Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has never been one to hold his opinions back when it comes to the transfer market, unafraid to stray from the pack and think on his own, but his latest idea that clubs should be limited in the future during January to no more than two signings per side is so far outside of the box it literally beggars belief and leads to the question, just when did he become so out of touch?
It’s become increasingly clear that the 63-year-old has some kind of aversion to spending money these days, with the club’s £8million move for Nacho Monreal on deadline day in the wake of Kieran Gibbs’ hamstring injury causing many supporters to hail the move for a player they didn’t really need as some sort of masterstroke, coming as a major surprise to most that the club had signed anyone at all. You see, Wenger is on a crusade when it comes to Financial Fair Play (FFP) in such a zealot-like fashion, that even a modicum of movement is hailed as the dawning of a new era.
Wenger took particular umbrage at the volume of Newcastle’s dealings this month, telling reporters: “I think it should be all completely cut out or limited to two players. It is unfair for the league that some teams who have played for example now Newcastle twice already have an advantage on teams who play Newcastle now they have bought six or seven players. You do not face exactly the same team so I believe the number of players you could buy should be limited.”
The world according to Wenger is a very interesting place to be and unless you conduct your business by the values that he’s come to adopt in recent years then you are both reckless and irresponsible. Nevertheless, with just 14 Premier League games to go now in the campaign, just how much of an influence does he expect January acquisitions to have on the fate certain sides and the overall feel of the league table? How does it even directly effect him? To call the competition of the market place ‘unfair’ just shows how detached from reality he has become. Would it even be legal to limit freedom of movement in such a fashion?
Of course, this is not the first time that Wenger has gone off at the deep end over finances this month, when faced with questions on Theo Walcott’s future on January 5th at a press conference when discussing the topic of the club’s wage structure: “We pay well. We pay very well. I’ve spent all my life making sure people who work for us are paid well and I believe if you can do it, you do it, to pay something that makes sense and is defendable in front of every single player.
“We make exceptions sometimes but they are not maybe so high. If you want to keep making profit you have to respect that. We have no players on £200,000 a week and I think other clubs will come down to us with financial fair play. We have a more socialist model.”
Only at Arsenal, currently a club with the fourth-highest wage bill in the entire country, the most expensive average ticket price for fans, and where Walcott earned a £40k-a-week wage hike for dragging his heels, would Wenger call their wage structure a ‘socialist model’. It’s like a Peter Sellers movie; the deluded man at the helm spiralling out of control due to his own insistence that his is the right course of action. This stubborn stance in the face of an undeniable reality and an acceptance of where the game is at, is what has seen the club in irreversible decline under his stewardship in recent years. The real draining force on the Premier League is wages, not transfer fees.
His close alignment with the board has caused problems in the past and it will continue to do so in the future. The club are gambling on their future but in a completely different way to some of the richer clubs in Europe. However, you could argue that it’s just as reckless, by placing all of their eggs in one basket regarding FFP being enforced strictly by Uefa. Many see it as simply the latest step to ensure the status quo is kept at the top, with ambitious smaller clubs prevented from joining the cabal of the elite and spending their way to the top, while the sheer volume of ways at getting around the rules is sure to cause problems further down the line.
Try telling QPR, Fulham, West Ham or Reading fans that what their club have done this month constitutes being ‘unfair’. The January transfer window offers the last chance for many to ensure their top flight status for another year and putting a limit on comings and goings would rob them of the chance to be competitive and address the gaps in their squads. The poorer teams in the division simply wouldn’t stand a chance of turning their fortunes around, punished for not quite getting it right first time around in the summer. Now that would be unfair.
It’s notable that many of the teams above Arsenal in the league did very little in January despite possessing the budgets to adjust their apparent failings. Manchester City signed one youngster, Manchester United clinched a deal for Wilfried Zaha and then immediately loaned him back to Crystal Palace in the Championship for the rest of the season, Chelsea signed just one player, Demba Ba, while Tottenham signed two players for a grand total of £4.5m, with Everton bringing in Barnsley youngster John Stones for £3m. Ironically, Arsenal were the only club to spend upwards of £8m on any one player set to have an impact in the top six for the rest of the season, should we put a limit on how much a club can spend now too?
The bean counters have been in control at Arsenal for quite some time now, which has just so happened to have coincided with the club falling from the pinnacle of the English game and struggling to make the top four. Arsene Wenger is a man with a wealth of experience in the game but his recent memory is tainted by seeing star players leave for bigger clubs in the pursuit of silverware year after year and his idea is merely a sign of a man trying to make sense of his lack of control and the chaos around him.
Punishing smaller clubs in the name of fairness is not a logical or rational plan by any stretch of the imagination and the self-proclaimed Socialist manager couldn’t have got it more wrong this time around.