Earlier this summer, Arsenal contacted Norwich about Emiliano Buendia. They said they were going to bid £25million for him.
It was explained that Norwich had already got an offer for Buendia, from Aston Villa, for £30m. The board were going to consider it. Yes, Arsenal’s representative continued, but his club’s recruitment department had a fine statistical analytics team that helped set player values, and they regarded Buendia to be worth no more than £25m.
So Norwich patiently explained once more that, while the analysts no doubt perform a very valuable guideline service, the fact that Arsenal had already been outbid by £5m meant that their offer would not be placed before Norwich’s board.
There was a time when Arsenal was the best run club in the country but that time is not now
Arsenal’s man considered this. Then he said he would go away and consult various members of the transfer committee about what to do next.
The list was quite exhaustive. Josh Kroenke, Edu, Mikel Arteta, Vinai Venkatesham, maybe some others. Norwich pointed out that time might be of the essence here. Buendia joined Villa, for £30m.
There was a time when Arsenal was the best run club in the country. That time is not now.
These days it is the work experience club. Just about everyone in senior executive positions at Arsenal is undergoing his first stint in such an important job.
Kroenke has never run a sports institution that was not a franchise; Venkatesham has never before been chief executive of a football club; Arteta has been an assistant, but not a manager; Edu has not been the technical director of a club in Europe; even Per Mertesacker is in his first post as academy manager, although there seems to be no problem with youth development.
Only Richard Garlick, the director of football operations, can be considered to possess significant experience having spent eight seasons in a similar role at West Bromwich Albion until their relegation in 2018.
Unsurprisingly, then, Arsenal appear callow. They make rookie errors, then repeat them. Their signings make little sense.
Just about everyone in senior positions – such as technical director Edu (L) and coach Mikel Arteta (R), is undergoing his first stint in the job
Whatever mistakes were made in the past, there was always a visible plan, a philosophy. We knew what Arsene Wenger was striving for, even when he didn’t get there; we knew why the stadium was built, even though they’ve never won the title there; we knew the value of a politician-negotiator like David Dein, even though he was forced out.
Structurally, diplomatically, Arsenal were the club others were measured against.
In 2000, when two Leeds fans were murdered in Istanbul, the first match back at Elland Road was against Arsenal on April 16. They were, everyone agreed, the perfect opponents. Arsenal did everything right, presented floral tributes from Wenger and his players to be laid outside the stadium, ensured the minute’s silence was impeccably observed in the away end.
Many clubs respond well to crisis but Arsenal were considered the behavioural pinnacle. They were the epitome of good custodianship, the rock on which foundations are built.
No doubt, in similar circumstances, Arsenal would respond suitably now; but no one considers them the gold standard any more.
What has this to do with their current plight? Well, think back to the Gunnersaurus debacle — sacking a mascot — that kicked off the lockdown period last year. Was that the strategy of a club with a strong understanding of its public face? These days, no one would take the club’s PR plan, its business plan, the whole Arsenal model in fact, and try to emulate it.
Arsenal sacked their mascot Gunnersaurus last year which was heavily criticised by fans
Arsenal’s stewardship carries such little authority theirs was the Premier League squad most affected by Covid at the start of the new season. There is so much that doesn’t make sense any more. Arsenal spent upwards of £125million this summer, but on what?
At Manchester City on Saturday, the only new signing in the starting line-up was Martin Odegaard, who was on loan last season so hardly a game-changer.
Ben White is still recovering from Covid, while Aaron Ramsdale, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares were on the bench. That is £52m-worth of freshly recruited players not considered capable of starting for a team that had lost its first two league games, and failed to score. No doubt it all made perfect sense in analytics.
The result, a chastening 5-0 defeat, means that Arsenal are now 15-0 down to Manchester City in League games, starting with Sergio Aguero’s 44th-minute goal on February 3, 2019.
And, no, Arsenal aren’t the first to get a thumping from a Pep Guardiola side. Manchester City have won as many games 5-0 under Guardiola as they had since 1947 prior to his arrival. Yet Arsenal have aspirations to be a part of European football’s elite. They should not be this far adrift.
Certainly, they should not be repeating the mis-steps of previous seasons, such as the inflated contract handed out to Mesut Ozil, who was already tending towards complacency.
Since then there has been a similar offer to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose form was also affected, and now the laughable generosity shown to Granit Xhaka. He was regarded so highly Arsenal were selling him to Roma then, when that deal fell through, was given a new, extended, improved contract and the captain’s armband for the opening two matches of the season.
His thanks was a first-half red card against Manchester City for a rash challenge revealing a familiar weakness. Xhaka doesn’t do the hard yards but instead puts in a stupid tackle as if wholly committed. It’s the worst of all possible worlds, and the continued indulgence compounds it.
Arsenal showed laughable generosity to Granit Xhaka, who was given a new contract when a move to Roma collapsed but was sent off against Manchester City for a rash tackle
On Tuesday, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was in public disagreement with the club who, having initially said it would let him go, was now blocking potential avenues of escape. Mixed messages again.
Maybe another malfunction in statistical analytics; or just inconsistencies between the army of individuals given a say on recruitment. This is the first time since 1954 Arsenal have lost their first three League games, the first time since 1953 they have failed to score in that period, and the first time in their history those two milestones have combined. Whatever Arsenal’s plan might be, for Maitland-Niles or anyone else, nobody can argue it is working.
Wenger once said that Arsenal make stars, they don’t buy them, but will that even hold true? Kieran Tierney seems to be going backwards and while Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are outstanding prospects, one fears for them if results do not improve.
The next game is against Norwich on September 11, a match-up of the bottom two. Before the season started, had the club that sold Buendia been offered the same points as Arsenal after three games, they would have anticipated a promising start.
