Will Arsenal's Gael Clichy Join the 'New Galacticos' at Real Madrid?
The news that Real Madrid splashed out about £140 million last week to secure the services of two star players, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, was featured in a major sports article in my hometown newspaper here in Connecticut, as the Spanish giant's recent exploits in the transfer market seem a major story, even here in a nation that normally pays little attention to European football.
The fact that such a huge amount of cash has resulted in Madrid breaking the transfer fee record amount twice in the same week, within such a shaky global economy and at a time when an entire, storied English club is offered for sale at less than that amount, is mind-blowing for many a soccer/football fan.
A more amazing development seems to indicate that the outlay of cash and influx of big-name stars being lured to Madrid may apparently continue this summer. Newly re-elected club president Florentino Perez has vowed to create a "New Galacticos" era at the Bernabeu, to rival the squad there earlier this decade that featured such superstars as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, and David Beckham.
That, of course, leads to the question: which big-name star among the top European leagues is next on the list to join Real Madrid? Could it be Valencia's David Villa? Maybe Franck Ribery from Bayern Munich? Or perhaps another Premier League star will follow Ronaldo to Spain?
Most Arsenal supporters would certainly be concerned that its own Spanish captain Cesc Fabregas would be the big-name Gunner to be lured away from the Emirates for major cash, whether to Madrid or rival Barcelona where he spent time as a youngster in their academy.
Yet it seems Perez and Madrid have their eyes on Gunners' Gael Clichy as one of its targets this summer. Reports have emerged in the London Evening Standard, among other publications, that new Madrid manager Manuel Pelligrini considers the left fullback position as one to address this offseason, with the Gunners' 23-year-old French international deemed a possible solution to Madrid's defensive problems.
Since moving to Arsenal from Cannes in 2003, Clichy has established himself as one of the best left-backs in the Premier League and has made 177 first-team appearances for manager Arsene Wenger's side.
Now considered one of the stalwarts in the Gunners' first team, Clichy recently admitted that it is flattering to hear his name linked with Madrid, but also insisted that he is committed to Arsenal, having signed a long-term deal with the club just last year.
"I heard there is an interest from Real Madrid, but I have a contract with Arsenal which I intend to respect unless the club says otherwise," Clichy told Sky Sports. "It is great to be linked with Real, but I want to win things with Arsenal."
We've all heard these customary quotes from players being courted by big clubs before, yet Clichy's rapid rise in status must have supporters wondering if the talented young Frenchman will remain at Arsenal long enough to see out his current contract there.
This writer's take is that Madrid's pursuit of Clichy could easily follow the path of its previous efforts to raid the talent of other clubs. As both Thierry Henry's move from Arsenal to Barcelona and the more recent Ronaldo courtship saga have exhibited, such scenarios begin with rumored interest one summer leading to continued banter over the course of a season before a deal becomes finalized the next offseason.
If this is the case with Clichy, that would give both Armand Traore and Kieran Gibbs another season to develop to then be counted on to fill the left back slot for Arsene Wenger's side in the 2010-11 season. One would think that most Arsenal supporters might be comfortable with such a situation in 12 or 14 months' time, with the Gunners possibly receiving somewhere in the range of £15 to £20 million for Clichy while having two able replacements already in the squad to fill his slot.
With the maturing Traore and Gibbs backing up Clichy, left back is now arguably the most solid of the four defensive positions at Arsenal. And that's saying something, considering that Wenger has the capable Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Eboue on hand for right fullback.
Therefore, Gooners could find it hard for their club to resist big-money offers for Clichy, even this summer, as long as the transfer amount was significant and veteran leadership remained in the center of Arsenal's defense.
Yet rumors are swirling this offseason that either or both of Kolo Toure and William Gallas might soon be leaving the Emirates, which could leave a void of experience and continuity at center back for Arsenal, putting more pressure on the Gunners defense and its young replacements at left fullback.
And the departure of Clichy along with either Toure or Gallas could also damage the club in another way, by potentially initiating a domino effect of a number of Gunner stars leaving Arsenal for greener pastures and higher salaries elsewhere.
If stories are to be believed, both Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas seem intent on remaining at Arsenal only if the club's board matches their commitment and desire for trophies by spending for some established players to bring to the Emirates.
The Dutch forward van Persie is currently in negotiations to renew terms of his contract, which has one year remaining. He and Fabregas are among the Gunners being courted by other clubs, so the departure of several long-time teammates might see these two also leave the north London club.
A number of Arsenal stars leaving to join Real Madrid or other major European clubs would severely damage manager Wenger's own efforts to bring back the glory days from earlier this decade at his club, when "The Invicibles" of Arsenal ruled the Premiership and challenged for top honors in European competitions.
Reaching the semifinals of both the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup this past season, the current Arsenal side is considered by various pundits as being just a couple of players away from challenging for and winning more trophies in upcoming seasons.
So, if even a fraction of what Madrid has paid out thus far is spent by Arsenal this summer, the question we may be asking come August might just as well be which players will be making up the "New Invicibles" at Arsenal, as finding out the stars who will be comprising the "New Galacticos" at Real Madrid.
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