Perhaps one of the most common things you hear about Arsene Wenger is that his failings to provide silverware in the last five seasons are a result of his frugality in the transfer market. For a club aspiring to be champions on multiple fronts – at least according to the PR team and Wenger himself – there is a noticeable lack of big money signings compared to the teams deemed to be our peers; Chelsea, the Manchester clubs, Liverpool, and other continental powers. Even Sp*rs have made statements about their intentions lately with a host of double digit transfers in the last few years.
The lack of results in recent seasons, coupled with Arsenal’s major failings in crucial games during that time, have made a lot of fans groan at Arsene’s attempts to keep the transfer fees modest. Some have gone so far as to create a Facebook group known as “Arsenal FC, Not PLC”, which aims to “encourage reinvestment to improve the playing squad” – or in other words, “spend more on better players”.
Thus, the question has arisen: “What happened to make a successful team and manager before 2006, into an unsuccessful one since?” Usually, the answer given is “Wenger doesn’t spend as much anymore”. Whether the reason for that is personal or due to the insistence of the club’s owners and board members is irrelevant; results are what matter in football, and they are not there.
Is this answer accurate? I decided to investigate by comparing our “best” team under Wenger – the Invincibles of 2003-04 – with the squad of 2010-11. See the bottom of the article for the numbers.
What becomes clear (somewhat surprisingly), is that the cost of the 03-04 team is close to the cost of the 10-11 team. When put into 03-04 Pounds, the difference is that the Invincibles cost more by about one major signing. Unfortunately, the current squad are far, far from “one big player” away from being the Invincibles. When looking at the spread of transfers between the two squads, we actually see a similar pattern: plenty of great bargains interspersed with the odd significant investment of around 6-12M. So far, it doesn’t appear that spending is the cause; however, that hides an important fact.
It must be noted that modern players have inflated values. Since 2004, the market value of players has skyrocketed due to managers and owners being willing (and able) to spend outrageous amounts on even average players. Wenger has astutely commented on this many times, and he is completely correct. 5M (4.27M in 2004) today gets you much less than it would have in 2004. This means in order to field a team with the quality of 2004, you have to spend much more than 92.5M in terms of 2004-Pounds.
Which makes the finding that our current team is worth 82.07M 2004-Pounds a little alarming.
Now, to this point in the article I have attempted to be neutral in my presentation of facts and numbers. My personal feeling is that I sympathize with Wenger as an enthusiast of football as a whole. He is fighting a losing battle to keep the value of a player’s transfer fee grounded. When clubs splash out 50 or 80 million pounds for a player, it suggests that a player even half as good is worth 25 million. This “financial doping”, as Arsene calls it, is poisonous to the game; for owners/clubs to put that kind of money in, they have to expect a return, a return which comes on the backs of fans with higher ticket prices, higher kit prices, more corporate marketing practices and an alienation of the club from the common fan. I am particularly certain that most people don’t realize that connection.
But, as a fan of the Arsenal, I also have to feel Wenger needs to give in to the way things are in football these days. There aren’t enough old-school, humble Economists that are going to share Arsene’s views, whether they are managers or owners… and for the few that might exist, there’s plenty willing to replace them who will get the support of fans and financiers with their promises of “more money spent, more titles won”. While UEFA’s coming rule changes should do something to help curb the destructive overspending of clubs, the fact is the game is changing and good talent will require higher and higher dollar figures. While Wenger likes to get good-bargain players, he needs to realize that in today’s game a “bargain” player for a top-tier club is going to cost you 10-20M, not the 2-5M it used to.
Thus, I do feel some reinvestment is needed at the Arsenal to shore up some significantly weak positions, and I hope that IF those players are purchased, we buy smart… while knowing that smart might be more expensive than it used to be. Some of AW’s purchases in recent times have not lived up to their hype, which underlines the importance of bringing in one or two proven players that are less of a gamble. When your entire team is seemingly built on promise, there’s a good chance some of those players won’t deliver, and I think it’s those weak areas of our line-up that are really hurting Arsenal at present. After all, when you have a weak player like Denilson in the midfield, it really hurts the overall flow of the team; the fans get on Denilson because of it, and he crumbles under the weight of pressure and expectation being an inexperienced youngster, leading to poor performances that brings the ire of more fans. Get the youngsters some leaders not only to look up to, but also to take some of the attention away from so that they have time to grow into their role.
2003-2004 “Invincibles” Full Squad
Jens Lehmann – 1.3M (2003)
Lauren – 7.2M (2000)
Sol Campbell – free (2001)
Kolo Toure – 250k (2002)
Ashley Cole – youth
Freddy Ljungberg – 3M (1998)
Patrick Vieira – 3.5M (1996)
Gilberto Silva – 4.5M (2002)
Robert Pires – 6M (2000)
Thierry Henry – 10.5M (1999)
Edu – 6M (2001)
Pascal Cygan – 2M (2002)
Silvain Wiltord – 13.3M (2000)
Gael Clichy – 250k (2003)
Jose Reyes – 10.5 (Winter 2004)
Kanu – 4.2M (Winter 1999)
Cesc Fabregas – youth
Giovanni van Bronckhorst – 8.5M (2001)
Francis Jeffers – 9M (2001)
Phillipe Senderos – 2.5M (Winter 2002)
*Bergkamp – not a Wenger purchase (10.5M in 1995)
Unknown Fee: Efstathios Tavlaridis
Youth Academy: Aliadiere, Bentley, Stack, Thomas, Owusu-Abeyie, Simek, Skulason, Spicer, Smith
2010-11 Arsenal FC Squad
Manuel Almunia – 500k (2004)
Bacary Sagna – 7.5M (2007)
Laurent Koscielny – 8.5M (2010)
Gael Clichy – 250k (2003)
Alexandre Song – 2.5M (2005)
Samir Nasri – 12M (2008)
Cesc Fabregas – 2M (2003)
Andrei Arshavin – 15M (Winter 2009) *record signing
Theo Walcott – 9.1M (Winter 2006)
Robin van Persie – 2.75M (2004)
Marouane Chamakh – free (2010)
Tomas Rosicky – 6.8M (2006)
Denilson – 3.5M (2006)
Sebastien Squillaci – 3.3M (2010)
Emmanuel Eboue – 1.5M (Winter 2005)
Carlos Vela – 500k (2005) *loaned out
Abou Diaby – 2M (Winter 2006)
Thomas Vermaelen – 10M (2009)
Aaron Ramsey – 4.8M (2008)
Vito Mannone – 350k (2005) *loaned out
Jens Lehmann – free *emergency loan in
Lukasz Fabianski – 2M (2007)
Total: £94.85M (£81.07 in 2003-04)
Youth Academy: Djourou, Wilshere, Bendtner, Gibbs, Szczesny, Traore (loaned), Lansbury, Frimpong