Tag Archives: David Villa

Villa and Bendtner: A Tale of Two Strikers

The contrast between David Villa, the striker we could have signed, and Nicklas Bendtner, the striker we just can’t get rid of, couldn’t be starker. On the one hand, Villa has left Barcelona for Atlético Madrid, a move that represents a significant pay-cut, not to mention prestige. Nothing against Atlético Madrid, but Villa has come down in the world just a bit. Or has he? In the eyes of this writer, his move is admirable. More on that in a moment. On the other hand, Bendtner has seen yet another potential move scuppered as Frankfurt has stated that “Bendtner has proven to be not realistic…with Arsenal, there are no problems. In other words, he seems to be resisting a move similar in many ways to Villa’s, and he’s doing so in a way that reveals his less-admirable qualities.

To be fair to The Greatest Striker to Ever Live, Frankfurt finished the year in sixth place in the Bundesliga, just good enough for the qualifying round of the Europa League—a destiny we’ve mocked more than once at this site. The man’s ego seems to have blinded him to certain realities, and while I’ve admitted that a certain level of arrogance is sometimes a quality that drives a player to greatness, this isn’t the case with Bendtner. His arrogance stands in the way of anything remotely resembling greatness. He hasn’t been good enough for Arsenal, wasn’t good enough for Juve, and apparently still thinks he’s better than Frankfurt. His continued insistence on Champions League-level wages is just so out of touch with reality that I begin to wonder about his mental health. Whether it’s his personality, his off-field antics, or his on-field performance, no one wants him. We’re literally trying to pay clubs to take him, which, last I checked, is kind of the opposite of how transfers work. He’s earning £50k a week, more than many of us will earn in a year, and this makes his arrogance that much harder to take. The deeper issue here is that it makes Bendtner seem like he’s in it more for the money than for the love of the game. One secret to a lifetime of happiness is to find someone who will pay you to do what you love. Bendtner’s been fortunate enough to have found that, but he now risks losing it. His resistance to playing for Frankfurt lays waste to the idea that he’s a competitor or a footballer. He’s a mercenary—and a picky one, at that.

By contrast, David Villa, even if he continues to play in the Champions League, appears as a paragon of virtue and the spirit of competition. He’s taken a considerable pay-cut in order to earn more time on the pitch, and he’s doing so for a much smaller team. The difference between Barcelona and Atlético may not be as vast as between Arsenal and Frankfurt, but the symbolism is entirely different. Villa, a proven performer at the highest echelons of European soccer, has swallowed his pride, taken a pay-cut, and moved down the ladder to a team perennially on the edges of European competition. Whereas Bendtner has sneered at opportunities, deeming them unworthy of his apparently immeasurable talents, Villa has sized up his options (which included, for a time, potentially signing with Arsenal for as much as £15m) and gone to a team that will give him plenty of opportunities to do what he loves, even if he’s doing so for a lower salary. He’s chosen the right answer to the age-old question: would you rather be a bit-player for a champion or a featured player for a scrappy one? Had he stayed with Barcelona, he’d have a virtual guarantee of silverware year in and year out, but he’d play sparingly—17 appearances of less than 45′ and only eight of a full 90′ this year, numbers that are sure to decline with Neymar joining the club. Yes, it’s far less-likely that Villa will get silverware with Atlético, but whatever he gets, for good or bad, he’ll know that he earned it through his efforts. I’ll take that attitude, hands down, over a guy willing to sit on the bench and cash checks each week.

Does Bendtner not sense the hollowness of his position? He sat on the bench with Juve and watched them win the scudetto—something I don’t think he can claim credit for based on how many appearances he made. He believes himself to be immensely talented, but there’s no hunger, no passion, no intent in his approach. He seems to want the world handed to him on a silver platter (and he’d probably check the silver’s purity before accepting). Arsenal, unfortunately, made the mistake of handing him that silver platter, and now we may be stuck with this arrangement until his contract runs out in June 2014. He’s only 25 and should see a chance to play for Frankfurt, a chance to lead the team to Europa League glory, as his redemption rather than his relegation. If he can’t see it that way, he probably won’t see the writing on the wall, and the football world will see him for what he really is: a spoiled, self-important wastrel. It’s not like he’s crippling our movements in the transfer-window, but the sooner we wash our hands of him, the happier I’ll be.

Neil Young once sang, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”  Nicklas, my man, you’re fading, and fading fast.

How to choose between Jovetic, Higuain, Benteke, and Villa…

After Andrei Arshavin’s shock away-move caught everyone at Arsenal off-guard, the urgency to sharpen the attack has reached a fever-pitch that–oh, wait. Nevermind. I’m sad to see Arshavin go. Among he, Squidward, and Denilson, I thought he had the most to offer. Oh well. No sense crying over split milk. With the official transfer window still a few weeks away, we have to prioritize our targets. The four forwards we’ve most often been linked to–Jovetic, Villa, Higuain, and Benteke–all have their flaws and fortés, and we’d be wise the kick the tires on each (being gentler with Villa, of course).

