As each day passes, creeping closer to Arsene Wenger’s internal deadline, Arsenal fans are left with nothing to do but resign themselves to defeat over the Theo Walcott contract saga. There have been no real words of comfort from the Arsenal camp over the situation, with Wenger leaving the door very much open with words like “hope” or “I’d like” attached to the topic of Walcott extending his stay. It’s not about a power struggle and caving in; Arsenal have been losing the battle of wills against players since the day they so casually let Ashley Cole leave for a London rival. It’s about the precious wage structure that can’t be broken, even for the most valuable of assets.
I said it after the game against Reading and it said it during the game away to Schalke: give Walcott everything he wants and more; a complete contrast to my earlier stance that even £100,000-a-week is too far to stretch over this matter. It shouldn’t just be about a player who has failed to live up to expectations in the previous five seasons, with a hint of confidence that he’ll continue to fall short of his projected status among England’s best. It’s about following through on the gamble that started in 2006 with a huge fee for a player who hadn’t even played a full season for Southampton.
What does it say about Arsenal and their ambitions and priorities if they let another key player leave because they wouldn’t budge? The club might not want to risk the backlash of other players should Walcott receive the highest wages in the squad, but that’s their own fault for playing that ridiculously backwards game of handing out royal wages to mediocre players.
Never before has their been this clamour to see Walcott line up in the starting XI for a game. Never before has he stormed out ahead of the pack for the top goal scorer accolade at the club and done so without a good run in the team. It will be crippling for the morale of the fans and the players if the club continue with this stubborn, senseless and out of touch attitude that no player deserves to be paid beyond his worth. Sports does not work like that, yet the club are more than willing to part with extravagant sums of money for potential rather than current worth for players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Walcott himself. There’s no consistency to any of the club’s methods to move forward as a good footballing side.
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Maybe it is just about the money, and the club’s PR department are in overdrive to prove otherwise. Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with playing as a central striker. But even so, Arsene Wenger is handling the situation with the same manner of reckless, damaging inconsistency that the club do. Van Persie was a sure bet to leave at the end of last season, but that didn’t stop the manager from playing him in every game, boosting not only his value in the transfer market but also potentially the number of suitors who would be after his signature. Walcott may leave at the end of this season, but he’s still one of the most dangerous players in the squad and someone who gives the supporters a lift. For once, the club and the manager need to take a step back and not make matters solely about them and their pride or bank balances.
This saga has happened so often over the years with negative outcomes in each case. The club never learnt from the Mathieu Flamini situation, nor did they see worth in acting swiftly to tie down Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie before the thought of moving on with a year left of their contracts crept in. It’s always about how in the black the club’s finances are, and there’s never a damn about how the supporters may reel from yet another big name out the door.
Walcott isn’t just an investment in on-pitch improvements, he’s also a fantastic representative for the club. He’s one of the England internationals who portrays and leads a respectable social life away from the game. The sponsors will continue to roll in for the player, the merchandise will continue to fly off the shelves because the supporters can identify with an English player as a prominent figure in the team. But above all, he continues to show evidence that the quick conclusions about him lacking the predatory instincts of a striker were wide of the mark.
Theo Walcott has been a game changer against AC Milan, Tottenham, Chelsea, Barcelona, Liverpool (almost) and a host of other clubs. This isn’t a player who is struggling to get the job done on the big stage; meanwhile consistency can be coached into any footballer who is deemed good enough to play for a top level Premier League club.
Arsenal should be breaking the bank to tie Walcott down to a new deal. If a seemingly ineffectual CEO can pocket bonuses following the stupidity and almost distractions nature of last season, as well as a manager who takes home a reported £7 million-a-year, then there is no reason for such strict restraints to be placed on the rewarding of clearly valuable players to the club.