Free at Last! says Wenger
When it comes to transfer spending there is no sum too great and no trophy that can`t be gained simply by bringing in two or three world class players. Knowing who those players are and whether they will marry with the world class players you already have is the great uncertainty that makes all transfer spending risky.
The transfer windows have taken something of the form of a game within a game. Like party political broadcasts the sane will avoid them until the election or transfer window is over. As each window approaches headlines carry promises of 'war chests` and big spending amongst those teams deemed to be capable of doing so. The media stokes up the fever amongst a salivating audience with the closing hours adopting something of election night media frenzy as the clock ticks down. For some bizarre reason some supporters will even stay up all night in the hope that the close will bring news of a big money signing by their club. At the end of the process winners are declared with those spending the most announced by pundits and commentators as those having strengthened and therefore to achieve a CL place and those deemed to have under spent, if one of the previous CL qualifiers, the ones to yield their place to the big spenders.
The reality is never quite as simple as that as spending money, as any objective watcher will tell you, doesn`t always result in a strengthening of the team. If the spending isn`t properly balanced then you could as easily end up weakening the squad as Liverpool have perhaps found to their cost this season. Changing rules in any event should force clubs to be a little more prudent in what they spend even if the travails of Portsmouth FC, one of a series of financial failures, haven`t already brought the dangers into sharper focus. The Uefa Financial fair play rules won`t now be fully adopted until 2015 but they`ll be gradually phased in before then. New rules on squad sizes and structures coming into effect in the PL next season will require some thought in structure and make up though these will have the curious side effect of making players like Chris Smalling more attractive than his experience suggests he should be.
The financial restraints of stadium investment are for the most part behind us. The property development dividend is finding its way into the coffers on top of revenues increases as a result of the stadium development. Wenger has publicly declared that the club is in a better position to invest in the team than it has been able to do for some time. The strategy hasn`t involved 'soft` loans from billionaire sugar daddies or rights issues the money the club has is its own which brings a responsibility of its own too.
Arsenal has never had the reputation of big transfer spending club, not since the Chapman era at least, though a simple look at total player budgets including wages, as news of the deal struck a couple of seasons back to ensure Cesc`s 'stickiness` illustrates, undermines the notion that Arsenal aren`t big investors in their squad. In summer 2001, with David Dein claiming his credit card was in meltdown the club spent £22.5m on three players van Bronkhorst, Jeffers and Richard Wright with a fourth Sol Campbell joining on a free. The only significant departee was Silvinho for a modest £3m resulting in a big net spend for the times. Not much doubt about which player provided the best return for David Dein`s credit card payments in that summer.
In the past two summers Wenger has tried to sign first Alonso and then Melo for reportedly large sums. This summer it`ll be interesting to see what Wenger is tempted to do for the final season of his current contract. There are popular ideas of what weaknesses the squad has but just as Wenger surprised many by selling his star striker and buying a right back before mounting a strong title challenge the season before last he is as capable of frustrating popular perceptions this summer. Then again he has also shown with the signing of Arshavin that the negotiating team, with Gazidis to the forefront, is capable of putting together the glamour deals.
Since that summer of 2001 this is probably the first summer when the foot is more likely to be hovering over the spending accelerator rather than the brake. Even last summer, despite a couple of seasons of decent profits, the uncertainties of the property market called for a cautionary approach. This summer fewer encumbrances beyond the need to get real value are there to inhibit Wenger. With just one year to run on his contract what he does this summer may well decide what he does next. Another trophy less season may make him feel, as he has alluded to recently, that it would be time to let someone else cash in on his legacy. On the other hand if he does win something what better valedictory exit could he have?
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