Arsenal should not have allowed Fabregas to join Chelsea and should have brought back Song – Could this have been possible? By Tinashe Shamuyashe (The Analyzer)
Watching PL Fan Zone could be a torture if you are an Arsenal fan. From a panel which is rabidly anti-Wenger, to purported Arsenal fans that send emails that are anything but supportive to the club they claim to support, to skypers and callers who always moan about everything Arsenal and Wenger. Yesterday while watching the program after the match there was a caller from Nigeria who claimed that Wenger made a mistake by not bringing in Fabregas and Song back to Arsenal. This provided ammunition for the anti-Arsenal panel to criticize everything Wenger with one panellist suggesting that he believed that this was Wenger’s last season at Arsenal and he would be promoted to the board.
Watching the program before knowing the results one would have thought that Arsenal had dropped points against West Ham. The theme was about how Wenger does not buy players needed for club success, how he sells his best players to rivals, and how he is stubborn. The panel claimed that we should not have let Fabregas go to Chelsea and we should have brought back Song rather than let him go to West Ham. It is against this background that I have decided to assess whether it was practically possible for Arsenal to bring back both Fabregas and Song this season. My assessment shall be based on the club’s business model, needs analysis, and affordability.
Arsenal Business Model
It is common cause that the club pursues a self sustaining business model, aimed at ensuring that the club’s longevity is not dependent on one or some few individuals. This approach ensures that the club is able to survive beyond the interest, financial capacity, or life of the benefactor. While currently Arsenal’s two major shareholders are billionaires, the club management has been refusing donations from those shareholders to enable the club to compete on the transfer market at Chelsea and Man City levels. This underscores how the club management is so embedded in the self-sustaining model. We may debate the merits and demerits of that model but the club management is in no doubt as to what business model is best suited for the club. Maybe this emanates from Arsenal’s near collapse in the early 1900s before it was rescued by some rich British chap (you can go to Untold Arsenal history for a detailed account on this). The self sustaining model hinges on positive financial performance by the club.
The essence of the self sustaining model is that the club will embark on expenditure under constrains of longevity. The club will not spend unless it is sure that its viability will not be jeopardised by such expenditure. It means therefore that for every investment in a player the club’s financial team will undertake an investment appraisal, pitting all possible financial benefits from acquiring the players against costs associated with such acquisition. If the return is negative, then forget about acquiring the player. Examples of potential revenues include incremental replica jerseys sales, finishing position in the league, extent of participation in the UCL and other cup games. Examples of costs will include salaries, depreciation (amortization), agents fees, etc.
While finance staff does detailed analysis outsiders like me can only make crude assessments of the impact of certain investments in players on the club’s financial performance. Using this simple analysis, I am of the view that the club would not have afforded to acquire both Ozil and Suarez (or any other major signing) in the 2013/14 season. The club’s reported after tax profits for 2013 stood at £5 million. Assuming Suarez or any other star player would have been bought for £40 million and signed a 5 year contract, in addition to Ozil, he would have been depreciated at £8 million per year, with an annual salary in the range of £6.7 million (based on what we are told Ozil earns). This would have translated into an extra cost of £14.7 million without taking into account agents fees. More than a third of these costs would have been incurred in 2013 depending on the timing of the acquisition. This would have meant around £5 million pounds added to 2013 costs, which wipes out the reported profit.
Please note that I have taken a very simplistic analysis, in part for want of all the relevant information. There are such aspects as tax treatment of the acquisition, incremental revenues from shirt sales, cost savings on letting Bendtner go, safety margins in case of unforeseen expenses or drop in revenues, and agents fees. However, this analysis is enough to illustrate my point. The point being, under the self sustaining business model the club could not have afforded another major signing alongside Ozil without jeopardizing its viability. This conclusion will be pertinent in discussing the possibility of acquiring Fabregas.
Could the Club have bought both Fabregas and Alexis?
From the above analysis it is my view that the club could not have afforded both Ozil and Suarez (or any other major signing). The club’s 2013/14 transfer activity is revealing of its transfer strategy going into the future, which is gradual acquisition of top tier quality to address the club’s needs on the pitch. The club’s transfer behaviour in 2013/14 pointed to the following being the club’s priorities: attacking midfielder (play maker), striker (to complement Olivier), and defensive midfielder. The club was willing to spend big on either a striker or attacking midfielder, while spending moderately on a defensive midfielder.
