What this country really needs

Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

The first tumbleweeds of summer are blowing gently across the boughs. The nation’s football stadia entertain an eerie silence and the journalists have started to slowly creep above the parapets, sharpening their bayoneted pens and preparing themselves to fill our footballing no man’s land with three months of unremitting shit.

As one might expect, it’s all quiet on the Arsenal front at the moment, the smoke gently wafting away from the Guns of Islington. I don’t think the hiatus has been such a bad thing so far, it appears to have given everyone a chance to cool off and get some distance from the season. The atmosphere for the last few games went from poisonous to out and out mutinous at times.

That said, if we haven’t signed at least three new players and taken Denilson out back and shot him by tomorrow lunchtime; I imagine the voices of protest will redouble with indignation. But the reality is that the transfer window doesn’t open for the majority of Europe until July 1st, so don’t expect to see much business being done before then.

Saturday’s Champions League Final brought the curtain down on the domestic season proper and once again, Barcelona rule the roost, having opened up a can of whoop-tushy on Manchester United. Watching the much vaunted tactical mind of Alex Ferguson helplessly flummoxed by Barca’s movement and poise with the ball and tenacity without it reminds one that Arsene didn’t quite get the credit he deserved for his approach in the Nou Camp in March.

He got the first leg spot on in relying on Arsenal’s superior stamina to defeat Barcelona late in the game. He also got the second leg correct, aping Mourinho’s tactics of allowing Barca to have the ball but keeping defensive shape and discipline. The upshot was, we were winning the tie until one of the more dubious red cards I’ve seen in Arsene’s red card-tactular reign.

Something like 75-80% of Barca’s registered efforts on goal that night came when we were reduced to ten men. It’s perhaps faint praise to say “we lost to Barcelona in slightly less resounding circumstances than United did”, but it demonstrated that the manager does have the capacity for tactical flexibility when the old codger puts his mind to it.

So, whilst Europe’s ultimate showpiece was played in a fair and Corinthian (if somewhat one sided) spirit, there has been nothing quite so equitable emanating from the game’s World Governing body this week. FIFA and its liturgical acolytes are being thoroughly exposed for what we already knew them to be. Avaricious gravy train riders sitting astride a stinking pile of deceit and corruption.

Sepp Blatter - crooked cunt

Football's Great Dictator

Septic Bladder’s press conference made for vomit inducing viewing on Sunday. A deluded dictator desperately hanging onto his free meal ticket with the last vestige of his credibility. Like a pig that can’t tear it’s nose away from the trough. When an organisation as spineless, idle and impotent as the English Football Association is demanding you sort yourself out, you know you’ve got problems.

Did you know that FIFA is a registered charity, and therefore does not pay any tax anywhere in the world? They also demand diplomatic immunity from World Cup host nations, meaning FIFA delegates cannot be prosecuted within the borders of the host country. It is simply unbelievable that this level of plutocracy has been allowed to continue unabated for so long. This is no re-plastering situation, the structure is already rotten. FIFA needs a wrecking ball and a flamethrower taken to it, so it can be built up again anew.

In slightly more palatable news Arsenal.com announced the supporters’ Player of the Season and it wasn’t exactly an enormous surprise to see Jack Wilshere take the prize. My personal choice would have been Robin van Persie, his goalscoring record was utterly imperious and I think the rate with which he was hitting the net is given even more gravitas given the fact that team around him were crumbling like Hobnobs in tea during the spring.

However, Jack’s rise over the season has been, according to the big book of clichés, “meteoric.” Becoming a first choice in a top 4 side’s midfield at the age of 18 makes you a special talent indeed. Of course, Jack is riding the crest of a wave now. The academy boy made good will always be viewed with misty eyes by supporters; but Jack is going to have to be ready for challenges that lay ahead.

The “difficult third album” season awaits him now. The natural flipside to receiving good press is that, as Newton’s Theory has it, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This isn’t just owing to his status as England’s great white hope; Arsenal fans too will begin to seek contrarian ground and before long he will find cries of “big time Charlie” echoing up and down the stands, even when there is little to no evidence of such a claim. Jack’s next season will need to be more ‘The Queen Is Dead’ and less ‘Be Here Now’ if he’s to escape ‘difficult third album syndrome.’

The season ticket renewal deadline has now passed and many of us will have given our bank accounts a delightful kicking. Personally, I am not aware of anyone that has let theirs go, but a furtive glance at twitter alone will tell you that an awful lot of people are exercising the option to rent theirs out. That tells you how powerful a position the club are in on such matters; people know that if they let their tickets go, they might never get them back again.

Though I do wonder how many of those that are renting out are waiting for their financial situations to improve and how many are waiting for the team to improve. It’s hard for the club to argue that the price rise is justified given the fact that the quality of the product has not notably improved in a few years now.

Having mentioned Twitter, it’s notable that a lot of Arsenal’s younger players have either deleted their twitter profiles altogether, or else have drastically reduced their communication. You have to presume that’s on instruction of the club. I find that an enormous shame, but is symptomatic of the bland, corporatized culture we inhabit.

The thought that somebody in the public eye could possibly say something that might offend some precious little ears has become so terrifying that even the money men have to gag even the most junior of public figures in order to “protect the brand.” As a result, we have become so cosseted and nuzzled that the slightest utterance sets us all of a-tizz. Personally, I went to an all boys’ school in South East London. Being told I was a cunt was a part of daily life (still is, actually) and essential to my upbringing.

