Blog by: Lakshman
This weekend’s North London derby between Arsenal and Spurs will give us a view of two contrasting philosophies in the transfer market.
If one looks at the main stories surrounding these clubs this transfer season, it would be easy to miss the fundamental themes that dictate each club’s dealings in this transfer window. For Spurs, it has been “The face that launched a thousand transfers”, the endless saga of Gareth Bale’s impending move to Real Madrid. Meanwhile, the Gunner faithful have suffered the emotional roller coaster of a succession of big name acquisitions that were somehow derailed at the last moment – Fellaini, Higuain, Suarez and the one that hurt the most, losing Luis Gustavo to relegation-flirting Wolfsburg.
Spurs’ approach, at least in the past two seasons, has been to acquire players to fill their gaps or to enhance their strength at particular positions. Going out their exit door are players who don’t fit into the manager’s plan. Thus, over the past two seasons, we have seen the addition of Hugo Lloris in goal (though I attribute that to Villas-Boas’ anti-American prejudice, with Brad Friedel being one of the top keepers in the EPL), Vertonghen and the return of Rose to the back line.
The big story, for me, has been Spurs midfield. This is where I am really seeing a man with a plan. Villas-Boas appears to be building a team around a dominant midfield. There is tremendous cohesion in the type of players he has acquired – tall, strong and athletic. He has also crafted a mix of creative versus defensive midfielders – Chadli, Dembele on the creative side, Eriksen to be added; Capoue and the already present Sandro provide ample midfield muscle. Oh, we’re not done yet – the cherry on top — Paulinho. If he isn’t the next Patrick Viera, I don’t know who is.
As evident from the first two games, Spurs still have to fill that yawning gap left by Bale at the goal-scoring end. Sorry, Soldado ain’t it. Willian was cruelly snatched by the Machiavellian Mourinho. (Speaking of the Machiavellian Mourinho, even those who hate him have to admire his chutzpah in starting against Man U with a false 9, literally painting a picture for Rooney on where he would fit in. I think Rooney would be a fool to stay on as Moyes’ third choice behind RvP and Wellbeck. Don’t be fooled by the start he was given in the last game).
Lamela may create chances from the wing, but who will finish? The market is still open and Spurs can continue to post Bale money. On the selling side, Villas-Boas has shown Dempsey and Huddlestone the door, with good returns – capable players, but not in the manager’s plans, with perhaps a sliver of anti-American prejudice tossed in.
The parsimonious, hard-nosed Arsenal approach operates strictly on valuation, acquiring players at or below their fair market value and selling any who attract more than their market value. This means any team can stroll through the Arsenal Shop and carry any players they like to the checkout counter. While a few sales may have been forced by players in the last year of their contract, (e.g. van Persie), others were pure checkout counter transactions (e.g. Clichy, Song).
The gaps created by these departures are then plugged by “value acquisitions”, or, in some cases forced by 8-2 humiliations. The quality of the replacements is always a few notches down – wouldn’t be a value acquisition otherwise. Thus, we get Cazorla instead of Mata or Hazard (players who were coveted by Arsenal), the departed Andres Santos to replace Clichy, a diminutive Arteta trying bravely to play Song’s enforcer role, a committee of Podolski and Giroud to get van Persie’s goals.
It doesn’t look that much better on the selling side. We still have the likes of Park and Bendtner on the books, although a reader pointed out that it is Bendtner’s inflated paycheck that is keeping him on. Of course, Arshavin, Gervinho, the invisible Squillachi and a few others have gone.
This transfer season, with gaps on each line, with 70 million pounds to splash the cash, we have picked up a grand total of two free transfers from the dumpster – a much injured Sanogo and the prodigal son, Flamini. Wenger often touts the philosophy of developing a winning team from within. If there is a manager who can do that, it is Wenger. Well, except for one little detail – you have to remember to hang on to the players you develop!!
What about the game? Spurs probably lack the finishing power for an 8-2, but I picture them bullying our Arsenal waifs on our own turf, working toward an easy win. That will leave the Arsenal brains trust a full 24 hours or so to pick through the bottom of an empty dumpster before the clock literally strikes midnight.