Instead, they share zero, although Norwich are 19th, having at least scored. Analyse that, as they say in the recruitment department.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles took to Instagram to hit out at the club for blocking a move this summer
FANS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PAY FOR F1 MAKING A FOOL OF ITSELF
If only one person is allowed to win, it’s not a race — and under the conditions placed on the Belgian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen was the only possible winner.
There were two laps driven, behind a safety car, which does not permit overtaking. That’s a procession. The cars finished in the order they started on the grid and points were awarded. Technically, therefore, F1 argues a race took place, thus fulfilling obligations to spectators and broadcasters.
Lewis Hamilton is right, however, in saying all paying attendees should be refunded. If F1 wishes to take a chance that a championship could be won by points gained in such farcical circumstances, if they wish to make their sport ridiculous, that is their prerogative. But they shouldn’t get to rip off fans.
Money back, or free admission to next year’s race, should be offered — and put into the terms and conditions of all future tickets.
RUSSELL DESERVES TO PARTNER LEWIS
Mercedes are still undecided about who will drive beside Lewis Hamilton next season: Valtteri Bottas or George Russell.
One can understand the loyalty felt to Bottas, who is in his fifth season and has been happy to play the supporting role after the carnage of Hamilton’s partnership with Nico Rosberg.
Yet, undoubtedly, Russell is the better prospect as he proved at Spa this weekend. He is on loan at Williams and it is hard to see how Mercedes can keep him happy for much longer, without making him part of the first team.
Hamilton’s greatest challenge next season may yet come from within.
George Russell is the better prospect to race alongisde Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes
DON’T BLAME THE REF, BLAME NEVES
Paul Pogba’s 50-50 with Ruben Neves was a judgment call, and no more. Mike Dean, the referee, saw no foul. So as the ball continued travelling to another Manchester United player, what Neves should have done was continued his run to chase it down.
Instead, he checked to make sure that Dean was still looking, then fell gently to the ground, apparently injured. Nothing would have better convinced Dean that his call was correct. Despite this, the resulting goal was checked by VAR, who also saw no reason to overturn.
And that, plus a howler by goalkeeper Jose Sa from Mason Greenwood’s finish, is what cost Wolves the game on Sunday. Not the referee. If you stop playing, and you can’t save a straightforward shot, you’ll probably lose.
NO ENTHUSIASM FOR AN ENGLISH WORLD CUP
When the Government refused to back down over quarantine for international footballers playing in red list countries, FIFA’s veiled threat was that England could miss out on hosting the 2030 World Cup as a result.
Really? Good. Many who attended Wembley during the late stages of this summer’s European Championship had a thoroughly miserable experience, the occasions overwhelmed by yobs and drunks, with zero empathy for their fellow man.
We hear a lot about English arrogance in football, mostly surrounding the claim that this country invented the game that we know, which it did. The real arrogance is thinking we deserve to host again after what unfolded at Wembley. A significant period of reflection is required.
If there was any enthusiasm for an English World Cup, that horrible mob have killed it.
TED DESERVED SO MUCH MORE
Ted Dexter was one of the greatest English cricketers. Not that you would know this from attending England’s Test with India last week.
The ECB’s tribute was put out at Headingley, long before play began, to a largely empty ground. If a fuller tribute was made when spectators arrived, or even a simple minute’s silence, it must have passed us by.
Nobody heard Dexter’s name mentioned again. They didn’t even wait until the ground was busier, say 10 minutes before the first ball. It was a dismal send-off for a man who deserved much better. Maybe if he’d played in the Hundred they would have shown him more respect.
Ted Dexter deserved a better tribute than the one he was given at Headingley last week
WHAT WOULD ANDY MURRAY DO?
There is a recording studio in Sydney that has written in large letters above the mixing board, WWAWD. ‘If we ever get stuck for inspiration or thinking we’re disappearing up our own a***s,’ say the producers, ‘we stop and think: What Would Andrew Weatherall Do?’
Weatherall was a visionary, a risk-taker, and an innovator of rare genius. But that’s the world of music. Similar logic can also be applied in sport. WWAMD? Instinctively right, honest and dedicated, if every athlete thought things through like Andy Murray, the world they inhabit would be a better place.
So what would Andy Murray do? He’d get the vaccine, that’s for certain, and by doing so probably wouldn’t end up missing Wimbledon, or the Olympics, or the first games of his club’s season, and he’d be brave enough to say it, to take a public stand on it, and couch it in terms that made plain this was the responsible, unselfish thing to do.
He’s smarter and more rational than many of his contemporaries, and braver than many of our leaders and politicians. WWAMD? There are worse questions to ask.
Andy Murray is smarter and more rational than his contemporaries and many of our politicians
CITY PUSHED UNITED TO SIGN RONALDO, ANYTHING ELSE IS SPIN
In recent days, there seems to be a concerted effort to show that Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Manchester United was far more sophisticated than it appeared, that it was months in the making and not just a knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of him joining Manchester City.
Don’t buy that. Jorge Mendes may have been trying to sell Ronaldo to United all summer but it was not until a move to City became reality that they felt motivated to buy.
There was certainly no prospect of CR7 being a United player when Edinson Cavani was given that shirt number before the start of the season, or when Jadon Sancho was angling for it after his transfer from Borussia Dortmund.
This is not to say recruiting Ronaldo isn’t a good move, but any attempt to suggest it was part of a grand scheme is United trying to look proactive, not reactive. It is, however, further evidence of the clout of super-agents when getting business done. Further to last week’s column, Harry Kane may note that while Ronaldo looks after his family, his family don’t look after him.
Manchester United only decided to make a move for Cristiano Ronaldo this summer when the chance of him joining Manchester City became a possibility