Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t become the player most Arsenal fans hoped and expected him to be after he arrived at the club from Ajax in 2009.
The Belgian international’s goals, eight in his first season, coupled with the glorifying of his ability during his lengthy absence through injury the following year, helped him to develop a cult status among the club’s support. It’s a status, though, that has really begun to run thin over the past 18 months.
In part it’s been due to successful partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. The other is that Vermaelen simply hasn’t offered the same level of quality when drafted in to replace either of Arsene Wenger’s first-choice centre-backs. He looked assured, cool under pressure and equipped with all the physical and technical tools to be a success at Arsenal during his first few years. But – and perhaps it’s due solely to the inconsistency of games – Vermaelen looks to be declining as a player.
He’s a good option to have in the team due to his experience, leadership and versatility. If this is just a prolonged dip in form and Vermaelen is able to get back to his best, few teams in England can boast three centre-backs of such high quality.
But the player understandably wants games. He’s no longer a first choice for Belgium, and at the age of 28, he’s at the point in his career where regular games should be a given. Provided Arsenal can replace adequately, there should be no harm done in selling Vermaelen later this summer.
The problem is selling to Manchester United, who are reported to be interested in making a £12 million bid for the centre-back. If it goes through, that’s two Arsenal captains sold to a major domestic rival in the span of three summers.
Wenger really should be taking a page out of Alex Ferguson’s book and his refusal to sell Gabriel Heinze to Liverpool. Manchester United reportedly wouldn’t make direct contact with Chelsea in their negotiations for Juan Mata, ensuring that the topic of Wayne Rooney remained off the table. Even Jose Mourinho refused to loan Demba Ba to Arsenal due to the rivalry and obvious strengthening of a potential title contender.
It does a lot for the reputation of a club. I’m not a lover of the idea that club’s can’t or shouldn’t sell to rivals. In Chelsea’s case, they were on the end of a good deal for Juan Mata, bringing in £37 million. Who knows if another club would have offered anywhere near that? Are they worse off now? With Cesc Fabregas signed up, certainly not.
But, in Arsenal’s case, when the option is there to sell abroad, the club should take it. At the very least don’t facilitate in the strengthening of a rival. Don’t sell Robin van Persie to United. Juventus had an offer on the table that was said to be about £10 million short of what United offered. Either take that option or keep the player and let him run down his contract. Borussia Dortmund took a respectable stand against Bayern Munich over the Robert Lewandowski transfer. Worry about finances later if it means remaining in a strong position and ensuring you’re not lending a hand to a domestic rival.
Napoli have been interested in Vermaelen for much of the past 12 months. Whether the interest is there at this time remains unconfirmed. If Arsenal and Wenger were smart, they’d tap into that potential deal. If it means taking a hit in terms of fee received, well that’s just the way sports works sometimes.
The ideal scenario is that Vermaelen stays at Arsenal this summer and extends his contract – and of course finds some form, though easier said than done. The club have already lost a valuable and experienced member of the squad in Bacary Sagna and can’t really afford to further diminish and already small defensive group.
But in a period in the club’s recent history where they look to be making strides to becoming regular Premier League title challengers once again, the sale of high-profile members of the squad to rivals should be out of the question.
Vermaelen could move to United and have an equally poor spell at Old Trafford, but it will only further reinforce the notion that Arsenal can be bullied in transfer negotiations and that they carry very little authority when attempting to dictate the future of saleable assets.