Tag Archives: FFP

Should Arsenal bid £31m for Diego Costa?

And so it begins. With three matches left on the schedule and two weeks left in the season, it is time to start kicking tires and assessing options. Champions League play is assured (we’re into the playoff-round, for what that’s worth). With the World Cup looming, there’s likely to be a compressed, claustrophobic transfer-window, what with players vying for spots in their national teams and managers wanting to make the most of the time they have. Despite Arsène’s protestations to the contrary, we’d be fools to pass up a chance to sign Costa, as in-form a striker as is likely to be available this summer. If only it were that simple…

Diego? Is that really you?

First, the financials. Apparently, Costa has a £31m release clause in his contract. Take that with a grain of salt. We’ve proven that we’re ready to take that plunge, whether it was with our pursuit of Luis Suarez or Higuain or with our signing of Özil. We may have upwards of £100m to throw around, but keep that figure under your hat as negotiations fluctuate according to what sellers think you can spend. Beyond that, the man would likely command something like £150k per week, if not more. Again, this is something we can afford—especially if his future performance matches his current one, leading to more wins in the Champions League and deeper progression to boot. Would this, however, distort the wage-structure at Arsenal? Would current squad-members come to resent the imbalance? After all, long-serving members such as Walcott and Wilshere would be surpassed, if not eclipsed, by such wages. However, if the man can bed in and deliver, I’d wager the difference in salaries that they’d be understanding enough to see it as the cost of business.

Next, the competition. Chelsea. Pockets deep enough to lose one’s soul in. Mourinho has been vocal in his dissatisfaction with his options. I’m not sure where the wisdom there comes from—strikers can be notoriously vain and fragile beasts, possessing massive egos in need of constant massage—and the idea that insulting Torres or Ba (and perhaps Eto’o) will motivate them boggles the mind. They’re in the squad. They’re your only options. Why not talk them up, if only a little, to see what happens? Sadly, money talks. Loudly. Mourinho, as I’ve suggested before, is a bit like Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. For those not in the know, Francis (like Mourinho) is spoiled and petulant—and those are his positive qualities. That said, it’s already been widely and frequently reported that Mourinho is adamant on signing Costa (“adamant” here meaning that Mourinho will throw himself to the floor, kicking and screaming, if he doesn’t get what he wants). Given his voracious appetite for spending for the sake of spending, his short-term approach to winning, and his inability to deliver silverware without the best that money can buy, we’ll likely face a fierce bidding war for Costa’s services. So much the better. If we bid for Costa, we drive up his price. If we drive up his price, Chelsea pays through Mourinho’s nose. Manchester City have already run afoul of FFP. Chelsea can’t be too far behind. We owe it to ourselves to enter the bidding over Costa, if only to inflate the final fee, thereby handicapping Chelsea in other areas (if not signing the player outright).

Last, the player himself. Costa, as we all know, has been one of the most lethal finishers in Europe. This season, he has helped Atletico surge to the top of La Liga with 27 goals and five assists in 33 appearances. Not to be overlooked, he delivered ten goals and 12 assists in 31 league appearances last season, playing behind or alongside Radamel Falcao. Falcao has moved on, and Costa has been more than up to the task of replacing his 28 goals and one assist in 34 league appearances. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to argue against Costa’s quality. Even if we take into account the more-liberal scoring of La Liga, he’s shown that he can deliver the goods. He has contributed, via goals and assists, to 40% of Atletico’s goals. For comparison, Ronaldo has contributed to 39% of Real Madrid’s goals and Messi has contributed to 38% of Barcelona’s. For those still casting a dubious eyebrow, Costa has converted one less penalty than Ronaldo or Messi.

Speaking of penalties, let’s talk penalties. In Atletico’s trip to Stamford Bridge, with the game knotted at 1-1, Costa was brought down by Eto’o. He stepped to take the penalty. Two minutes, a warning, a skirmish, and a yellow card later, he converted. In the interim, there was a ludicrous amount of ball-adjusting (which refers, of course, to the spherical object he would go on to blast home). Along the way, he showed the kind of cojones that winners so often possess. Knowing full-well that Chelsea were sizing him up for a transfer, he took his sweet time in setting up the ball before taking the spot-kick. That he converted to all but eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League suggests a pair made of only the finest brass that money can buy.

And so we come full circle. Can we get him at £31m? If not, how much higher should we be willing to go to get him? On one hand, the money we’d spend on him is money we can’t spend on other needs. On the other hand, money we’ve spent on him might be money we don’t need to spend on those other needs. Eggs, meet basket. Basket, I see you’ve met eggs…

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This kugelsortierer sorts Arsenal's ambitions

As we wring our hands and twiddle our thumbs and chew our nails, wondering who, if anyone, we’ll be signing, I thought it would be worth taking stock and assessing the bigger picture. What does this all mean? Arsenal, after all, has managed to balance its books, more or less, over the last decade only to see other clubs vacuum up talent (all too frequently, talent we have nurtured). However, the dilemma exists at a deeper level. I struggled to find a suitable symbol for it and finally stumbled on it in the form of a Dutch ball-bearing sorter, Keppler’s Kugelsortierer. It’s similar to a child’s piggy-bank that will sort coins by sending coins down a chute lined with slots so that the slimmest, smallest coins slot out first and the largest ones roll down to the end. The Kugelsortierer (“ball grader”) does the same with bearings; bearings with the smallest diameter fall through a matching hole near the top, the next-largest rolls a little farther before falling through the next-largest hole, and so on.

