"I suspect he would pay £25m for Lionel Messi"

That line from Ivan Gazidis, one I found while looking for what he had said back in June, stunned me. Worse, I think it pretty well sums up our problem. Gazidis was deflecting a question regarding Arsène’s aversion to “spending £25m on a single player.” Let’s grant Gazidis the leeway of admitting that he was just offering an example. However, what an

example! The idea that Gazidis might think that Messi would be available at £25m just a few months after scoring “only” 60 goals, is averaging close to a goal per game, has won all three Ballon d’Ors in existence, and who, among other achievements too numerous to list here, has transcended the debate over “best player in the world” to join the fray over “best player ever”, beggars belief. It’s ludicrous. It’s embarrassing. Worse, it pulls back the curtain on our problem, as if any of us were suffering from any delusions. Our chief executive doesn’t seem to know market value. Our manager rejects current market values and, setting and perhaps blindly sticking to these regardless of how they compare to the appraisals of others. I’m not sure which problem is worse on its own. Sorting that is akin to changing the deck chairs on the Titanic at this point.

With the countdown switching from days to hours, we still have only two new players, each of them vintage-Wenger-ites: Sanogo from Ligue 2 and a free transfer. These feel less like signings and more like ironic protest from Arsène. It’s as if he’s been pushed to a breaking point, and so he threw up his hands and gave us Sanogo and Flamini in a parody of himself. Of Flamini, Arsène said, “he was available because he was out of contract.” Out of contract? Is that our reason for signing him? By that logic, we don’t we really show our intentions by signing…um…Ciprian Marica? He’s out of contract. Better yet, Nicolas Anelka! He would settle Arsène’s critics’ hash once and for all. French! Knows the club! Free (maybe)! We could field a whole squad of free players while we’re at it. After all, this would only be a logical extension, the reductio ad absurdum, of Arsène’s position.
At the risk of getting both a little lofty and frothy at the same damned time, it seems that Arsène has a platonic conception of what a transfer should be, and that just doesn’t work in the goddamned real world. That after effin’ all, is the point of the platonic ideal: it doesn’t exist in the real world. Ironically, then, Gazidis steps back in to offer us this: Arsène is “pretty blind to price tags. He looks at what he sees with his eyes and makes judgments based on that, not on reputations and prices.” In this little cave in which the two of them apparently dwell, then, Arsène has chained himself to a wall and is staring—with his eyes, of course—at what he sees: flimsy shadows on the back of the cave-wall. What he doesn’t see, what he refuses to see, is that the shadows are cast by real players behind him. Real players. With reputations and, yes, prices. Arsène’s own philosophy has imprisoned him. Meanwhile, we shout and chant and scream, “turn around! the real players are just behind you! You’re just looking at shadows! All you have to do is turn your head!!They’re right there! GodDAMMIT!!!”

I’ve stuck by Arsène through a lot of grief and criticism, but I’m starting to lose that faith. I regret that what he was once lauded for—finding and developing young players—has now become an albatross around his neck. I wish we could continue to build a team in that way, but the Mansours and Abramoviches of the world have simply reduced us to a feeder-club, and, even if we can’t compete pound for pound in the market, we could do better than this. We’ve sat on a pile of gold that has grown year by year, hoarding it almost zealously, if not jealously, and now seem to reject any notion of using it for anything other than sitting on. In the words of C. Montgomery Burns, “One dollar for eternal happiness? I’d be happier with the dollar.”

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