We’re going to need a forward who can deliver reliably and ruthlessly. Despite being the only team in the Prem to feature four double-digit scorers, we lack that one player who can change a game week after week with a stunning goal. The committee-approach of the 2012-13 season certainly worked in terms of the sheer number of goals we’ve scored, but we still limped through far too many games when we just couldn’t unlock a defense to score–across all competitions, we failed to score in nine matches and scored a single goal in 18, with predictable impacts on points-dropped and progress in various cups. I won’t dredge up those numbers. I don’t want to live that much in the past.

When it comes to the pasts of the players we’ve been linked to, however, it’s well-worth a closer look. Sadly, it looks like the most “available” player, and the one who carries the most impressive resumé,  might also be the least desirable at least in terms of our needs: David Villa. He’s far and away the oldest of the bunch at 31, and although he’s played at the highest levels of football between the Spanish national team and Barcelona, these are factors that might inflate his stats. Simply put, Barcelona’s dominance of La Liga has been so complete that its forwards find far-more opportunities to score than forwards at other clubs might. His market-value has plummeted from a high of £44m in 2011, due in part to injury, his age, and concerns over his longevity. He might represent a nice addition to the squad, but he might have to accept a second-string role–I’m not sure he’s willing to change clubs without upgrading his role. Then again, with the arrival of Neymar, he’s almost certainly going to drop further down in the pecking order.

At the other end of the spectrum, at least as concerns age and experience, is Christian Benteke. He has only one season of top-flight action, this past year with Aston Villa, but has made the most of his time. He almost single-handedly dragged the Acorns away from relegation, scoring 19 goals despite being the focus of each opponent’s defense. Aston Villa has apparently slapped a £40m asking price on him with interest from Spurs and Fiorentina making the headlines lately. That might say something about those club’s concerns regarding Bale and Jovetic, respectively. If they’re willing to meet that price tag, it might indicate that Bale and Jovetic each have one foot out the door, and the clubs plan on using their transfer fees to finance Benteke’s move. If Aston Villa is serious about that price tag, he’s become ludicrously overpriced. Too bad. Among the current four, he’s been my first pick for a while. I see Aston Villa’s priorities, though: use that asking price to keep Benteke or use that transfer-fee to finance some new transfers.

I guess I’m tipping my hand a bit by now addressing Jovetic. I’m still not sold on him. No offense against Serie A, but I just don’t feel like Jovetic has dominated opponents there as he should in order to justify his current asking-price. Once you look past Juventus and AC Milan, there’s a sharp drop-off in quality (according to the Euro Club Index). His thirteen goals this year are good for 11th-best in Serie A, which again doesn’t make me drool as much as I’d hope. If I’m going to knock Villa for his injury, it’s worth noting that Jovetic has one of his own, one only described as a “cruciate ligament injury”. Whether it was a tear or something less serious, he does seem to have bounced back nicely, but whether he’s risen to the levels we’re looking for and would have to fork over to get is still an open question in my book. At a starting price of £26m, he’s feeling a little over-priced.

Even with Higauin, who has all but sworn on a Bible that he’s leaving Real Madrid (which should deflate his value just a bit), I’m not salivating. He’s been a good player for club and country. Despite having to play in Ronaldo’s shadow and having to platoon with Benzema, he’s still managed to average 0.44 goals per game, not enough to set the world on fire either, but more than Jovetic’s 0.3 despite Higuain being his club’s 2nd or 3rd choice attacker and Jovetic being his club’s 1st-choice. Even after we repeat the caveat we used with Villa above–that Real Madrid, along with Barcelona, co-dominates La Liga in a way that might inflate players’ stats, Higuain now emerges at the head of my list. He’s proven himself but isn’t ageing, he’s high-priced but not exorbitantly so, and he speaks both French and Spanish. Okay. So two of three of these carry a bit more weight than the last one, but it’s still worth noting that his ability to communicate with Giroud, Cazorla, Arteta, and others is a factor to at least keep in mind if not front and center.

I’ve come to the end of this, then, having not quite convinced myself as to which of these four we should put at the top of our list, so I doubt I’ve swayed anyone who’s come this far with me. I apologize, but maybe it’s a sign of a bigger issue: should we not step up our ambitions to pursue another bigger name? I don’t want to see us going after the likes of Ronaldo or Rooney, necessarily; I don’t want to devote so much of the club’s finances, personality, or locker-room oxygen to someone quite that big. It might stifle other players as much as it inflates our wage-sheet or goals-scored. Still, a step-up from the current batch could split the difference. Lewandowski? Cavani? Any other suggestions?

