Monday, September 02, 2013

100 million Bale out

Sky Sports' Martin Tyler managed yesterday to apply his lugubrious monotone to an unwittingly ironic statement about Tottenham during Arsenal's so-so 1-0 win over their North London rivals.

In noting the business acumen of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, he observed how the club had a reputation for sound financial management. This would not have been lost on the club's fans and foes alike, given the decades-old Jewish stereotyping that is both vibrantly embraced as much as it is offensively mocked.

But with Tottenham pocketing a world record 100 million Euros or £85 million from Real Madrid for Gareth Bale, along with a further £26 million for 21 other players during this transfer window, Spurs have arguably done the best bit of business since the San Francisco entrepreneur who bought up all the spades and shovels in California just before the Gold Rush of 1849.

Yesterday's derby didn't exactly provide a solid verdict on whether Spurs' transfer dealings this summer were worth it. And with Arsenal moving up to fourth thanks to Giroud's single goal, you can hardly keep up the caterwauling against another summer of profligacy by Arsène Wenger. Or can you?

After all, they are still equal with Stoke and Tottenham on points - for now. Three games played is never enough to pass any kind of judgement, and even if Wenger goes nuts today and pulls out the chequebook like there's no tomorrow, it's going to be Christmas before we can really say whether any signing - anywhere, for that matter - is doing the trick.

You can't, though, help feeling that Spurs' outlay of almost £105 million on seven new players including Valencia's Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela of Roma in return for £110 million of players going in the other direction has been good business. 15 minutes down the road from White Hart Lane, the contrast couldn't be any more striking: Arsenal - at the time of writing - having spent a big fat zero.

The return of Mathieu Flamini from Milan on a free, and Auxerre's Sanogo on the same terms, and that's it. In the other direction, Arsenal have released a lengthy list of cast-offs like Gervinho and Arshavin, mostly on frees and with an income of just £11 million, the sort of money that buys little more than an average player with Champions League experience these days. The collective "humph" from Gunners fans can be heard echoing across London like a fart at a church service.

We can all murmur as much as we want about whether Bale was worth such an astonishing amount of money; you can argue that football has lost the plot even deeper than ever; you can say that all this is academic as my club, Chelsea, have done more than most in the loony spending department, but at the end of the day, if Madrid are going to go for the Welshman with that much money-no-object excess, good luck to both of them.

I am, of course, speaking selfishly as an Englishman. Any negative impact the move has on Bale's career will not bother me. A diminished Madrid or a weakened Wales is hardly of any concern, either as a Chelsea fan or England supporter.

Actually, if there's one aspect that does please me it's it is a rare day that a British player should find himself joining European footballing royalty. While we - and especially us English - still smugly think of the Premier League as a fine and expensive wine of a football competition, we forget how much La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga hang on to their best talent.

The days of Jimmy Greaves, Trevor Francis, Gary Lineker or Gazza heading off to complain about the quality of tea and breakfasts "on the Continent" were both moments of loss for English football and moments of genuine pride. Real Madrid's own website has proudly celebrated Bale's arrival as "the thirteenth British player, after players such as Beckham, Owen or McManaman" to join the club. Beguilingly, the club welcomed Bale as "the first Welch [sic] player in Real Madrid’s history".

Bale is good and one day maybe very good. But it's a statement of how far Tottenham have come back in recent seasons that they could probably - probably - absorb his loss and regroup, and still be considered the top Premier League side in North London this term.

Given yesterday's result, and league positions as they currently stand, that might sound tough on Arsenal. And, of course, they've still got 37 more chances in the Premier League between now and May to prove otherwise. The biggest challenge to prove otherwise falls to Wenger: even with the first games sort of going OK, there has never been more apathy around both club and coach (and that's coming from someone who had to put up with Rafa Benitez for two thirds of last season).

Arsenal are, sadly, a shadow of the club that proved such a frustratingly brilliant opponent in the first two decades of the Premier League. Wenger may yet prove all the naysayers wrong, but for now he is the head of a football club that simply lacks ambition, despite having one of the best stadiums anywhere in the world, and therefore the perfect stage on which to dazzle.

