People talk about great players of the past leaving and Arsenal continuing on regardless. To paraphrase Gary Neville: “Robin van Persie is simply a passenger but the ship will continue to sail.” It’s a fair point and a good one, but it is a frustrating—at times infuriating—position to be in. Arsenal might conduct themselves in a manner which they believe exudes class, looking after legends of the club and insisting that their greatest interests are in the long term financial safety of the club. But when it comes to transfer dealings, Arsenal are undoubtedly perceived as one of the smaller clubs; one who is unable to fend for itself when the giants come knocking.
Despite the great chasm in terms of financial power between Tottenham and Manchester City or Chelsea, Daniel Levy did an impeccable job last season of holding onto one of his star players, while at the same time rubbishing the idea that the heavyweights would toy with Tottenham in any manner they desired. He didn’t have to do that, he could have gone down the avenue of investing heavily from the proceeds of Luka Modric’s sale. The club perhaps would have been better for it over the long term as Levy is not afraid to part with the club’s money when a good deal presents itself. However, the Tottenham chairman understandably wanted to sell Modric on his own terms and not succumb to the pressure of those in higher seats of power.
Despite Arsene Wenger’s fight to hang on to his stars at Arsenal, there really isn’t a sense that someone further up in the boardroom is setting up a defensive strategy in a way that Levy has done. There is unquestionably a real lack of youth and fight in the Arsenal boardroom, but even Ivan Gazidis has overseen more bad than good in his time at the club.
Of course, the Tottenham chairman has been in a markedly stronger position than Arsenal in recent summers; Modric’s transfer saga was not build on the foundation of an expiring contract. Rather, Arsenal have unbelievably found themselves in the same situation regarding player contracts for the third time, with a likelihood of similar problems next year.
But unlike his counterparts at the Emirates, Daniel Levy doesn’t seem to waste time with his best young stars. Kyle Walker has recently received a pay-rise following an outstanding year at right-back, taking him up to 2017, while Gareth Bale also extended his stay to 2016. In previous years we’ve seen long contracts handed out to players like Luka Modric, highlighting Levy’s urgency to avoid the problems that are a regular occurrence at Arsenal.
Gareth Bale’s contract extension last month is also another in a recent string of contract re-negotiations with the midfielder. Yes he may eventually leave the club, but Tottenham ensure that each summer is made increasingly difficult for potential buyers.
Disappointingly, Arsenal seem to have an easier time re-negotiating the contracts of less favourable members of the squad. In the past, Denilson, Emmanuel Eboue and recently Johan Djourou have had their contracts extended, while the key figures of the squad have been left to allow their deals to run down.
However, Arsenal’s lack of developments shouldn’t necessarily equate to a lack of action. The club have tried to tie down Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie over the past 12-months. But the club really are lacking in that desire to prevent the situation from blowing up in public. Levy made a quick move to tie down Kyle Walker earlier in the summer before any real interest from other clubs could be established. Not only was it a pay-rise, but the Tottenham chairman ensured that one of his greatest assets is locked into the club for many years.
Arsenal are also perhaps their own worst enemy by achieving such success with Arsene Wenger during his early years at the club, something which many of Arsenal’s current or recent players have hoped to see again. But there really is a lack of ruthlessness in the way Arsenal conduct themselves on the transfer front. Naturally, it all stems from the laid back attitude of those in the boardroom. Peter Hill-Woods’ recent quote of, “At least the club were not relegated” shows just how little ambition there is to succeed in the league.
Arsenal fans will understandably want to avoid any kind of comparison to Tottenham, but Daniel Levy is full of life and has plenty of action about him. He does want he can to ensure his club are successful and can maintain a high level in the league to attract and hold on to their best players. There seems to be very little action and desire to better themselves from the Arsenal board, specifically with regards to coming under attack from financially superior clubs.
It’s an uncomfortable position to be in whereby the players at Arsenal think they hold enough power to run the show. But somewhere you’ve got to believe that the players are afforded that level of power with their pampering and hugely inflated contracts from an early age. It gives them a belief that the club needs them, rather than the other way around.
Undoubtedly other clubs have to deal with players wanting out, but do any clubs have the consistency and the sensationalism that surrounds Arsenal and their best players wanting to leave?