I like to think it stops me whining like a pussy every time someone on a social networking site says something I don’t agree with. Football fans are horrendous in this regard. In what other arena of life would someone scream blue murder at somebody for 90 minutes and then go wibbling to a policeman the second the subject of that abuse puts a finger to his lips? That’s what this country really needs, for everyone to be told they’re a cunt more often.

On that charming note, I bid you adieu until next week.

Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA

High prices work both ways, Arsene.

It’s quiet, man, like John Wayne in Ireland.

Still a few rumblings and grumblings regarding transfers with Nicklas Bendtner’s agent and father (who is also his mother in a hilarious real life version of Cartman), speaking about how much his son is worth. He says:

One hundred million crowns!

I’m not the only one hearing Doctor Evil, right? He goes on to say:

He has been valued higher before. But of course, if you are on the bench the price goes down. Nicklas has the qualities to live up to this sum and we can certainly find a club that is willing to pay.

Can they though? Can they really find someone to pay £10m for Nicklas Bendtner? I’m not one of those in the ‘Bendtner is a poorly shod pony with balance issues and delusions of grandeur’ group but I have to say my first impression is that it’s a bit unrealistic. Or maybe it is realistic and my idea of what is has been utterly skewed by Arsene Wenger’s recent dealings. He has to retire to his fainting cough every time anyone quotes a price above a few million when he wants to buy a player so maybe I’ve been affected by that.

Let me put it this way: could you see Arsenal spending £10m on a player like Bendtner? I don’t think so. Yet this is a world in which Darren Bent goes for £24m, Andy Carroll for £35m, Suarez for £22m and Asamoah Gyan for £14m, so it’s not at all unreasonable for us to expect £10m for for a young Danish international who, regardless of what you think about him, has a pretty decent goalscoring record to his name.

That’s not to say spending big is a guarantee of quality (at least in terms of performance) – a certain Spaniard at Chelsea being the perfect example – you can find bargains if you want them. United did so with Hernandez (£6m), Sp*rs £8m for van der Vaart was great business and Odemwingie at West Brom was a mere £2.5m, so it is out there if you find the right player.

And we know how much Arsene loves a bargain, it’s just that in recent years the gambles he’s taken on cut price players haven’t exactly paid off. I’m sure I’m not alone in suspecting the signing of Sylvester (£700,000) was brought about by a mild stroke of some kind. We got exactly what we paid for there. Squillaci this season hasn’t exactly worked out and at £3,5m (not the £6m reported ad nauseum by those who want to gild that particular lily, gild it with poo I mean) he wasn’t high on the list of best buys. We spent close to £10m on Koscielny and, funnily enough, he’s been the better player.

Even Chamakh, a free transfer, hasn’t quite convinced despite his decent start to the season. When you consider his wages + signing on fee paid over the duration of his contract (Bosmantacular) I don’t even know if you could call him a bargain.

Anyway, my point is thus, cheaper signings are a gamble, sometimes you can afford to take them and they pay off, but I don’t think the manager is in a position to do that this summer. He’s not operating with a great deal of goodwill at this moment in time and with ticket prices rising, frustration high at the season(s) past and everything else, does he need to review his thinking in terms of the transfer business he does? Is he going to have to bite the bullet and pay what the market requires?

Let me make it clear: I’m not advocating splashing out ridiculous sums on players, I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to sign a £25m player for example, but we can only operate in the market that exists, not a Utopian one that we think should exist. Yes, the money of Chelsea and Man City artificially inflates prices, that’s a fact, but what we can do about it? Do we sit around and complain about how prices are too high and tread water or do we bite the bullet, go out there, and try and do the best business we can? We’ve tried the building a team together thing and unfortunately, as admirable as that was, it hasn’t quite worked. When push came to shove we fell short.

I know it’s just paper talk but if we’re commanding fees of £8m for Denilson and £10m for Bendtner then why wouldn’t clubs who have good players that we might want to buy not look for equivalent fees? The difficulty for the manager is that if he tries to do it ‘on the cheap’ this summer he’s making a rod for his own back should things not work out. If the signings don’t click, if the quality isn’t up to scratch, he’ll be accused of not investing the money properly and it will be hard to defend him against those accusations.

Like it or not part of his work this summer, and next season, is to win back those fans who have lost faith in him and his methods. For the most part that can only be achieved by what happens on the pitch and how the team perform. Win games and fans are happy. However, another part of it is showing the supporters that the club has real ambition and that can be demonstrated by what happens in the transfer market this summer.

If we ship out some of the under-performers and sign some experience and quality then that will also have an effect on the mood and outlook of fans. I’m not suggesting that should be a factor in who he buys and what he spends, his focus should be improving the team, but it’s all connected. He might well find he has to pay more than he would like for certain players but maybe this is the circle of life for a manager who has, more than once, received far more than he should for players he has sold elsewhere.

Speaking of which, I’m told that we’re due to receive some money from Man City due to clauses in the contracts of Adebayor and Toure, which stipulate extra payments to Arsenal should they qualify for the Champions League. Not exactly the fortune we made off Sp*rs for the Rat Faced Chav but still quite funny considering the way their City careers are currently panning out.

And for a more detailed look at Arsenal’s potential transfer pot this summer I point you in the direction of the always excellent Swiss Ramble. It is long and detailed so grab a cuppa and a biscuit and have at it.

I know it’s a bit calm before storm at the moment but I can’t help thinking this is going to be one of the most interesting summers for a long, long time. One way or the other.

Right, that’ll have to do for today. Back tomorrow with more nothing.