At this stage in Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal, a large number of fans are growing increasingly tired of the club’s approach to signing players with potential, rather than experience. A necessary route for the club, of course, as it allowed them to reach into a wider market for talent, rather than the one continually distorted by increased spending. But while England are much tighter on employment laws with regards to non-EU players, is it time for Arsene Wenger to give up these players to nations who can benefit straight away? Quite simply, are these players worth the gamble.
There should be a good level of excitement in watching young players develop and mature into that talent that they had projected for them. It’s always necessary to find a good balance between the experience and youth in any club, and many nations are developing young talents at an outstanding rate. But where nations such as Spain or Belgium are open to those arriving from South America, for example, England has taken a much more strict stance over the matter, forcing the player to acquire an EU passport via a league on the continent.
Yes the production line of Brazil is something that every club wants to be involved with, and there are a number of talents that are brought to light via international youth tournaments. But in the case of Arsenal, is it worth continuing to gamble down this route?
Carlos Vela arrived at Arsenal with plenty of promise and a tremendous deal of potential. His season at Osasuna proved to be a success, as the player genuinely seemed to be blossoming into a star for the future. He had the reputation at youth level with Mexico, and there were naturally a number of big names seeking his signature. But would it be completely wide of the mark to assume that Arsene Wenger simply forgot he had any use for the Mexican during his three-year spell on loan? Of course the Arsenal manager didn’t forget the player was on the books at the club, but surely the need for Vela became less as time went on. He was a talented player who could have offered a lot to the club, but the players time away seemed to burn a large part of the bridge between Arsenal and his future.
His season at Real Sociedad last year was another success, and the player looks likely to join up with the Basque club on a permanent basis this summer. But does that equate to a waste of time on Arsenal’s part? Naturally there will be those who claim Wenger never really gave Vela a chance, for whatever reason that may be. But where is the need for these players when the club do eventually have to make plans around the forward?
It’s a similar case with Joel Campbell; plenty of potential and a fair amount of hype. Yet where will he be once he finally becomes eligible to play in England? It’s exciting for the club to move ambitiously for the best young talents, but due to law restrictions, when does the exercise become tedious and subsequently pointless?
The emphasis, of course, is for clubs to produce their own stars and not have to look for talents from regions such as South America. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of running a football club and the option to buy the best available to you? Yes it’s extremely frustrating when players such as Vela, or even Denilson—who was surprisingly offered a “special talent” visa—don’t work out, but then where would the club’s ambition be if it were not joining the hunt for the world’s best talents?
It truly is a double-edged sword where the payoff can be great but the disappointment perhaps even greater. But ultimately, should Arsenal stop buying in the hope that these players eventually come good and earn eligibility to play in England? No. The club have chosen a path to pursue in the transfer market and in the shaping of the team. But as has been the case in recent years, the emphasis does need to be reduced. Other players should not be avoided simply because they might “kill” the education of the Denilsons or Velas, because that creates an even bigger gamble. Rather, the club need to move much more smartly and with a player’s progress and inclusion mapped out over a number of years.