Have Arsenal simply become the victim of this growing power?
In the modern game, player power continually grows. The business side of the game means that every footballer is an asset and a commercial commodity. For example, a factor Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking was the fact that he couldn’t get Fernando Torres to play well, and even dropped the lackluster Spaniard for his final game as Chelsea boss. Had he been bought for a handful of beans it wouldn’t have mattered, but Abramovich spent £50million on the striker, making him the Premier League’s record transfer, and thus was a far more important financial investment than club legend and lovable Italian Roberto Di Matteo.
It is a similar case with the recent 92 point action plan composed by the FA to tackle racism in English football. One of the many policies includes a five game ban for players found guilty of racial discrimination. In a perfect world, bigoted Footballers would be sacked on the spot like they would in any other walk of life, but due to the nature of football, or rather the business of football, different rules have to apply. The problem with sacking a footballer, especially those of the calibre of John Terry or Luis Suarez, it that they’ll soon find themselves offered a new contract by another team, in another country if need be, with their former employers seriously out of pocket.
Down at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger is no doubt wondering where it all went wrong as he remembers his easier life as a Mr Bean impersonator on the streets of Paris. Well, Wenger never embraced player power; in fact he has continually rejected it and over the years Arsenal have paid the price for Le Professeur’s idealistic approach to the game. The Gunners’ problems remind me of a socialist revolution slowly being corroded by the monetary power of capitalism, with the French manager’s Marxist dream constantly undermined by individual interests.
Wenger’s continued belief that no player is bigger than Arsenal football club has lead to a number of top quality talent leaving to league rivals that can offer his stars more money. The trend started with Ashley Cole’s departure to Chelsea in 2006, despite him arguably the best defender in the Premiership and an integral part of the Gunners’ backline, and then continued with the mass exodus to Manchester City beginning with Kolo Toure, who was soon followed by Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor following their former captain to the Eithad stadium.
But Wenger has received enough criticism this week over his transfer policy, perhaps it’s time to take in the view from the other side of the fence. The French coach made his players what they are. They have been picked up from African, French and Dutch clubs and given a chance to play amongst some of the world’s elite players and prove themselves. Clearly, the club have an excellent method for bringing young footballers through, with an impetus on ability on the ball that many of the players are now well-known for.
But then, after reaching a certain age and developing into elite footballers themselves, these players have turned their back on the dream, the long term vision, in order to benefit their own careers. Consider the players that have left the club for better things and you have a formidable bunch of footballers; Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Ashley Cole, Mathieu Flamini, Nasri, Toure, Clichy, Adebayor.
These players, many of whom are at their footballing peaks, would form a team that could easily challenge for the title had they stayed together instead of ditching Wenger’s long-term plan for short term successes. The problem isn’t necessarily transfer fees, although the amount Wenger lets his players leave is rather questionable in my opinion, it is the wages offered by the club. In my eyes, it is impossible to argue that Theo Walcott shouldn’t be rewarded with his contract demands considering he’s arguably been the club’s best player this season. Furthermore flop signing Marouane Chamakh is payed 60k-per-week for merely making up the numbers in the Arsenal squad, not to mention his dismal cameo appearance against Bradford during the huge Capital One Cup upset which has sparked further pressure on Wenger to resign. But then again, Theo Walcott is another player that has only made it to the Premier League because of the nurturing of Arsene Wenger. Similarly, Cesc Fabregas was essentially a Barcelona reject when he signed for Arsenal in 2003, but as soon as he proved his quality he quickly turned his back on the Gunners.
Of course some blame has to be attached to Wenger, otherwise it’s a bit like blaming Robin Van Persie’s refusal to extend his contract and subsequent transfer to Manchester United on Jean-Marc Bosman. Similarly, players demanding to leave isn’t a common feature for Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City – clubs which Arsenal should be on a par with. The likes of Roberto Mancini, Jose Mourinho and some of the interim Chelsea managers performed their roles more as glorified babysitters rather than any sort of footballing ideological beacon for their players.
But what is being forgotten in this Arsenal debate is the players who have left the club and turned their back on Wenger’s vision. Perhaps more should have been done by the Frenchman to keep his dreams intact, but had his young prodigies not jumped ship as soon as it benefited them to do so, the club would not be in the position it’s in now.