There are times when our eyes glaze over as we gaze into the distance, reminiscing over the times past. Our minds take a train over the tracks of time stopping at the stations that move us the most. It really puts things in perspective, this imaginary journey. We realize how was it exactly that we ended up where we are today.
So it is with us, beleaguered Arsenal fanatics. Sell before we buy; invest in the stars of tomorrow; develop players rather than buy finished goods; play your way to victory, rather than buy your way to victory; champions are made, not purchased; these were the by-phrases for our existence, a way of justifying how we operated in the grand old arena of the English Premier League. Not a summer passed when we didn’t lose a star player to a club with a larger warchest and bigger “ambitions”. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Na$ri, Robin van Judas, Gael Clichy, Adebayor, etc etc – the list is endless. Experienced and proven performers at the highest level were replaced with greenhorns.
Only in hindsight does the picture become clearer. This was not just a way that Wenger, Gazidis, et al chose to operate. This was a method that was forced upon us by the shift from Highbury to the Emirates. Enormous interest payments on the money borrowed to fund the move to the new football extravaganza known as the Emirates forced us to operate within very limited means, imposing a strict wage structure which could not attract the very top caliber of player. It speaks volumes that our transfer record until 2013 was the amount paid to Arshavin, a sum of 15 million pounds. Champions League qualification income became more important that the pipe dream of being Premier League champions (well, not really, considering we made a good fist of it several years).
There are several commonalities to the members for our first team during these intervening years: either young or much past their prime; plied their trade in less established leagues, graduated from the Arsenal Academy or joined us from a club mired in financial trouble; took time to adjust to the league, at times more than a season. Wenger brought two hitherto unknown qualities to the fore – the ability to sniff out a bargain from a continent away, and the ability to develop players. Even so, the cream rose to the top and moved on to pastures anew, and we were forced to put out line-ups as shown below:
I know, right? Imagine going for a premier league title tilt with this bunch of players. Not much offence intended, but a QPR and their bunch of mercenaries could put 6 past this team, leave aside what happened last year with the current batch. Tied down as we were front-loaded sponsorship which gave us less and less as years went past, this is what we ended up with.
But now the shackles are well and truly off. The old deals have expired, and we have signed new deals in the past 2 years. Gone is the old Nike kit deal that gave us 8 million pounds a year as we recently ushered in the new Puma kit deal worth 30 million pounds a year. The Emirates deal gives us an additional 30 million pounds a year. That’s a total of 60 million pounds that can be invested directly in players. Couple this with the club releasing all the dross that we have accumulated over the years, and what we end up with is a huge pot of cash that ensures we do not have to scrape the bottom of the barrel any more. What this signifies is that we can blow some serious dough on top drawer players; players who will improve any team in the player; players who are used to the much higher wages they were paid as they Galacticos in the Barcelonas and the Real Madrids of the world. Cue the signing of Mesut Ozil in 2013, and has he delivered! Let no one tell you otherwise. As a world class superstar, he had an almost tangible effect on the team in terms of buzz and lifting of spirits. Not just the team, but the entire world of Arsenal fans.
There were not just a few of us who thought this would be a flash in the plan, a signing to appease the legion of Arsenal fanatics for a few years. Then, in the world cup year, we made another marquee signing, one Mr. Alexis Sanchez, who was just setting alight the biggest stage in the world – the FIFA World Cup, with the Chilean national team. It happened in style as well, as the world media was broadcasting images of Wenger playing beachball on the sunny beaches of Brazil. Who would have thought. If reports are to be believed, we aren’t done yet. Sami Khedira, Mathieu Debuchy, Lars Bender are just some of the names that are being bandied about. These are top quality performers – the caliber of player that we should be attracting every year, the caliber of player that can push us to the summit of not just the Premier League, but to the summit of the Champions League. Won’t that be something to look forward to? Exciting times indeed ahead of us. I, for one, cannot wait to see Sanchez and Ozil in action together.
Now that the World Cup is over, and we can well and truly look forward to the Premier League season, I will do a piece soon on analyzing our new superstars, and outlining what we can expect from there in the coming season.
Onwards and upwards…