Arsenal: Bacary Sagna and the Case of the 'Selling Club'

H Andel@Gol Iath @gol_iathAnalyst IIISeptember 8, 2012

In the last two parts of this series, I have objected to the tag "selling club" in regard to Arsenal. Here are some points to consider in this regard.



1. Selling players as such does not make Arsenal a selling club any more than doing so makes other clubs so.


Manchester United have sold players too. A couple of high-profile names come to mind: David BeckhamCristiano Ronaldo and there are others too.

In fact, a reader, disgusted by this idea, stated the following: "Liverpool sold more established players than Arsenal: Alonso, Hyypia, Arbeloa, Mascherano, Benayoun, Babel, Torres,Meireles, Adam, Maxi Rodriguez, Kuyt.... No one talks about that."

Every club, for one reason or the other, sells players: Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Real Madrid and so on.

In fact, it makes business sense to sell players at times.

For example, when Thierry Henry was sold, he was on the wane. He has never been able to recreate his Arsenal form since he left.

Arsenal made handsome profit from this sale. Patrick Vieira is also in this category. To this end, it was more beneficial for Arsenal to sell him. The same is true of Robert Pires and such like.

Business-wise, it makes sense to sell players as they approach the twilight of their careers. The monies thereof enable clubs to sustain increases in wages, besides funding new buys.

Therefore, to tag a club—any club—a "selling club" in this regard is inaccurate. In any case,  aren't transfer windows about selling and buying?



2. Selling is sometimes brought about by the need to sustain team harmony.


In this wise, the sale of Ashley Cole was brought about by this. Cole had developed an unhealthy jealousy of Thierry Henry.

In this situation, there seemed to be only one step for the club to take: sell one of the two, and there was no question whom it would be.

Plus, the whole Ashley Cole saga began when he involved himself in a tapping-up situation.

That is, he made inquiries about joining Chelsea while still under contract to Arsenal. Readers would recall that the FA fined Cole, his agent, Jose Mourinho and Chelsea for this.

After this incident, Cole never quite settled back into the squad. In fact, he soon embarked on writing an autobiography, released soon after he left for Chelsea, wherein he said unfaltering things about Arsenal and his teammates.

Another example where a sale was made in order to preserve team harmony involved Kolo Toure, who couldn't get along with William Gallas.

In this case, Arsene Wenger chose to sell Toure. He could, of course, have chosen to sell Gallas instead, but that's immaterial. The principle of the matter remains intact, irrespective of who among the two was sold.



3. Some sales don't make sense, such as that of Alex Song, which is why Bacary Sagna has uttered his dismay.


Readers know that I was highly disappointed with this sale, since, like Sagna, I could not discern why he had to be sold.


Rationales have been advanced for it, of course, including that Song was not getting along with Steve Bould,  and that his general attitude had become negative. However, Wenger has denied that this was the case.

For the cynics, this would be a good example in support of the "selling club" tag, or the "lack of ambition" tag.

But for it to stick, one would have to find similar examples, since one cannot build a theory on just one example. It'd be like saying that all Swans are white.

In cases such as this, I choose to be positive, knowing that from the inside, situations often are different from their appearance from the outside.

I suppose this is the difference between me and those who delight in complaining. I choose to give Wenger the benefit of a doubt



4. Ninety percent of Arsenal's recent high-profile sales have been forced by clubs with greater ability to pay higher wages.


For example, Samir Nasri was on £55,000 a week at Arsenal, and a new deal had been tabled, worth £90,000 a week, a deal Nasri rejected, demanding for £115,000 instead.

It should be understood that no Arsenal player was on such a salary at the time, and this is important since Nasri wasn't Arsenal's best player at the time.

So apart from the practical question regarding whether or not Arsenal could afford to pay the amount Nasri demanded for, there was also the pragmatic question in regard to whether or not it was proper to make Nasri Arsenal's highest paid player at the time.

Doing so would have required raising every other person's salary, at least the senior players'—an untenable situation.

Nasri, of course, decided for Manchester City and went there on a salary of £180,000 a week, more than double what Arsenal could afford to pay in realistic terms.

I know that some don't care for practicalities, but for those who do, they'd agree that Arsenal just can't match this kind of competition.

A similar circumstance informed the Robin van Persie switch to Manchester United.  A salary of £130,000 a week had been tabled by Arsenal. This, I believe, would have made Van Persie Arsenal's highest paid player ever.

Van Persie claims that his move away from Arsenal wasn't prompted by money. He, however, is earning about £250,000 a week at Manchester United. This renders Arsenal's offering puny in comparison.

As Sagna has said this week: "Today there is a lot of money in football and that takes priority in a lot of decisions.” The statement is blunt and makes a great deal of sense.



5. Although there are situations where the sale of players makes better sense than keeping them, as noted above, there are others where it doesn't make sense do so, like the Song example above.