You can see the contraption there, and you’re probably starting to sense its relevance to the transfer-window. To make it clear, each ball-bearing represents a player, each slot and chamber represents one club or another, and the sorter itself is the transfer-market. With a sense of grim inevitability, especially for those smaller clubs, the transfer-window remorselessly sorts players according to the clubs to which they apparently belong. Should a player grow to be too big for his club, the sorter sends him further down the line. Should a club’s ambitions shrink, its players will be re-sorted accordingly. Of course, for those to the left of the sorter, this all works out just fine as the biggest and best players find their way to their destination. The end-result is that each league will end up with a small handful of powerful clubs and a larger assortment of hopefuls.

However, the system is not without its hiccups. Occasionally, a bearing will roll past its intended hole and end up at a too-large club. Conversely, a bearing will get stuck in a too-small club. Perhaps Fernando Torres is an example of the former; he might have been better-off at Liverpool over Chelsea. Maybe Gareth Bale is an example of the latter; a player who may have ended up at a club he is too ‘big’ for.

It’s a larger problem for the smaller clubs, whether they’re facing relegation in the Prem for fighting to win the Eredivisie; they’ll lose their best players to larger clubs. It’s inevitable. Heck, we took Giroud from Montpellier, a huge factor in them tumbling from first place in 2012 to ninth in 2013. Much as we lament the loss of various players to other clubs, we do have to admit that we inflict similar pain on other, smaller, clubs.

As we’ve discussed, Arsene considered signing Bale in 2007. Maybe this would have been an example of the kugelsortierer doing its job. Bale has arguably outgrown Spurs and is ready for somewhere bigger. Perhaps he should’ve come to Arsenal. Over the last five years, if not longer, Arsenal has been guilty of letting itself be that club that lets the larger ball-bearings roll past to end up in bigger slots. Van Persie. Fabregas. Cole. We won’t even indulge in the list of players we’ve “almost” signed. The question that then arises is, under the current system, how does Arsenal see itself? Where do we lie on the kugelsortierer? Sure, we were once at the very-left end and deservedly so. How far to the right, though, have we slid?

Back in January, I would have said we’d slid pretty far. Being linked with the likes of David Villa, a 31-year old coming off of a broken leg, suggested that we saw ourselves as a club with modest ambitions with talk of fourth place as a trophy. Now, however, we seem to be moving to the left. Our pursuit of Higuain, a prolific scorer for the world’s largest club (financially, at least), suggests that we have our sights set on goals that are larger than a fourth-place finish or finishing above Spurs. The idea that we’re seriously linked with Rooney further suggests that we’re eyeing a return to our days of glory and have outgrown our current stasis.

However, the larger problem still persists. Under the current system, a “small” club’s reward for success is to see its best players leave. Whether it’s Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke or Spurs’ Gareth Bale (or Arsenal’s Robin van Persie?), the current system will send the best players to the biggest clubs. The rich get richer; the poor get the picture. Whether FFP has the teeth to address this remains to be seen.

On one hand, I am excited at our activity in this summer’s transfer-window. I would lovelovelovelovelove to see Higuain join us and would lose my mind if Rooney does the same. On the other, I look forward to a system, perhaps under FFP, that would bring about a bit of parity through which clubs, regardless of size, can keep their best. It might be a little self-serving, but we’ve already proven that we can live within our means and win, falling behind only those who live beyond theirs. In other words, once the kugelsortierer is level rather than pitched, Arsenal might just end up as the club best-positioned to win the Prem.

Say what you will about our signings and ambitions over the last few years—we’re looking lively in the transfer-market for the first time in ages. Not only are we looking to maximize our position under the current system, we’re positioning ourselves astutely for the restrictions to come.

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The problem with being as good as we are

We’re good. Pretty darn good. Good enough to finish 4th in the Prem, arguably the toughest and best football league in the world. We haven’t finished lower than 4th in the Prem since 1996. We’ve qualified for the Champions League 16 years in a row, beaten this year’s Champions League winners on their pitch, and we progressed further than every other Prem club in the Champions League. It is the dream of countless players from all over the world to play for this club.

Yep. We’re pretty good, alright.

The trouble is, as many of us sensed about seven words into this post, we’re not as goo as we need to be. I’m not talking about being The Invincibles again, and I’m not appealing to a sense of entitlement, as in “we’re Arsenal, we should win the Prem every year” and so on. I believe we should win the Prem every year, but I hesitate to say it’s somehow our birthright.  Maybe that’s not sufficiently Gooner-ish of me, but I make no apologies. We’re rooting for a football club, not, say, gravity, and there’s bound to be some ups and downs, a degree of uncertainty from time to time. You win too much and you get jaded. You stop feeling it as deeply as you once did.