Wenger’s remarks about Fabregas’ status in 2013 clearly demonstrated that the club wanted to bring him back in 2013/14. Fabregas was heavily linked to Man United during that transfer window. It was Wenger who came out and categorically stated that Fabregas wanted to stay at Barcelona for another season. Wenger could not have been so sure about Fabregas’ situation without speaking to the player’s agent or Barcelona. Having regard to the fact that the club ended up buying a player who plays in a similar role with Fabregas, one can reasonably infer that Wenger inquired about the availability of Fabregas. That is how he got to know about his status which he so emphatically stated such that the rumour of Fabregas to Man United died there and then.
Around the same time Arsenal’s interest on Suarez was reported and confirmed (I am aware of the Higuain rumour but I feel the club was never in for that player because he is very similar to Olivier and was a slight upgrade on Olivier, if ever he was). This to me pointed to the fact that the club was willing to wait for Fabregas if they could find a top class striker who would complement Olivier. This transfer failed to materialize as we all know.
Ozil then became available on the last day of the transfer window, with Arsenal acquiring him at roughly the same amount they had offered for Suarez. In my opinion it is this transaction that pulled the plug on the potential return of Fabregas to Arsenal. Had we succeeded in getting Suarez, we would then have bought Fabregas in the 2014/15 season, with Alexis not coming to us unless Suarez was to go to Barcelona. The question therefore is whether Arsenal should have allowed the Ozil chance to pass? In the circumstances then, the answer for me is no. Fabregas was struggling at Barcelona while Ozil was flourishing at Real Madrid. Ozil appeared to represent an upgrade over Fabregas. Getting Fabregas in 2014/15 was dependent on him failing to nail a starting spot in the Barca team in 2013/14 season. If he were to nail a starting spot he would not have left Barca.
There was a great deal of negativity from some fans because the club had not spent a dime. Passing on the Ozil chance would have added to that negativity, with the potential of affecting performance on the pitch. Ozil would most likely have gone to Man United or Chelsea, because the former was on the market for an attacking midfielder while the latter had a manager who had worked with Ozil before. The failure of Arsenal to win the championship in 2013/14 would have been blamed on the non-signing of Ozil, although we all know with the benefit of hindsight that he would not have helped us win the league. Based on the above considerations it is my view that buying Ozil was a right decision. It meant therefore that priority shifted to a striker that would complement Olivier.
In the 2014/15 transfer window, the club had other priorities, viz: replacing Sagna, Fabianski, and Thomas Varmelen (TV). Added to that was the need to buy a striker to complement Olivier. The club ended up spending nearly £80 million in filling those positions. I must also note that the club needed and still need a successor to Arteta after Wenger stated in the 2013/14 season that Arteta was left with at most two seasons at top level. It would therefore have been grossly unreasonable and irresponsible for the club to buy a player who is not a priority solely for the purpose of stopping him from going to a rival club, while not strengthening critical areas.
From a viability point of view it is my considered view that the club after spending £80 million did not have capacity to make another major signing, thus ruling out luxurious purchase of Fabregas. The acquisitions translate into yearly depreciation of £18 million, add agent fees, and wages – particularly for Alexis, the financial impact of such acquisitions is becomes clear for everyone to see. As I stated earlier, the club’s transfer strategy is one of one major signing at a time. This strategy is influenced by the business model. I do not believe therefore that the club could have afforded two major signings in 2014/15 season.
The option available to Arsenal was therefore to pass on the chance to sign Alexis in order to get Fabregas. That option would have had its own negative implications. First Alexis would have gone to Liverpool. Second, Fabregas would not have brought the dimension which Alexis brings to our game. At most Fabregas would have been another option for Santi and Ozil. Liverpool would have remained much stronger than they were with Suarez, while Chelsea would have been slightly affected negatively. Hazard and Oscar would have alternated as the number 10, or Chelsea could easily have bought another top notch number 10 with the limitless resources they have. They could as well have brought in De Maria (although he is not a number 10) ahead of Man United. This option therefore would not have benefited Arsenal but Liverpool.
In the final analysis, Alexis was a wiser buy compared to Fabregas. The club could not afford the two players at the same time, therefore a decision had to be made, which decision was to let Fabregas chance pass but get Alexis. Fabregas is flourishing at Chelsea while Alexis is flourishing at Arsenal. So instead of moaning about practical impossibilities, why not concentrate on the possibilities that became reality and are proving their worth.
Should Arsenal have brought back Song?
Wenger stated towards the end of the 2013/14 season that Arteta had at most 2 seasons at top level. We all know that Flamini was brought in as a short term measure after we failed to get our targets, Cabaye or Gustavo. The latter was concerned about playing time ahead of the 2014 World cup and felt Wolfsburg (which had finished 12th in the Bundasliga) afforded him that opportunity compared to Arsenal because of the midfielders they had. Cabaye’s price target was too high and it turned out PSG (a club with limitless resources) wanted him as well. If I am not mistaken Flamini’s contract expires at the end of the season. So clearly the club needed a defensive midfielder who would succeed the ones we have, provided the funds were available and a player of the right quality was available.
