin van Persie’s payrise at Manchester United was the biggest of all, going from 70,000 at Arsenal to a mammoth 225,000 a week. Arsenal’s maximum offer to him, in an ultimately fruitless attempt to retain his services, was 150,000 a week with a 5 million pound signing bonus. He rejected it.
The emergence of Manchester City as a financial footballing force heavily contributed to the failure of the youth project generation to stay at Arsenal and reach their peaks together. Once they began flashing their high wages at player like Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor, those players had their sights set solely on moving to City. Had those players not received such early career pay rises, they might have been asking for 50,000 to 80,000 at around ages 24-26, rather than leaving garner 100,000+. This is the crux of the problem with Arsenal youth system.
Despite the negativity of all these peaking players leaving for “greener” pastures, there is always a positive slant.
It seems Arsene Wenger has learned from the mistakes of the past few years and this is made evident by the business into the club he has conducted over the past 2 summer transfer windows. The players demanding more money such as Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Alexandre Song have been shifted out of the club (the latter two told by Wenger that if they don’t want to be at Arsenal for any reason then they are simply no longer a part of his plans) and their replacements have been much older players than was the norm for the Gunners in recent years.
Ivorian winger Gervinho arrived from Lille at age 24, his wages presumed to be around 60,000 a week. Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, 2 vastly experienced players have also come. The former even took a pay cut to join Arsenal. Wenger is building a team that genuinely wants to play for Arsenal and no one exemplifies this on the pitch like the hard-working Arteta. Lukas Podolski’s wages are said to be high (100,000 or so) but with his age, experience and footballing CV its to be expected. Frenchman Olivier Giroud has arrived from modest French champions Montpellier-Herault where his salary, at age 25, could not have been more than 60,000; compare that with 23-year old Theo Walcott being thereabouts in terms of wages since he was 22-23.
The past 7 years have been tough on Arsenal and their supporters. However, with the changes in transfer policy coming to the fore this summer we can see an acknowledgement of the mistakes of the recent past on behalf of the club. One can only hope that the wage structure is repaired at the club so that Arsenal may not only attract, but keep star players.