There have been times when I've genuinely felt sorry for the Frenchman. There have been times when the look of frustration on his face has been one that, even for this Chelsea fan, has brought out a heartfelt (if slightly condescending) "awwww....!".

Yesterday's win over Tottenham was an important and welcome result for him, and the footballing neutral will hope that Arsenal will kick on following it, and that Tottenham will rebound from a result that was as much about dented pride as points dropped against their fiercest rivals.

But the repeated failure by Arsenal to do any meaningful business in the transfer market during this latest transfer window may continue to prove a further drain on the club's reputation. It's one that has been resembling a very slow car crash, one involving a small hatchback driven by a little old lady which appears to lose control and hit a tree - slowly and non-fatally, but causing enough damage to put the car in a garage for a month of expensive repairs. Well, at least they have £11 million to pay for them.


  1. Why are you guys in England always focusing so much on big names or expensive signings?

    Arsenal is one of the few teams deliberately not spending crazy amounts of money on (mediocre) players. All the players Spurs bought are a bit of a gamble. Chelsea is only buying big names Roman knows from television. Again. Man City I don't even want to talk about anymore.

    Liverpool... sometimes I see a glimpse of a vision there.. they at least have a focus on buying some (british) young and promising players. Oh.. that was the club of the Carrol 40m transfer???? People should have gone to jail for that.

    Will Bale be one of the very few britisch players who will be succesful abroad? Big question mark. PSG and Monaco are just buying big names they know from television.

    So why is Arsene Wenger criticized for not copying the behavior of the money teams? The big spenders don't win big trophies (except lucky Chelsea once the CL), they do block the growth of young domestic players and maybe even more important... they play awful football.

    I have been watching Man U - Chelsea last week, that was really terrible! More boring than an average mid-table serie A clash.

    Arsenal, together with Barcelona en Bayern Munich, have the right philosophy and strategy to become succesful. Financial Fair Play will work in the end. It will make Chelsea, Man City and the French clubs disapear again from the European podium. Hopefully already within a few years.

    I think that Arsenal is the club of the future in England. They might dominate the Premier League the next decade.

  2. Well, we'll now see - they've tied up Ozil for £42.4m. That's a significant spending acceleration from zero! Could be a good buy, too. Question is, is one marquee signing enough to give them the edge they need to win trophies? The lack of spending isn't the measure of Arsenal - it's the lack of achievement over the last decade, after two decades of being the only challenger to Manchester United. That's where they've lost their way, not just because Wenger has chosen his own peculiar form of austerity.

  3. How do you think Ozil will fit into Wenger's system?

  4. Good question: Ozil's a playmaker, and his assists were key to Madrid under Jose. The big question is who will he feed at Arsenal?

  5. @Chip 4-2-3-1 Left wing Carzola, Ozil free role behin Giroud and Walcott from the right. If RvP stil lwould have been an Arsenal it would have the perfect attacking four. :-)

    I agree that in the end it's all about trophies.. But football is more than that. Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Dortmund are teams playing exciting attractive football, with a lot of young and local players. That's the future of football.

    Arsenal has the potential to be part of that, liek I said before (although defence still looks a bit insecure). Other English teams just seem to be addicted to spending money on big names. They don't grow, they buy and play without a vision, it all seems a bit old fashioned.

    How is it possible that Man u won the league last year? The Midfield is really, really weak. Why is Chelsea, with all those talented players, giving the possesion (and the initiative / control) completely away in big matches? For years!

    Arsene Wenger should have won more prizes the last ten years, true. He bought way to many (mediocre) French players, more domestic youth players should have made to the first team and the team seems to have missed a few experienced british key players like Man U always had.

    But it's not a mistake that he didn't spend hilarious amounts of money on people like Fernando Torres, Andy Carrol (hahaha), Juan Mata, David Silva, Robinho, Fernadinho, Dzeko, Ramires, Oscar, Ballotelli, etc. etc. He should be praised for that.