Will Arsene Wenger gamble in the transfer market?
Back in August, Arsene Wenger described the transfer window as being like a game of poker. You can see what he means. It is a time of year when clubs are competing for a limited stock of talent, agents are on the lookout for a new contract, and some managers use the media hype to motivate their squad or complicate matters for opponents.
The stakes are as high as ever this time around. But knowing who is serious about doing business and who is just testing the water – for whatever reason – is far from easy. The papers are invariably full of speculation. But as often as not the stories that find their way into the press are as much about media manipulation as they are actual accounts of what is on the cards.
And of course, irrespective of what happens in the transfer market, the whole business of signing new players is far from certain. Look at Mesut Ozil. Who would say that the £42.5 million Wenger put down to sign the German was not a massive gamble? That question seems all the more pertinent now that Santi Cazorla has turned himself into the king of the assist. That £42.5 million could have bought a whole battalion of defensive reinforcements.So the transfer window is not just a game of poker. It also represents just about every other game you would expect to see in casinos. Bluffs and judgement are all well and good, but the spin of a roulette wheel can be every bit as capricious as the vagaries of form and fitness. For all the research in the world, how can you possibly predict that someone is going to be homesick, such as the story of Manchester City’s Jesus Navas, or that their family is actually going to determine where they can and cannot go?
All well and good. But that leaves us scratching our heads when it comes to making sense of what may or may not play out over the course of this – or any other – transfer window. If the likes of Wenger cannot be sure of what is going on, how are the rest of us supposed to keep up?
The simple truth is that we can’t. For all the tempting titbits that filter through the media – James Milner, second-string Roma striker Mattia Destro, and Winston Reid have all tickled our transfer taste buds of late – we won’t know until a deal is struck. Viewed from afar, the chances of any of them making the move to the Emirates has to be an outside bet at best.
On the other hand, the idea of Wenger in a casino offers an interesting insight into how he goes about his business. If you looked at how his teams play you could paint him as a devil-may-care, cavalier, high-stakes gambler. But as we know that is nothing like Wenger the dealer. At times he is more like one of those ultra-methodical types who covers the same roulette numbers time after time with sensibly modest stakes. Away from the park he is conservative predictability personified.
The analogy is a revealing one because it shows up the contradictory side of Wenger the manager. He is more of a cultivator of young talent than a gambler. The rise of Francis Coquelin to the first-team ranks is a classic Wenger tale of long-term cultivation. Never mind the transfer window, Wenger would always prefer to recruit from the junior ranks.
But as we have seen with Ozil, under pressure he is sometimes prepared to go all in. And that, of course, means we can’t possibly predict which way Wenger might jump this time around. If he were a poker player, he would certainly keep you guessing.