No, Arsenal hasn't pre-signed David Villa. Hook, line, and sinker..

The latest story to make the rounds will have you believe we have “pre-signed” Barcelona’s David Villa to a contract worth £12-15 million. For what it’s worth, transfermarkt values him at £16m, so if the story is true, we’d be getting a bargain. However, any site that has trouble spelling one of the two key words in its name may not be setting the gold standard for players’ transfer- market values. At the risk of trying to have it both ways around here, I feel like I’m not violating my “try to leave transfer-talk alone” ideals by addressing this. My Spanish is weak, and for some reason, Google Chrome just can’t manage to translate the original story from as.com for me. I’ll try again a few more times later in the evening. For now, let’s take a look at the man himself and see what all the excitement is about.

Much as we did with Stevan Jovetic, let’s look this rumored little horse in the mouth and put him through his paces. Age: 31. Current rating via whoscored.com: 6.62 (Gervinho’s? 6.76). Ten goals and five assists in 19 starts and 15 substitutions. He’s listed as a “very strong” finisher, but also “very weak” in offside awareness and “weak” in aerial duels and crossing. At 175cm (about 5’9″), I understand the weakness in aerial duels, but it makes me wonder how much we need another forward of middling height when we already have Podolski and Walcott. As you can probably already tell, I”m not sold on the man yet.

When it comes to his scoring, he hardly strikes me as the kind of game-changer we’re seeking, even at the rumored price. He just isn’t. Aside from his goals against AC Milan and Real Sociedad, many of his goals have come against mid-table teams or worse. On top of that, many of his goals have been superfluous, coming in matches that were already decided, like his goal against Real Sociedad, a pointless fifth goal in a 5-0 victory. The more I look at his numbers, the more I find myself wondering what the big deal is. He seems like a cherry-picker more than a game-changer, piling on weaker teams and kicking them after they’re already down. Barcelona generates a high number of shots and goals per game, so Villa’s record just isn’t all that impressive to me. Yes, he’s deferring to Messi when they’re on the field together, but I can’t help thinking that, if we did sign him, he’d be a nice option to have, and that’s as far as it goes. At 31 and the victim of a leg-break serious enough to generate amputation stories, I’m quite sure that goal-happy Barcelona (averaging more than three goals a game!) would be all too happy to part with him at whatever the price ends up being. If Arsène is serious about signing this guy, he’d better whittle the price down below £10m. Furthermore, he’d better continue the search for a striker who is more likely to transform our attack into something more threatening than it’s been.

From Villa’s perspective, it makes no sense for him or his agent to enter into any kind of pre-transfer window deals. We’ve been linked with this guy for what seems like ages. Even if his current deal with Barcelona is “only” around £7m a year, it would be silly of him to take our first offer months before the English transfer window opens. If he and his agent are serious about a move away from Barcelona, they’d do well to sit back, relax, and let the bidding begin to see if they can drive the price up a bit. After all, it’s likely to be the last contract he’ll sign. Again, as with Jovetic, I’m not convinced he’s what we need, and I’m certainly not believing these pre-signing stories. Instead, as with most rumors, I’ll only go so far as to treat them as bellwethers. Barcelona wants to sign Vermaelen or Koscielny? Brilliant. This suggests their value. We’re not yet back to a level at which players try to engineer trades to the Emirates; we’re still trying to get past being at a level at which players try to leave, sad to say.

With that in mind, signing Jovetic and/or VIlla would not signal our intent or ambition sufficiently enough, nor will such signings dramatically transform our prospects for the 2013-14 season. I’m all too happy to be proven wrong, of course, but I’d still prefer a higher-profile signing instead of yet another summer of last-minute bargains or decent-but-not-great signings. Monreal was a panic-buy, and even the signings of Giroud and Cazorla last year felt to dilly-dally towards the end of the window. I’d love, love to read a story at Arsenal’s official site announcing the signing of a top-class striker before the end of July. Get him into the squad, introduce him to Arsenal and the Premier League, and hit the ground running from week one. Sorry, David, but I’m not quite sure you’re the man for the job.

Vermaelen to Barcelona? Hmm..

Just as soon as I’d finished my promise not engage in transfer-talk, news from The Guardian is that Barcelona are preparing a £15 million offer for the man.  This comes on the same day that Arseblog’s Sam Limbert suggests that the captain’s armband has become too much of a burden and may be responsible for Vermaelen’s poor form to this point in the year. The responsibilities may distract from his own duties, and he may feel additional pressure to overachieve in order to live up to the role once held by Van Persie and Fabregas. Speaking of them, perhaps we should sell Vermaelen if only to keep with tradition. Wilshere slides into the captain’s role, and–oh. On second thought…

We’ve certainly done enough business with Barça recently that another deal would just be one more added to the list. Fabregas’s departure was a homecoming, and Song’s was more of a selfish, Van Persie-esque trophy grab. The musing over Vermaelen comes at what feels like an opportune time, if only because so many have pundits have asked so many questions about Vermaelen’s role and play. Maybe we should send him to Barça but insist on exclusive talks over Valdes and Villa–I’ll leave the letter-based jokes for someone else. In other words, yes, we’ll send Vermaelen but only if Barca agrees to send us one or both of their players. That’s a win-win, right? We get an experienced keeper and talented striker, and Barça gets a defender to replace an aging Puyol with–stop.

