Trying to force parallels between the Premier League and Portuguese Liga is a difficult thing. From a footballing and competitive perspective, many would like to argue that Portugal doesn’t hold a flame to England. However, the manner in which FC Porto in particular are run is something many in England, including Arsenal, should look to replicate.
It may seem ironic to praise Porto and their transfer and building policy while so many in England have been quick to criticise Arsenal. Are both clubs so different? In terms of results and trophies, the answer is an undeniable yes. However, the premise remains a constant: buy low, sell high. It just so happens that the well is yet to run dry for the Portuguese club, while it has been argued for a number of seasons that Arsene Wenger has lost his touch in the market.
It’s a policy that saw Arsenal greatly benefit from the sale of Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid in 1999. The training ground at London Colney was built and Thierry Henry arrived as the replacement. Not too dissimilar to what we’ve seen with Porto in recent years, selling Lisandro Lopez to Lyon when the French club needed a replacement for Karim Benzema, and then dipping into the South American market to pick up Radamel Falcao. If there are any who are going to suggest the buck stopped with Falcao’s sale to Atletico Madrid, his replacement and countryman Jackson Martinez has bagged 25 league goals this season.
And then the problems arise. How do clubs like Arsenal go about cherry picking the players from South America in the way Porto do? The employment restrictions in place in England make it near impossible, yet that isn’t the basis of the argument. Porto have found a market that suits them, one which has continued to keep them competitive because of excellent scouting. Yes, arguably it is a comfort zone, but who could argue that players from South America’s top leagues aren’t better than what’s on offer in France?
Shakhtar Donetsk are the same, with their attack comprising almost exclusively of Brazilians while their defence takes on a look that is far more in keeping with their roots. As an addition to that, many clubs and fans in Western Europe are quick to heap praise and admiration on the Shakhtar players, with Tottenham and Chelsea attempting to bring Willian to England, Manchester City chasing Fernandinho and Manchester United missing out on Douglas Costa prior to his move to the Ukraine.
Like Porto, Shakhtar have continued in their very balanced and extremely successful model, pocketing €35 million for Willian and replacing him with Taison.
I’m all for the idea that Arsenal are armed with £70 million going into this summer’s market. What I am concerned about is the manner in which it will be spent.
Fans in England have been fed the idea that a figure like £70 million isn’t enough to build a title-winning side. It’s a lot of nonsense fed by a company who live on blockbuster transfer deals. England want £40 million strikers but are quick to criticise and mock Liverpool and Chelsea for their purchases in January 2011. The most recent observation to do the rounds was that the entire Dortmund starting XI which beat Real Madrid cost less than Andy Carroll.
It’s not really that surprising. Dortmund had their backs against the wall and had to be smart. They picked up Robert Lewandowski from Lech Poznan while others were focused elsewhere, and grabbed Mats Hummels from Bayern Munich for much, much less than his market value. Of course, Dortmund have been aided in a great way by the German production line, but credit is due for their approach to the transfer market.
On an equally important level, clubs like Porto and Shakhtar are where they are now because their board take on an almost ruthless attitude when dealing in the market. This isn’t so much with regards to player purchases but rather player sales. Porto know how to make a tremendous profit and not allow themselves to be bullied by stronger forces across the continent. As an addition, Tottenham’s Daniel Levy is often credited as one of the toughest negotiators alongside Porto’s Pinto da Costa and Lyon’s Jean-Michel Aulas. With Arsenal consistently selling off key players to raise funds, they could certainly learn a couple of tricks from some of the best in the business.
It’s a drum worth beating all summer long because it is absolutely vital. Arsenal will only make that £70 million count if they are smart in their approach to building. The summer of 2011 saw Arsenal spend around £50 million, and yet only Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker are regulars in the current starting XI. With so much on offer in the way of world-class talent beyond the borders of Western Europe, it would be a welcome change if Arsenal adopted the transfer strategy of clubs they currently have plenty in common with.