There was an almost macabre element to endure as you sat back and watched the Robin van Persie transfer story unfold. It wasn’t anything to do with the ambitions of the player nor even the acceptance of the club to sell to one of their greatest rivals. It’s more the simple principle that Arsene Wenger has been perceived to have done the best he could, to squeeze £24million out of his star acquisition.
Because even if circumstances dictated Van Persie’s sale was inevitability, it still doesn’t mean it’s right. Sir Alex Ferguson personally intervening to make the sale stick, felt akin to the school bully walking over and nicking Wenger’s lunch money. Wenger was powerless and even though he may view the avoidance of a beating -in this case, a potential RVP Bosman- as something of a victory, the truth is he’s still been forced to give up something he so dearly wished to keep.
Wenger achieved the best possible deal he could for the football club and time may even dictate Van Persie’s sale to be something of a masterstroke, given his injury history. But even if it does turn out to be a blinder, it’s one that should never have been played.
As the Gunner’s failed to net in their Premier League curtain raiser against Sunderland on Saturday, the hacks of Fleet Street probably couldn’t believe their luck.
The Sun took it upon themselves to spell it out as bright as day for Arsenal fans with the overzealous “NO RVP = NO GOALS,” hammered their back page, adjacent to the rather apt image of Arsene Wenger burying his head in his hands. The task of replacing 37 goals may have started in earnest during the weekend, but it’s clear that the replacement duo of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are going to be under massive pressure to perform from the off this season. Foreign signings need to be allowed a fair period of adjustment to bed into the trappings of English football. The stirring has begun and it feels as if it their purgatory period may have already defined by the shadow of their predecessor.
Because they’re not just replacing any run of the mill striker. It feels very clichéd to describe Van Persie as irreplaceable but how do you go about replacing a player who at times last season, almost dragged his team kicking and screaming back into the top four? Talismanic is one thing. Scoring 30 league goals, creating another nine and urging your team on as club captain is quite another. You may not be able to put a definitive value on those traits, but £24milion certainly doesn’t cover it.
However, the sale of Van Persie was dictated under the looming circumstance of his rapidly expiring contract. The Dutchman had one year left to run on his deal at the Emirates. The reality was of course, that should Wenger refuse to sell his prize asset now, that he would go for nothing the following summer. Barring an absolute catastrophe, it’s hard to envisage that he’d have had a lack of clubs to pick from with a non-existent transfer fee. He wanted out and he had to go this summer.
And considering the situation, Wenger did a cracking job to get the amount of money he did for his skipper. At 29, Van Persie is at the wrong end of his twenties, had a contractual situation that drastically effected his transfer fee and most prominently, had only managed more than 28 league games in a season for the first time in his career last term. He represents a substantial risk to Fergie, but should they win a Premier League or a Champions League off the back of his mercurial left foot, the fee is all but forgotten.
But the point is that the elements of risk in this deal would be a hell of a lot more prominent, had he not cost £24miilion. And if his deal had say three years left to run as opposed to one, there’s no way he’d have left the Emirates for a penny under £30million, at the very least. As a simple matter of risk management, would Manchester United, Juventus or any other club for that matter, have been willing to risk a potential £35million plus on a striker of Van Persie’s age and with his injury record? It doesn’t matter that he’s nearly 30; he was arguably the best out-and-out striker in Europe last season. If Wenger didn’t want to sell, clubs would have had to cough up that sort of money.
But the length of his contract distorted the circumstance and however you frame the £24million, it could have been so much different. It feels like Groundhog Day again at the Emirates. Similarly with the Samir Nasri deal to Manchester City in 2011, no one can deny that £25million was a good bit of business. But yet again, it was dictated by his contract situation; Nasri had one-year left to run on his latest deal.
It remains to be seen what their North London rivals attain for their prized asset, but as we are seeing with Luka Modric’s protracted move away to Real Madrid, no one is pushing Spurs chairman Daniel Levy around. His philosophy has been to regularly top-up Spurs’ players with new deals when their stock has incrementally risen. You can’t prevent the likes of Modric and Van Persie from wanting to move, but you can ensure that the club remains in a degree of control. However you may critique their transfer activity, Spurs have ensured everything has been done to ensure they get maximum value out of their players.
But as Alex Song becomes the latest Arsenal player to jump ship, following his £15million move to Barcelona, it feels like something of a tipping point has emerged. Here was a player who, according to recent reports, showed a lack of professionalism in training towards the end of last term and the club has subsequently been happy to let him move on. But conflicting stories have suggested that Song was in fact, desperate to commit his future to the Gunners and his advisors initiated contact with the club in January, in the hope of renewing his £55,000-a-week deal that had three years left to run.
It’s difficult to make a staunch analysis on such conflicting reports and who you believe will greatly determine what viewpoint you take on Song’s departure. As immoral as footballers wages may be, was Song really asking too much in looking for parity with the club’s top earners? A salary of £55k a week for a man who chipped in with 11 league assists as arguably Arsenal’s second most influential player last season, doesn’t seem particularly reflective with the rest of the market. Have Arsenal flogged a greedy, unprofessional player to Barcelona and avoided the next Nasri/Van Perise? Or is this transfer the legacy of having their fingers burnt for two summers on the trot?
The term watershed season is wheeled out a little too often this season, but it feels like it could definitely be slapped on Arsenal’s term this season. Arsene Wenger is trying to run the football club in the mould of sustainability, not reckless investment. But as important as it is to acquire new players, he equally needs to find a way to keep the ones he already has. Next up is Theo Walcott. Let’s hope the script isn’t already written.
How can Arsenal buck the departures of their finest players? Are the club right to not hand new contracts out like confetti or does something have to change quickly at the Emirates? Tell me how you see it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your views.