That said, I can't really remember a recent case where Arsenal have sold when it'd been absolutely unnecessary, and this justifies my objection to the "selling club" tag.

However, Arsenal don't exactly cover themselves in glory in some selling situations. For example, many now argue that the situation before the 2011-12 season should have been handled differently: Sell both Fabregas and Nasri quickly and bring in their replacements.

I'd be apt to agree, except for the fact that not selling quickly was brought about by Wenger's strong desire to keep these players. It is the same reason, still, why I object to the "selling club" tag, since in this case, Wenger was truly strong-armed.

If you become sick and are not able to go to work or tend to your daily responsibilities, does that make you lazy?

Isn't this the case of an outside force (beyond your control) acting upon you, which, with the situation otherwise, you'd go on carrying out your normal responsibilities?

If City hadn't turned Nasri's head, and if Barcelona hadn't been interested in Fabregas, wouldn't both players have remained at Arsenal?

Again, do we really believe that Van Persie would have gone to Manchester United, or Adebayor to City, or Ashley Cole to Chelsea, had the wages not been higher at these places?

Or if Arsenal had sufficient money, enough money to compete with these clubs, do we really believe that they would have sold these players.

I don't think so, and Arsenal's Highbury days justify my conclusion, since then, with no stadium debt to service, Arsenal (although still astute in the transfer market) did compete favorably in the market for the stars.



6. Related to the above, there is a sense in which Arsenal are to blame for some transfer situations.


Take, the Song and Sagna situations.

Song's own objection to the rumors that swirled rather quickly following his departure to Barcelona was that he was willing to stay on at Arsenal; that what he needed was a renegotiated contract, being, as he was, one of the lowest paid players at the club, at £55,000 a week.

I'm still apt to side with Song, based on the reward factor, to wit: It is my belief that to maintain a sense of appreciation and loyalty in players, they ought to be rewarded in accordance with their performances, which, in any case, elevates their value.

Many would argue, or agree with Sagna, that Song was Arsenal's second most important player last season. Few would argue that last season was probably his breakout season. 

How, then, is it justifiable that one of your highest performing players would be one of the lowest paid, even if he was still in the early period of his contract?

It is common sense that breakout players or the most efficient would be coveted by rival top clubs. If so, how, then, do you ensure that they are not lured away?

By being proactive.

Sit the players down as quickly as possible and offer them improved deals (even before they or their agents' start to feel that it's time to agitate for a raise). Tell them it is your appreciation for their improved performance.

I'm apt to think that such anticipations would forestall player unrest and agitation. In fact, I believe it'd ultimately save the club money.

Sometimes, an injury period is a good time to offer a player an improved contract (if you are convinced of the player's potential), and Arsenal, themselves have done so recently, in the cases of Francis Coquelin and Thomas Vermaelen, even Tomas Rosicky.

It is surprising, then, that they've neglected to do so in the case of Bacary Sagna. I am completely with Sagna in feeling disappointed with the situation.

If the club can offer Rosicky a new deal, I see no reason why this is different in the case of Sagna, arguably the best right-back in England.

Someone at Arsenal is negligent in these situations. The seemingly inept attitude beggars belief in an environment akin to a rat-race.

Whoever is responsible for contract renewals at Arsenal needs to pick up his game, whether this is Ivan Gazidis or another person, it matters little.

I have maintained elsewhere that impressions matter. The Song and Sagna situations do not evoke confidence in fans. It is why some of them are all too easily swayed by the selling and the lack of ambition narratives.



7. The foregoing notwithstanding, Arsenal are not completely to blame in a number of contract situations. Or at least, this can only be to a limited extent.


The Van Persie contract situation, for example, began more than a year before his contract was to expire. The club tried to have him renegotiate the contract, but Van Persie refused.

He even refused to allow his son to train with the Arsenal academy, an offer one would imagine would normally be greeted with a level of appreciation. Only a few would have failed to realize that Arsenal were trying to get through to the parents of young Van Persie through their gifted son. 

By refusing the offer, Van Persie made sure that the emotional factor would be forestalled.

The Walcott contract situation, to take another example, began long ago, but the player has refused to accept the terms on offer by Arsenal.

In situations such as these, since two parties are involved and both have to agree to terms, I do not see that Arsenal can receive all the blame.

We can only blame them insofar as we can say: "just give him more money." But while we might say this, the reality is that there's a limit to what Arsenal can afford to pay players.

And there's one other aspect to this.

Some would say offer the players new contracts in the second year of their current contract, but is this really tenable?

Realize, for example, loss of form means you are stuck with such players, since renegotiation means you'd extend the player's time at the club. 

Sebastien Squillaci is still at Arsenal by reason of a contract. Manuel Almunia only left because his contract expired. Andrei Arshavin can stay on as long as he wants so long as he still is in contract. The same is true of Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh.

