Arsenal Transfers: The Sorry Saga of Fabregas, Nasri and 8 More Wenger Wantaways
Arsene Wenger: Economic Genius, Zen Guru, and Voodoo Master, all rolled into one.
Wenger is known for his uncanny eye in the transfer market. The ability to spot and sign a future footballing maestro for next to nothing, before the rest of the world has heard of him is masterful.
His far-flung network of scouts has attained legendary status, and the list of "unknowns" reads like a who's-who of Gunner greats—Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure, Gilberto Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Gael Clichy, Alex Song, Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Chu Young Park.
Oh, so you object to Park, do you? On what basis? Have you seen him play? Me neither.
Furthermore, in addition to his ability to spot a genius from across the ocean, he has also built up a reputation for knowing exactly when to let a player go. I can put together another list of greats who, when released, had us all saying, "oh surely, we could get another year or two out of him!" Ian Wright, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn, David Seaman, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and Kolo Toure, to name just seven.
As Arsene Wenger himself said earlier this season—and for the life of me, I can't find the source—it is better to let a player leave the club one season early than one season late. Genius!
Then there's the other lot—players who he let go of because he believed they couldn't cut it at the very top. David Bentley, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Upson, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Eduardo (unfortunately), Eboue, Denilson, Senderos, etc. Look at where they are now. Nowhere. Or at Stoke. Which is pretty much the same thing, really!
And then there's the final lot. Those who want out of Arsenal, against the manager's wishes. Players who use their agents, other clubs and a host of silly excuses to engineer a move away from North London. For money. Or, as is the current fashion, in search of "trophies."
And as Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri (barring a miracle on Monday) near the end of their respective first seasons away from Arsenal without the pots of gold they left desperately in search of, I decided to put together a list of other players who Wenger wanted to keep, but stubbornly left anyway. And whose careers meandered into nothingness.
One regret—couldn't put Ashley Cole on this list...
Nicolas Anelka, signed by Arsene Wenger as a complete unknown, took Arsenal by storm in the latter half of the double-winning season of 1997-98, netting nine goals.
Rated so highly by Arsene Wenger that he allowed legend Ian Wright to leave, Anelka further enhanced his reputation the following season by netting 18 times and forging a wonderful partnership with Dennis Bergkamp.
However, he then fell foul to the idiocy of his agent-brothers, Claude and Didier, and forced a big-money move to Real Madrid.
After enduring a poor season at Los Blancos, Anelka made further moves to Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbahce, Bolton Wanderers and Chelsea, scoring a total of 170 goals in 509 games across 13 seasons.
Reasonable numbers, but nowhere near good enough for someone who should have been rated as one of the best strikers in the world for most of his career.
And then there was the sulking...
Marc Overmars came to Arsenal with a big reputation, and this only grew in three seasons of consistent excellence.
However, when the fame and riches of Barça came calling, he couldn't resist, and off he went, much against his manager's initial wishes.
He was, at best, a moderate success at Barça, scoring 19 goals in three seasons.
His career was ended by a knee injury, and although he did make a brief Eredivisie comeback for Go Ahead Eagles, that did not provide him with anything to write home about.
A highly underwhelming end to the career of a wonderfully gifted footballer.
Petit, like Overmars, had three highly successful years with the Gunners. He forged a fantastic midfield pairing with the legendary Patrick Vieira, and the two of them could have dominated English football for another five years at least.
However, Petit was also lured by the glamour of the Blaugrana, and off he went in 2000. After one ordinary season, he moved back to England to play for Chelsea, and after a further three years of mediocrity, he hung up his boots in 2004.
The one-time enforcer had become a spent force.
Lassana Diarra, also known as Nicolas Bendtner, Mark I.
Always considered himself better than he actually was, most notably when he left Arsenal for Portsmouth. He immediately endeared himself to his new fans with this quote:
The people at Portsmouth know I will not spend my life at this club. If I shine, if a really big club wants me, I know already that everything will go well.
Diarra was soon off to Real Madrid, but has since never shown the consistency and form of the truly top player he considers himself to be.
Another relative unknown, plucked out of nowhere by Arsene Wenger, Hleb won over the Arsenal fans with his offensive intent and tricky dribbling.
But three years into his Arsenal career, he too decided to head for the Camp Nou—am I seeing a recurring theme here—to further his playing career, and apparently because he found London too crowded.
Well, that move went well, didn't it?
In the four years since he left Arsenal, Hleb has plied his trade at Barcelona, Stuttgart, Birmingham City and Wolfsburg, and is now at Krylia Sovetov Samara—yup, you will need the link—having scored a bountiful four goals in 98 games since his departure.
Hleb has since admitted that he should not have left Arsenal, but alas, realization comes too late sometimes.
Anyway, hope you're enjoying it in Russia, Alex.
Mathieu Flamini joined Arsenal amid a swirl of controversy, on a free transfer from Marseilles, and left exactly the same way.
A midfield starter along side the wonderful Cesc Fabregas, the two of them were really building up a fantastic partnership.
Flamini, however, decided to jump ship and move to AC Milan, apparently a bigger and better club.
Well, look what that got you, Mathieu. 98 appearances and three goals in four seasons.
And complete anonymity on the world stage.
Jose Antonio Reyes
I remember watching Reyes playing for Sevilla against Real Madrid in a La Liga game, the season before he signed for Arsenal.
Playing on Sevilla's left, he destroyed Francisco Pavon and Ivan Helguera, two established defenders, and led his team to a big victory over the Galacticos.
I expected a lot from him when he signed for Arsenal, and he looked like he was coming to terms with the Premier League, when the Neville thugs decided to step in.
After the roughhouse treatment on what might have been Arsenal's 50th consecutive unbeaten game, Reyes was never the same. He soon wanted out, and openly courted Real Madrid to sign him.
He never quite made it there, or at his next two clubs, Atletico Madrid and Benfica. He now finds himself back at his hometown club Sevilla, trying to resurrect a football career that may have passed him by.
44 goals in 264 games for a man approaching his 29th birthday. Just not good enough.
The latest, and possibly worst, of Arsenal's unsavoury departures, Adebayor was lured by the millions at Manchester City.
Unfortunately for him, he has not been able to make a mark at his new club, besides that stamp on Robin Van Persie's face.
And he finds himself caught in a seemingly endless spiral of mediocre loan spells, with no club being able to afford his absurd wages, and the player himself unwilling to lower his exorbitant demands.
Adios Ade, so glad you play for them Sp*rs!