I’m not saying we should just sit back and wait and hope and pray that silverware will someday magically fall in our laps; I’m just saying that, when it does, it’ll be like…like…I’ll let Eddie Murphy explain:

“If you’re starving and somebody throw you a cracker, you gonna be like this: Goddamn, that’s the best cracker I ever ate in my life! That ain’t no regular cracker, was it? What was that, a Saltine? Goddamn, that was delicious. That wasn’t no Saltine. That was… That wasn’t a Ritz, as it? That was a Ritz. God, that was the best cracker I ever ate in my life.”

He’s talking about sex, of course, but the comparison still works. The next trophy we win, whether it’s the league cup or the FA or the Prem, will be like eating that Ritz cracker. At the risk of stretching the simile to the breaking point, I worry that we have a squad with a few too many Saltines. Don’t get me wrong–I love our squad and wouldn’t make too many changes. We all seem to agree that we need a more-lethal finisher at center. Most of the rumors have centered on that position–Villa, Jovetic, Higuain, Benteke, even Rooney.  On one hand, it’s an odd obsession for a team that scored the 3rd-highest number of goals in the Prem and conceded the 2nd-fewest.

However, people can use statistics to prove anything. Forfty percent of all people know that.

Here’s the nub, then. We are pretty good. Our record, our goal-differential, and many other barometers support that. However, in order to get better, we may have to stop playing the game our way and start playing it a little more like it’s being played by Chelsea, Man City, and Man U. Are we willing to sell our souls in order to outspend them to guarantee the signings of a few top-flight players like Fabregas, Lewandowski, and, say, Cahill?  After all, if we’re going to keep with the Joneses and the Abramoviches, we might as well go all in.

Maybe signing Jovetic or Higuain isn’t ambitious enough. Maybe we should leave behind the last decade or so of financial sanity (or tight-fistedness?) and go on an absolute bender. All that money’s just sitting there, begging to be spent. But on whom? As long as we’re doing a full Abramovich, whom should we rent for a few seasons before FFP kicks in? Your suggestions below the fold…

Arteta Eviscerates Arsenal…

Well, “eviscerate” might be excessive, but the Spaniard did have some strong words on the season:

I can’t believe this is the closest I can get to Lego Arteta.

We have a very good team but we are missing that little thing which makes a difference. We can’t be in that position, because we have the best basic structure I’ve ever seen at a football club, great philosophy, good players, we’ve got financial backing to do whatever we want, unbelievable crowds for the stadium. That’s where we need to find the key, but with 10 games to go, it’s an impossible catch (the title chasers) and that, for me, is not acceptable. I think everybody knows that. I think the board knows that and hopefully this summer we’ll do something about it.

On its surface, this is some tough talk bordering on condemnation. It even sounds a bit like throwing in the towel. Once you use the word “impossible”, you leave yourself very little wiggle room. The fact that we’ve left ourselves very little wiggle room is, of course, the bigger issue. With ten games to play, however, “impossible” feels like too strong a word. We will have to hope that other teams drop points while not dropping any of our own, but this is not impossible. A baby counting all the grains of sand in the universe in the blink of an eye is impossible.

Maybe it’s just the eternal optimist in me, but I see grains of hope in Arteta’s comments. First of all, he’s the vice-captain, and it’s his job to take the lead on issues like this. The same statement from another player might feel too much like complaining. I don’t mean to criticize Vermaelen by implication. Arteta’s comments are most important to me when he talks about structure and philosophy. He’s previously spent time at Barcelona and PSG, as well as Everton, Rangers, and Real Sociedad. The following is more-true of certain clubs than others, but for Arteta to say we have the best structure he’s seen is meaningful. To compare us to Barcelona especially is strong praise indeed. Yes, he switches from “great” to “good” when he mentions players, which he may not mean anything by, but it’s true. We’d be hard-pressed to label any of our current players “great”. That will change, in some cases due to development and growth and in other cases through acquisition, to which Arteta himself alludes.

He mentions the board and diplomatically “thinks” they know. They’d better know. The idea that we somehow need or should fall out of fourth is some kind of wake-up call to spur the board into action is, on its face, ludicrous. If they don’t see that the club is regressing and that fans and players are frustrated, they should be ousted, bought out, fired, whatever it takes, and replaced with people who believe in the club and have its competitive success as their highest priority. Financial stability is great and will become more important under FFP, but at the end of the day, the purpose of the club’s existence is to win games, not balance books. There are times when these two goals are at odds with each other, of course, but we’ve proven better than most at reconciling them and look set, as Arteta suggests, to make some moves to strengthen the squad come summer.

I’ll disagree with Arteta’s “impossible” comments, but I admire the man for his forthrightness and for his belief in Arsenal.