If they are trying to replace Puyol with Vermaelen, doesn’t that tell us that Vermaelen is good enough to play for Barça, one of the world’s best, if not the best? Doesn’t that tell us that, despite his slumping form, he’s still seen by intelligent football minds as among the best defenders in Europe? They’re surely not signing him to simply sit on the bench. That’s Song’s job, after all. This line of thinking should lead us towards keeping the man. Not only this, but Barça probably sniffs a bargain–“we can purchase him when he’s been run down by critics and devalued by fans”. The same report in The Guardian suggests that Liverpool’s Daniel Agger is worth £20 million. I don’t see a gap of £5 million between the two.  If Barça seriously wants Vermaelen, they’d have to do better than £15 million, in my book.

The real issue though is that it just doesn’t make sense yet for us to sell Vermaelen. We’ve already identified defense as an area to strengthen, so it doesn’t fit to sell the man, leaving us in need of two new defenders. If we can find two stronger defenders, and the prices work out, then let’s do it. I like Vermaelen, but our first priority, to borrow the phrase, is the badge on the front, not the name on the back. That might sound cold, and I don’t mean it to, but it’s true. I want what’s best for this club and hope this means holding onto Vermaelen. I also want a club that will strike fear into the hearts of many when it takes the field.  If we add a keeper and a striker, everyone’s form will improve, especially the captain’s.

Transfer Targets to Turn the Team Title-wards

Reports out of [insert name of country and publication here] have linked Arsenal with [insert top-tier team or obscure backwater team name here]’s [name over-priced 31-year old or unknown 17-year old], who has turned heads with his [choose one: prolific scoring/ tenacious defense] and has lead his team to the top of [insert name of European football league here].  Arsene Wenger is believed to have discussed an offer of [roll six-sided dice four times and put sum here]. There is likely to be competition for his signature, however, with other reports suggesting that [add several names of various European teams here] are also following [player’s last name here]’s progress. According to [player’s last name here]’s agent, the player is keen on a move to the Premier League and the Emirates is a distinct possibility. “We have had some interest from several European clubs, it is true,” said [player’s last name here]’s agent. “We have had talks with Arsenal, so a move in June is possible.”

Woof. I hope that wasn’t as tedious to read as it was to write. Look, I get it. We’re up for a long stretch without a match to prepare for or a result to dissect, and minds will quite naturally turn towards other subjects. Given our recent losses and reports of financial status, I understand why names are getting tossed around. It’s about as purposeful as window-shopping. A few weeks ago, my wife and I took the kids to a posh hotel downtown for a vacation, figuring it’d be cheaper and less hassle that getting on a plane to go somewhere, and walked past all sort of shops. Did you know that men’s wristwatches can sell for $10,000? I think they must keep more-accurate time at that price. Or maybe they can change their own date-setting on leap-years instead of you having to twist that little knobbie on your own on March 4th after you finally realize it’s a leap year. I digress. Transfer-talk in March is like putting together a Christmas list in September, and you have just as much a chance of getting what’s on your list as a 6-year does on his or hers. Just like those kids, there is no Santa Claus who will magically deliver all of these wonderful gifts on a wondrous December morning. Oh–if you are a small child, or someone more grown-up whose childish naïveté has not yet been crushed by the cynicism of the modern world, ignore that last sentence. Moving on. Instead  of Santa, we have a fretful board that worries about how much this will all cost and just how little they can get away with spending in order to placate us without jeopardizing the budget.

I’m sure that all of us have our wishlists; I know I’m guilty of dreaming of a striker or two, maybe a keeper or  menacing center-back, but until I read something like the following, I don’t really care to spend too much more time on it: “____________________ has signed a deal with Arsenal for the 2013-14 season”. Otherwise, all of the articles that address rumors are only there to generate page-views and ad revenue for the sites that post them (and, yes, I realize that I hardly above the fray on this, having just written this and other posts that discuss the very issue).

Do we need some new players? Yes. Is now the time to start bandying rumors about? Apparently. Is now the time for minnows like me to worry about transfer rumors? Nope. Arsene, bless his little heart, likes to wait until the transfer-window is just about closed before announcements are official. That’s another subject for another day. Until then, go occupy your time with something more fruitful, like interacting with other human beings or learning a musical instrument. I’m working on the guitar.