Why did Arsenal and Manchester United leave it so late?

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger has admitted that the transfer window is a problem. The need to juggle player recruitment and the coaching of players already in-house would understandably lessen the decisiveness on at least one of those fronts, and yet Wenger is determined not to delegate absolute control over the issue of transfers to another party, no matter how much he trusts them.

It’s not really a swipe at Wenger to say he dithers on transfers, more an acknowledgement of the truth and the shortcomings of a great manager. He places faith in those he already has, and the arrival of others are often seen as a disruption rather than an enhancement. Wenger made the point prior to the North London Derby that Tottenham would experience some problems early on with such a high volume of new recruits; the Arsenal manager, on the other hand, prefers three senior arrivals at most, though that ideal went out the window in 2011.

But this summer, even with all the money available to him, it seemed as though Wenger was waiting for the perfect deal, the type of transfer that he could feel wholly comfortable with. Yohan Cabaye for £10million, Vicente Guaita for circa £5 million; going above his own valuation for a Gonzalo Higuain simply won’t do, and only when the pressure began to mount with a degree of severity did the Frenchman permit a bending of the rules to capture Mesut Ozil for £42.5 million.

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It’s a manager and his ideals warring with the reality of modern football. There has to be some give from one or the other, and quite plainly, the football world is not going to hold back and appease one man.

For David Moyes and Manchester United, the troubles on the transfer front were notably different. The similarity is that both Arsenal and Moyes are new to the highest tier of the market, but that’s where the comparisons end. United’s prime summer target in Cesc Fabregas was never likely to move this year. Any hints or boosts United may have found along the way were simply devices for the player to discover his true value to Barcelona. Had the situation called for a transfer, many indications suggest that Arsenal would have been the only destination. It’s not that United can be faulted for trying, but rather that they persisted and wasted time where there was no realistic positive outcome.

The other problem, and one not of United’s own making, is that the best players simply have more clubs available to them now. PSG, Monaco, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and others are now further up the transfer ladder than they once were. It’s no longer just Manchester United and Real Madrid battling for the best; leagues around Europe are experiencing a boom, and the Premier League isn’t the only attractive destination.

With the case of Thiago Alcantara, United, if they were really in for the midfielder, lost out to a club who are far more attractive in terms of manager and in the likelihood for success domestically and in Europe. Marouane Fellaini, who always seemed to be the last resort, was held at arm’s length. United kept their interest fresh by offering bids that they knew, surely, Everton would reject, all the while scouring Europe for a midfielder who fit the bill.

The pursuit of Ander Herrera came late and was totally misguided. Athletic Bilbao are not a club who are about to be bullied. Unlike the majority of Spain, the Basque club have no tax debt, so have no need to sell. The Javi Martinez saga of last summer should have been an indication of what United should expect. Instead of offering £25 million and hoping Bilbao would cave, there should have been an understanding that, considering recruitment as one of the primary reasons, Bilbao would not settle for anything other than the player’s release clause. As Uli Hoeness put it last season, “Javi Martinez isn’t worth €40 million, but that’s the sum we had to pay. We decided to take part in the insanity for once.”And as we saw with Fernando Llorente, the club would rather let one of their players move on a free than submit to either one of their own or an outsider.

For United, Fellaini was the backup option, the player who was always available if they really wanted him but one that would be used to save face rather than address a glaring need in the midfield.

Arsenal, on the other hand, came about their best piece of business due to fortune – it’s fortunate that a player like Mesut Ozil becomes available from a club who don’t really need to sell – and the lack of any real planning. How long was Ozil a genuine target for the club? An interesting question.

What is clear is that while the financial capability is evidently there from both clubs, they’ll each need to totally master their respective new dawns. Ok, maybe no one really masters the dangerous waters of the transfer market, but some clubs do it better than others. Arsenal and United will both need to up their game in the future.

Why did Arsenal and Manchester United leave their transfer business so late?

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