Saturday, August 14, 2010

Unintentional Honesty from Arsene Wenger

For those of you who don't check The Guardian or on a daily basis, the big story of the transfer market has been the "will he or won't he" saga concerning Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas is a product of the Barcelona youth system. He was buddies with Leo Messi and Gerard Pique when they came up at La Masia. He is a paid member of the club. His family started taking him to games at the Camp Nou when he was tiny. Arsenal signed him at age 16 by taking advantage of the fact that English clubs are not subject to the EU law that forbids people under the age of 17 from signing employment contracts. At Arsenal, Cesc has turned into one of the best midfielders in the world.

Prior to the World Cup, Cesc met with Arsene Wenger and almost certainly told him that he wanted a transfer to Barcelona. Cesc then went off to play for Spain and won the World Cup in a side dominated by Barcelona players. Before and after the World Cup, Barca players popped off in the press (in an increasingly unseemly fashion) about how Arsenal should sell Cesc to Barca. This campaign culminated in Pique and Carles Puyol putting a Barca jersey on Cesc at the team's post-tournament celebration in Madrid.

In the end, the transfer has not gone through and Cesc remains at Arsenal. There are a variety of potential explanations. One is that Arsenal value Cesc more than Barca do (and more than he would be worth on the open market). Barca have a bevy of top players; Arsenal are totally dependent on Cesc. A second is that Barca might have overestimated their ability to get a good price for Cesc based on the fact that the market for Cesc is a closed market. In theory, if Cesc will only go to one club, then Arsenal can't command full market value, but it hasn't played out that way. A third is that Cesc is an exemplary professional, a guy who wants to leave, but didn't make his feelings known by handing in a transfer request or mouthing off in the papers. (Too bad he's not Adebayor.) A fourth is that Barca might not have the money to sign him. The incoming club president, Sandro Rosell, has claimed that the club has a massive debt problem. (The debt issue is overblown by Rosell for political reasons. Rosell hates outgoing president Joan Laporta and he knows that he cannot criticize the results on the field in the Laporta era, so he has to rip apart the club's books.) A fifth is that Wenger and Cesc might have reached a Ferguson-Ronaldo compromise that Cesc will give Arsenal one more year and then they will let him go at a reasonable price.

In any event, I thought about the saga this morning when reading Arsene Wenger's comments on the EPL's new squad rules:

In my opinion – and it's not [the Premier League's] opinion – if you are a great player, you want to play with great players. If you are a great musician, you want to play in an orchestra with the best musicians. If you offer the guy the chance to play in an orchestra with poor musicians, he will not be happy.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Cesc can stay at a club that has sat on its hands and not addressed crying needs at goalkeeper and in central defense or he can play with the teammates with whom he has won the European Championship and the World Cup. (Note: Arsenal do have until the end of the month to right this failing.) He can play with Diaby and Denilson or Xavi and Iniesta. Which orchestra has the best musicians, Arsene?

Incidentally, I totally agree with Wenger's comments about the EPL's new squad rules. The league will be hurt by the imposition of a quota of domestic players. As long as England isn't producing top players, then the problem will lie with the development system. The squad rules will simply force clubs to deploy players who are not the most deserving. Wenger's comments are self-serving (Arsenal have relatively few English players, mainly because Wenger smartly refuses to pay extra for a nationality) and he's trying to excuse his inactivity in the transfer market by saying that the new rules have tightened the market. Nevertheless, he's absolutely right. It's refreshing to read the comments of a trained economist as opposed to the ususal "we were robbed of a clear penalty" tripe that comes from most EPL managers.


Tim said...

As an Arsenal fan, I've always known he'd go to Barca. But not to sit the bench (see world cup). It would make the most dense for him to wait until Xavi begins to decline. Barca's of fees were insulting--not even 40 million? Really? And he knows it. Through it all, he's been the consummate professional even as Pique and Reina tried to create a PR nightmare. Above all, Barca have shown themselves to be utter hypocrites--no better than Real at these things. Typed on iPad... Forgive typos.

Tim said...

Offers not fees :)

Michael said...

I saw that "no better than Real" line from Arseblogger and nearly barfed. Barca's players have mouthed off in the media about a target who is: (1) a club member; (2) a product of the youth system; (3) a personal friend of a number of the players on the team; and (4) an international teammate. I'd prefer it if they were a little quieter on the subject, but they are talking about someone with whom they have a relationship and whom they know wants to leave. This is not Ashley Cole in any way.

Of all fan bases, Arsenal fans ought to appreciate the difference between a club that relies on its youth system (and is only acting in an unseemly manner about a product of La Masia) and a team that spends obscene amounts on established stars.

Also, Barca play 55-60 matches over the course of the season. Cesc would not be on the bench very much, especially with Iniesta's injury history.

Jeff said...

I'm a bit out of the loop on this one but perhaps Cesc isn't as hit for this as the Barca players are because he'll basically be a back-up (as in the WC) and, in the way most players view these things, the low transfer price being offered isn't a sign of the respect from Barca Cesc gets from Arsenal (where he's the man)?

Stephen said...

This entry comes across as an odd apologetic for Barca during the Cesc saga. I'd be curious to hear Arsene's true thoughts on their behavior. I also think the apologetic based on one facet of this saga (I hate calling it that... British soccer journalistic theatrics.. grumble grumble) and one quote from Arsene is unpersuasive.

Some reasons:

Diaby/Denilson aren't so much the relevant comparisons as are Nasri/Song, where the dropoff is not as absurd as you make it out to be. These are young starters for a massive club- it isn't like we're talking about scrubs here. Also, I'm unclear when you think CF, Iniesta, and Xavi will all be tooting their horns together in the same orchestra?

What kind of top musician wants to trade "starting at awesome club" for "being backup/hoping that starter gets injured at awesomer club"? Honestly, the fact that Cesc even wants this transfer signals weakness and inability to lead to me. And I'm an Arsenal fan. He's captain for lack of better options.

Also, come off it on the "we're only total DBags on Cesc and not other players, so somehow that makes us not DBags" line. "We're not as bad as Real" is the same weak defense you offered up last time. I won't compare Barca to Real, because I agree that it's unfair, but we're not as bad as Real is a pretty trivial equivocation.

Also in the weak response category: "We play a lot of games, so I'm sure lil Cesc will get to start *some* of them when Xavi and Iniesta are tired, or if the game doesn't matter."

Further, I think you're going a little light on the Barca players. "Increasingly unseemly" is more than a mild understatement. When you have people like Puyol making statements like "Arsenal are acting classless" (a quote which was aptly described by Unprofessional Foul as "without a hint of irony or self-awareness"), you have passed "increasingly unseemly" several miles back.

Here's to Arsenal riding Cesc like the Brewers did with a rented CC Sabathia before sending him off to the debt-ridden soccer Yankees for an astronomical fee.