Why we have fallen far behind Liverpool – a different view on transfers by AndersS
A trivia question: Who is the most expensive player Arsenal have ever sold, and when was it?
Do you know off the top of your head? Let it be known in the comments if you do or if maybe your first guess was wrong. Mine was.
You will get the answer towards the end of this article, but before we get to the answer, I will try to explain, why I think it is actually a significant thing.
In an earlier article about the nett spend on transfers, we saw the surprising fact, that Arsenal are the 3rd highest nett spender over the last 5 years, only surpassed by the two Manchester clubs. Surprising, as we have often listened to the myth, that the reason for our demise is our owner’s unwillingness to spend on improving the squad. That is clearly not true. As nett spend probably is the most revealing fact of a club’s willingness to put more money into the squad.
Over the last 5 years, we have spent more or less 2.7 times as much as Liverpool nett, £249 m v £92 m. and in the same period we have seen Liverpool going from being more or less on the same level as we were to become arguably the best, not only in England but in Europe as well. Unfortunately, we have moved in the other direction, despite this much higher nett spend.
The ”nett” spend on transfers comes from deducting your transfer sales from your gross spend on transfers.
If we look only on gross spend on transfers the picture is a lot different.
Over the last 5 years Liverpool have spent £471 m gross on transfers and we have spent £443 m. So a more or less even picture. And this is of course down to the fact, that Liverpool in the period have sold players for £379m while we only have sold players for £92 m. In fact, in 3 of the seasons Liverpool have actually sold players for more, than they have spent on new players! Imagine the uproar and accusations of greedy owners etc. if that had happened at Arsenal.
If you take a moment to think about these facts, there are many interesting conclusions you can draw from them:
1) Liverpool have reached the top not by investing more. They have spent relatively little nett.
2) Liverpool does not have owners that are more willing to spend.
3) Liverpool does not have a different business model which gives them an advantage.
Basically this means the “excuses” we often have seen brought forward for why we haven’t been serious title contenders for several years, are either a product of failure to look at the facts, or maybe they are just a product of the well known phenomenon; if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start believing it.
No, if we want to discuss what we need to have or need to do to become serious title contenders, we need to move away from blaming the owners for a lack of willingness to spend. We need to look at what we can do better under the current ownership.
The good news, if you like, is that it all means, in theory we could have developed like Liverpool and we still can. After all, they are on the same self-sustaining business model, as we are.
Liverpool’s success is in my opinion based on a combination of clever management decisions, and having possibly the best football manager/coach in the world at the moment. But that is also a clever management decision.
Getting Klopp and sticking with him despite a far from impressive start is really a key decision taken then by the management of the club. Liverpool nearly became champions a couple of seasons before, but they still sacked their manager and brought in Klopp.
We might have been able to do it at the time, if it had been on our agenda. Klopp was free on the market, and he went to Liverpool on a salary, that was reportedly 25% less than what we paid Wenger at the time. Only, it wasn’t on our agenda to do it. This is not criticism as such, because nobody could know for sure back then what we know now. Today we know it was clearly a great decision by Liverpool, and one that has been instrumental in bringing the club to the top.
Another great move by them was buying Coutinho for around £10m, making great use of him, developing him into to a world class player, and then selling him for around £110 m in 2017/18. He was arguably their best player at the time. So Liverpool have actually done what we also often hear, that our owners have forced Wenger into selling their best player. In fact, Liverpool also did it with Suarez. But it worked to their advantage, as they were clever enough to spend part of the £110 from the Coutinho sale to buy Van Dijk for £87 m. They sold their best player, but bought a player they needed more and made a handsome profit in the process.
As I see it, our management and decision making have for many years been far from as clever and targeted as it should have been. We have failed by:
1) Not being able to develop players to more valuable assets, thus limiting our options in the transfer market.
2) Not being clever enough in contract negotiations, or contract management if you like, meaning we couldn’t sell at the right time for the right price.
3) Spending too much money on players in areas where we were strong and not on players that would strengthen our weak areas.
3) Not being ruthless and changing Wenger at the right time with a modern manager with a new philosophy, when times had surpassed him.
This brings me to the trivia question in the beginning of the article.
The most expensive player, Arsenal have ever sold, is Marc Overmars for around £35m in year 2000!
I think that sums it up. For 20 years, we haven’t been able to sell a player for more than that, and that has been a big problem. Because other clubs like Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea have actually been able to generate transfer money to spend from selling players with a high value on the market, and spend the money on players offering more value to the team.
We have failed massively here.
So the transfer window is very exciting, but not only because we are all looking at which players we hope we can or will buy. Nearly just as much because the window shows, how good we have been at increasing the value of our players and at managing their contracts and ultimately at creating opportunities to strengthen our squad.
Our chances of becoming title winners again very much hinges on being better off the field as well as on it.