Last week, Karim Benzema’s agent, Karim Djaziri, bluntly denied speculation that the Real Madrid striker was on his way to Arsenal, as Los Blancos look to offload talent and balance the Bernabeu books ahead of their record-breaking deal for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale.
According to the Daily Mail, Djaziri is quoted as saying; “We can’t stop the rumours. But I tell you: Karim will not go to Arsenal. It’s never been a question for him and no contact has been made,” and to be honest, anyone in the Arsenal camp expecting a better outcome from the Benzema link needs a reality check- if the Gunners were unable to sign Real Madrid’s reserve striker through their own hesitation and misguided valuations, it’s unlikely the player keeping him out of the first team in the Spanish capital will come looking for employment at the Emirates any time soon.
But more than just another Arsenal transfer saga that’s ended before it’s even begun, Benzema’s rejection of the North Londoners via his agent highlights the greatest flaw in Arsene Wenger’s transfer policy over the last decade.
The Gunners gaffer gave up on premium purchases are splashing out £13million on Slyvain Wiltord in 2000 – a transfer fee that would remain Arsenal’s record expenditure for the next eight and a half years. Instead, Wenger reserved his fortunes for emerging starlets; Robin Van Persie for £2.75million, Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona for free, Kolo Toure for £150k. To give credit where it’s due, Wenger essentially applied the current Borussia Dortmund model (barring the emphasis on home-grown talent) before it was cool.
It was all part of the Frenchman’s ten year plan to create a self-sufficient club that didn’t have to rely upon the transfer market for success, by cherry-picking young talents and developing them at the club itself, and in the mean time supplementing the squad with tried and tested performers that added much needed consistency and experience.
But a decade down the line and the plan has failed, or at least, not produced the kind of monolithic Premier League domination the Arsenal boss was hoping for, and the recent Benzema snub is the perfect illustration as to why the Wenger model never lived up to its billing, just as the Dortmund strategy is beginning to loosen up at the seams with their most talented stars jumping ship to Bayern Munich.
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Consider what motivates any particular player to join any particular team; reputation, past and present, opportunities to claim silverware, money, whether the club is moving backwards or forwards, and a crucial factor often overlooked, the quality of the other players at the club. And it’s not necessarily the overall quality of the first team, but rather the quality of the key personnel. Top players want to play with footballers of the same calibre; on pitch partnerships excite them, and producing beautiful football of an aesthetic nature is almost as important as results.
So when Karim Benzema looks at the Arsenal squad this summer, who could he get excited about playing alongside in Premier League fixtures? Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere…and that’s about it. Transition campaigns are all well and good, but no player with Benzema’s quality would revel in the prospect of linking up with a cast of young prodigies yet to reach their full potential and Champions League rejects who’ve continually failed to hit the big time, which is exactly why the Gunners have failed to attract any top drawer talent since their last title win in 2004, and why this summer’s transfer escapades have all ended in failure.
Not that Wenger has been particularly gunning for stars; his position has remained throughout that Arsenal make world class players, they don’t buy them. But at the same time, the logic is flawed. Whether it’s an African 18 year old brought in through the Arsenal scouting network and tipped to be a future star of world football, or one of the Gunners’ regular £10million acquisitions of better than average footballers expected to make the step up at the Emirates, they need to be surrounded by as much greater quality as possible to fully realise their potential. So for those players such as Mikel Arteta, who are already at optimum footballing age, the scope to significantly improve is limited, especially if they’re by default the more experienced members of the squad. The same applies for the youngsters; without world-class players surrounding them, they’ll never reach the fullest of their potential.
Any exceptions to the rule outgrow the club, and as we’ve seen from Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri in the last two years, they go looking for teams with players of a higher calibre.
And if you continually neglect world-class players and the transfer market for over ten years, it becomes almost impossible to get back into the game. Whilst Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all have reputations for signing top talent for big fees with huge salaries and providing them with a steady supply of silverware, Arsenal are renowned for turning average players into slightly better ones, and helping youngsters fulfil their potential.
Therefore, if you’re in the Karim Benzema category, where you’ve already proven your worth domestically, internationally and on the continent, Arsenal as a football club and Arsene Wenger as a manager have very little to offer you, especially amid an eight year trophy drought.
It’s the dismissal of proven talent that corroded Wenger’s autarkic Arsenal model from the start, and now the Frenchman is willing to reconsider signing established world-class players to jump-start the Gunners out of their current malaise, there aren’t any left who are still interested. Ten years ago, players in the Benzema category would have viewed an offer from Arsenal too good to refuse. But now the club is propped up by young starlets and average Champions League talents, there’s simply nothing left to attract them to the Emirates.
Has Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to sign proven talent contributed to Arsenal’s demise?
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