So it is not really practical that you renew every contract just midway through it. This means that wisdom and foresight are needed in these situations. Which contract should be renewed as soon as possible, which one shouldn't be?



8. There is the Ajax argument that says Arsenal are a selling club as much as Ajax are.


The point here is that Ajax are as much forced to sell their players as Arsenal are, and that since we can't argue with the fact that Ajax are a selling club (whether forced or not), why should it be different in the case of Arsenal?

First, there's a little difference here. Ajax aren't being stripped by their immediate rivals. That is, it isn't PSV, Twente, or Feyenoord that are forcing Ajax to sell and thereby reducing the club's chances of winning titles.

Within the context of the Eredivisie, Ajax retain the ability to compete with their rivals, despite the sales of their players.

In this case, selling does not cripple Ajax. So, insofar as competing in their immediate environment is concerned, selling exerts little or no effect on the club.

This isn't the case with Arsenal.

In taking away Arsenal's players, Manchester City does not only cripple Arsenal's chances to a certain extent, they also increase and consolidate their own chances at advancement in the process.

There is, then, a distinction to be made between pressure that is immediate and that which is not. Arsenal's sales exert immediate pressure (and by immediate I meant contextual) while Ajax's do not.

We can, of course, say sales reduce Ajax's chances in the Champions League, but the same can be said of many other foreign European clubs.

The important thing to note in this situation is that the playing ground remains fairly level in the environment of immediate competition.

This isn't the case (to some extent) in England, as far as recent spending is concerned, tied, as they are, to the question in hand. 

It is neither the case in Spain where Real Madrid and Barcelona hold an unfair hegemony on the broadcasting situation there.

Second, there's the difference in stratum.


That is, there will always be movement from the lowest to the highest. In the early to mid-1990s Italy was the highest stratum of club football. It wasn't surprising then that the best players went there.

In other words, clubs in lower strata will always lose players to clubs in the highest or better strata. Thus, although Ajax were a pretty impressive club in the 1990s, Dutch players such as Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard went to Italy to play.

Today, the highest stratum of football is England, which is why players are apt to want to go there. Concomitant to this, the stratum with the highest movement of money will attract the best players. England still is the place.

If you talk about Spain, you'd see that the best players go only to two clubs there, because of its non-egalitarian environment.

Ajax sells, then, because the tide of movement inevitably leads away from the Dutch league. Ajax are positioned to make huge profit because of this.

That is, the best players in the world aren't going to head to the Netherlands, rather they are apt to leave and go where the highest stratum of football is. So whether Ajax like it or not, they will always lose players.

This isn't the case for Arsenal.

Arsenal are where the highest stratum of football is. So without the issue of exorbitant salaries to be had elsewhere, Arsenal wouldn't be losing players to anyone.

Were the situation more egalitarian in Spain, I doubt that Arsenal would lose players to either Madrid or Barcelona, nor any other English club, for that matter.

For example, Luka Modric's agitation wasn't to go to Real Betis but to Real Madrid. Madrid are good, but I doubt that Modric wanted to go there because of their more flowing football.

Consider also that clubs in England rarely lose their best players to Italian clubs. It is often the other way round. So long as wages are comparable, players will rather stay in England, where, at the moment, the best club football is played.

So what's the point here? It is distinction in status and in situation. Arsenal are being undermined by their immediate competition while this isn't the case for Ajax.

Also, Arsenal are where the best football is played, so that normally, they would not lose their players to the inevitable movement this engenders. The reverse is the case for Ajax, which is why, ineluctably, they must lose their players.

For them, in fact, this is a profitable situation. For Arsenal, it isn't.



9. Some ask:  “well then, will the situation ever end?”

Of course it will.

I suspect that the reader isn't ignorant of Roberto Mancini's tantrums this past transfer window for lack of activity by his club. His club eventually bought players, of course, but not to the extent of the last two years. 

AC Milan have been forced to get rid of their best and highest paid players. Analysts seem to think that they are anticipating the effect of the Financial Fair Play.

Someone might argue that neither Chelsea nor PSG seemed to be cognizant of the FFP. True, but one doubts that their free-wheeling spending will continue into January or next summer. At some point, even the most reckless club must apply the brakes where its spending is concerned.

Moreover, Arsenal will get stronger. The effect of the stadium will continue to wane progressively to the extent that it will eventually reach a negligible point.

As the situation becomes better, Arsenal will get stronger in the transfer market. But realize that the effect on clubs such as Chelsea or City will seem to weaken them, because they are accustomed to spending hugely in order to gain advantage.

This wouldn't be the case for clubs such as Arsenal, who have learned to survive on meager resources.


In any case, Arsenal are focused currently on reviewing their wage structure to make it more meritorious. This should enable the club to offer better pay to high performing players, ensuring that they’d be less tempted to leave the club.

So the omens are good. It is why I urge Gooners to be positive.



Please find the first part of this series here.

You may also read the second part of the series here.


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