Sunday, September 4, 2011

Missed Opportunities in the Market

The transfer windows have become a special time for Arsenal fans. Not exactly a holiday, but instead a semi-annual stretch of optimism that turns into worry that turns into frustration that turns into panic that turns into rationalization. Think of it as a night out at a bar. Arsenal fans step into the building brimming with hope and the conviction that this time they're going to find exactly what they need. Early into the night they start to worry a bit though. "Wasn't this supposed to be easy, a sure thing? Why hasn't anything happened yet?" As time winds on, they get frustrated with the entire enterprise and the self-loathing sets in. "Of course it wasn't going to be different this time. We never get what we want, why on earth should we expect to?" Then they realize that it's almost last call and that desperation sets in. "Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit gotta find someone, anyone, need to fill the void in our souls (and at striker)." The next morning you're making Marouane Chamakh breakfast trying to convince yourself that he's your solution to all your problems up front. It's just an awkward and embarrassing affair for all involved.

For those who are unfamiliar, the transfer windows in soccer are kind of a combination of free agency and the trade deadline in American sports. There are two times during the year (June-August and then January) when clubs can actively try to acquire players that are currently under contract at other clubs. Of course some players are available during this period as completely free agents, but this is rare as most teams do not want to see valuable commodities walk out the door for nothing. And that's the kicker. Rather than swapping established players, draft picks, or minor leaguers to make these transactions work, soccer uses straight cash. If Team A wants Player X to play for them next season, they will need to pay Team B a "transfer fee" just to lure the player away. Then they'll have to come to terms on a contract with the player in addition to the fee they've played just for the permission to sign him. For example, in 2009 Real Madrid paid Manchester United £80 just to be able to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo's contract was then six years at €11 per year. In other words, Real Madrid paid in the neighborhood of $325 million to sign the best player in the world. Granted this is an extreme example, but the principle is the same. Pay the team in order to sign the player.

Arsenal has a history of buying low and selling high in the transfer market, often acquiring young players, developing them into much better players, and then selling them at a much higher price (if they do decide to sell them at all). For example, Samir Nasri was originally purchased from Marseille in 2008 for £12 million and then sold to Manchester City in 2011 for £25 million. Though Arsenal fans were loathe to lose Nasri at all, Arsenal made out well in these transactions. Essentially, they made £13 million by having a player star and score important goals for their team. Not a bad deal at all. That is the frustration for Arsenal fans though: the focus on money and turning a profit with every step the team makes. Of course this is good business, but fans would have loved to see the team, you know, actually fucking keep Nasri instead of getting good value for him. The attitude is displayed in transfer purchases as well. The team in general, and manager Arsene Wenger in particular, is always talking about how they won't overpay for someone or how they're looking for the right value or how if they find a £20 note on the ground then maybe they'll actually buy a top flight defender. It's frustrating because as a fan, you see the problems that the team has and you want management to do what it takes to correct things rather than look for the cheapest solution. That's how you make money, not win titles.

Take Arsenal's purchase of left back Andre Santos. Certainly he must be an upgrade over the dynamic options that are Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, or Bacary Sagna playing out of position. But let's also be honest with ourselves: he's a 28 year-old who was playing at Fenerbahce before Arsenal bought him. Chances are that if he was going to break out and step up his game, he would have done it by this point and be playing for a more notable squad. Perhaps he really liked Turkey and wanted to stay, and perhaps he will be a great addition to Arsenal. But he was far from the best available option. Jose Enrique signed earlier in the transfer window with Liverpool and would have been an absolute delight marauding down the left side. Arsenal paid £6.2 for Santos. How much more would Enrique really have cost them? By saving money, Arsenal upgraded their squad, but not to the extent that they could have if they had been slightly more aggressive.

You can see it in the names that Arsenal was linked to, but never went through with buying. Chris Samba, Juan Mata, Phil Jagielka, Keisuke Honda... the list goes on. Arsenal liked all of these players but didn't want to spend the money. Now instead of Juan Mata, they have Yossi Benayoun (on loan too). Instead of Keisuke Honda, they have Mikel Arteta (depending on how you view Honda's would-be role at Arsenal). Instead of making a move for a truly big name like Sergio Aguero, they settled for Park Chu-Young. Or you can look at it this way. Instead of spending the money to keep Cesc Fabregas, they have Arteta. Instead of dishing out the cash required to keep Nasri happy, they had to bring in Benayoun. This is what happens when you refuse to spend money. You don't have to be Manchester City and overpay every mediocre striker that you bring in. But you do have to have the balls (and wallet) to truly go after the good players.

Don't think that I'm completely hating on what Arsenal did. Arteta should be an interesting fit as a creative middie, especially with Jack Wilshere reported to possibly be out another three months. Per Mertesacker is an excellent addition to central defense and though I would have rather seen Chris Samba, Arsenal's back line is now in very good shape, save the questions at left back. Chu-Young and Ryo Miyaichi are players I don't know much about, but seem to either have strong potential or good experience. And prized youngsters like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell could come up to be the next big stars. I just hope that if that happens, Arsenal will keep them. As always, Go Gunners.

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