Apparently Song was available with no top notch clubs interested in him. As a result he ended up at West Ham. The question therefore is whether he was that defensive midfielder needed at Arsenal? We had Song at Arsenal for nearly 6 years, and in those years he impressed and disappointed at the same time. As a matter of fact at the end of 2011/2012 season most fans here wanted him to be offloaded. The club did that and he flopped massively at Barcelona leading to his loan move to the Hammers. His greatest undoing is that odd momentary lapse in concentration at crucial points of the game. If you watch our game against the Hammers again you will notice one or two such lapses that could have been catastrophic to West Ham.
Coming to performing the defensive duties, I feel he was not able to do so in that game, and had it not been for their keeper and our poor finishing we would be sitting above Southampton right now. Conversely West Ham never posed a threat to our back line in circumstances attributable to defensive midfield performance. They resorted to aerial balls from wide areas and from around the centre of the pitch, hoping to maximize on their height advantage. I do not see how Song could have stopped their goal if he was in our team because it came from aerial bombardment rather than nice build up play. The latter can be effectively dealt with by good defensive midfield players. No doubt Song is a valuable player for mid table teams like West Ham, while he will be a mere squad player in top teams, and will struggle for game time.
With our increasing capacity to buy top class players would you rather have us buy an average defensive midfield player now or make such a player our major signing in 2015/16 season? I outlined my belief about the club’s current transfer strategy, which is gradually strengthening the squad through one big signing in a window. In 2013/14 we spent £41 million on one player while in 2014/15 we spent £35 million on one player while we spent a total of £80 million on players. In the next season we could spend even more, and considering that other areas are well stocked except for defensive midfield and central defence, I believe we will spend big in acquiring a defensive midfielder.
I believe so, because we do not have any promising players in that area from the academy, while at central defence we have Hayden, Ajay, and O’connor, in addition to Chambers. Added to that Per and Kos still have about three years of top flight football. I say this notwithstanding claims by some that Per is now a liability. My view is that a player does not turn from being a top class player in one season to become crap the following season. Players lose form from time to time but I do not think a club should go into a transfer market every time a player loses form. I recall in 2011/2012 when both Terry and Cech lost form, we started hearing rumours of Chelsea going into the transfer market to replace them. This season Terry is the bedrock of the Chelsea defence. What Per needs right now is the support of everyone associated with the club and he will come good. This was by the way.
As I believe a defensive midfielder is the next big thing the club will buy before the 2015/16 season begins, I just wonder who this player maybe. Names such as Wanyama, Schniederlin, Carvalho, and Martinez are being put forward by supporters. My view is that Wanyama is definitely not such a player, because his only asset is physique. Carvalho has not received high ratings from those that have seen him play, while I know nothing about Martinez. Every time I watch Southampton play, I have noticed how Schniederlin spends more time up field than in defensive areas. I do not know whether it will be by the manager’s orders or he gets carried away and unnecessarily joins offensive moves.
Considering how Wolfsburg has performed this season Gustavo could be interesting but he and his team struggled heavily against an English team in the Europa League. A player who is interesting me for that role is Bentaleb of Tottenham. He is young and has shown tremendous improvement since he got the opportunity at the tiny Tots. I am not sure though whether the Tots will let him go particularly to Arsenal. Whichever way I believe the big thing to join Arsenal will be a defensive midfielder however not in the January transfer window but before the start of the 2015/16 season.
There is no point in supporting a club whose philosophy you do not agree with because you will be forever unhappy with that club’s decisions. Knowing the business philosophy of a club you supports helps you make realistic expectations. Arsenal’s business philosophy is one of self sustainability, and this means spending what the club generates without compromising on longevity under that model.
This means that Arsenal cannot afford to just buy any player on the market, like what Man City, Chelsea and Man United are doing. Buying Fabregas and Alexis in the same transfer window was just not feasible. The purchase of Ozil coupled with the club’s failure to seal the Suarez transfer pulled the plug on the potential return for Fabregas. Since the end of the 2012/13 season the club has not been selling to be able to buy, however it has been spending big on players, although the magnitude is still lower than the three mentioned clubs. From management’s pronouncements and actions on the ground, the club is gradually investing in big name players. The next big name transfer for Arsenal will be a defensive midfielder of better quality than Alex Song. This transfer will not happen in the January transfer window but before the start of 2015/16 season. I rest my case.
Tinashe Shamuyashe (The Analyzer).