and the madness has begun. It’s all based around Theo Walcott and his apparent refusal to sign a new contract with the club. As I mentioned on yesterday’s blog, he was one of the players I felt could leave the club this week because of his contract issue. The situation is he has less than 12 months left on his deal, Arsenal face the prospect of losing him on a free and for that reason alone his departure would not be a surprise.
Ask any business ‘Do you sell now for millions of pounds or write off that money to retain the services of a player who is clearly not 100% committed the club?’ and they’ll all take the money. Without exception, because it is the right thing to do. ‘High stakes brinksmanship’ was a phrase I used in yesterday’s blog and this could well be part of that from Walcott and his agents. Make a late play knowing Arsenal have already lost van Persie and Song, gambling that the club won’t want to deal with the PR fallout and thus get a better deal for Theo.
The thing is though, Arsenal under Kroenke have shown that they won’t be led by nose or emotionally blackmailed. They will do what they think is the best thing for the club regardless of how it appears in the papers or what the fan reaction might be. Now, I certainly think they could add something of a velvet glove to the iron fist at times, and Kroenke’s continued silence about the direction of the club is a frustration, but should Arsenal allow themselves to be held to ransom by any player? If they wouldn’t countenance it from someone like Robin van Persie I seriously doubt Theo Walcott will be any more successful.
My understanding of events is that at the beginning of last season, when Walcott had two years left on his deal, we made attempts to discuss a new contract but were rebuffed as they wanted to wait until the end of the season to see where Arsenal finished and whether or not the club had Champions League football. I have to say I found this understandable, to an extent, but somewhat presumptuous from Walcott whose standing in the game is as much based on his clean-cut English marketability than his footballing ability.
On his day he can be devastating. His pace is a fantastic weapon, his finishing is good and he can exploit space behind teams who play high up the pitch. When it’s not his day though, well, he struggles. Technique-wise he doesn’t look to have improved much at all, he’s as likely to run straight into a defender or out for a throw/goal kick as anything else, and to my mind at least there’s always been a suspicion that on days like this he’s content for the game to pass him by.
So, fast forward to the end of season, nothing happens, Walcott’s people keep their distance but his agent reveals there were ‘always plans’ to sit down and talk after the Euros. The Euros that finished on July 1st (England went home in June, Walcott was back at the club in mid-July). And it’s August 29th now and this is happening. Wenger revealed that talks were ongoing at his press conference last Friday, interestingly noting that he wasn’t taking part which suggested he’d made his position clear and left it to Gazidis and Dick Law to the necessary. From the grapevine on Sunday came whispers that Walcott’s place on the bench against Stoke was directly related to this issue.
The negotiations have, reportedly, been unsuccessful and from what I can gather the sticking point with us isn’t the money. Players will ask for many things when they discuss new contracts and while I can’t go into specifics it’s this, more than anything, that’s causing the problem. While there’s certainly a monetary aspect to it, every agent wants his player to earn as much as possible for obvious reasons, there appears to be more than that to this current situation at Arsenal. It might well be a ploy to get more money from us, just as likely it’s a ploy to make the possibility of a move to a club which will pay more money even greater.
Some sources say Arsenal are offering him £75,000 a week, and again we hear the cries of how we should pay our best players what they deserve. Yet is £75,000 a week not sufficient for a player who freely admits that he’s only ‘consistent in patches’? Time and again people benchmark against others in the squad. They complain that Walcott, for example, should get more because worse players are earning similar or greater than that. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain that X player is earning too much yet use that as reference point for other salaries. If we pay some players too much then surely we need to solve that problem and perpetuating it isn’t going to do that.
It has been very interesting to read the reaction online to the possibility of Walcott’s departure. For the most part, and I realise this is as unscientific as it gets, people seem pretty much ok with it, even if there is frustration at the timing of events. After the opening two games of the season I wrote about how I felt the wide positions were areas we could really improve on and with central midfield a crowded area at the moment it would allow Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a real chance to cement a first team place. While not ignoring Walcott’s blinding pace, something every team needs, a player at this level needs more than that.
Ultimately I’d be quite comfortable if Walcott were to depart, however, it is paramount that we find a replacement, even if AOC can fill that gap. Even if he stayed I wanted to see improvement in the wide areas and that’s obviously the case if he goes. What it looks like is, as I mentioned earlier, not really a concern for Arsenal, but to lose Song, van Persie and Walcott in one summer does suggest something of a problem. If we sell Theo and bring in a good quality replacement I think most people would be relatively happy but with just three full days to go until the window closes this makes that a bit more difficult.
And here’s where I’ll have my gripe: it’s been obvious for some time that Theo Walcott and his people have been stringing us along. When a player like him is waiting to see where we finish then you worry, and as I’ve said all along if Walcott really wanted to sign a new deal with us it would be done by now. So how have we let ourselves get into a situation like this? Why was it not brought to a head sooner this summer? If we do sell him and bring in a new player, fine, but would it not have been better for this player to bed in to his new club sooner, especially if that player comes in from abroad for all that entails?
I know we’re at the mercy of the transfer window – and this is another reason why I feel it should be closed before the start of the season – but it’s hard not to think that those tasked with handling our transfer business and contract negotiations don’t operate as efficiently as they should. I realise the timing of events is all part of the game, that as much depends on the player and his agents as us, and there’s no doubt in my mind they’ve been difficult for a long time now. However, to find ourselves dealing with something like this in the final days of August is frustrating to say the least.
There are reports about interest in Theo from Liverpool and Man City. If it’s real I say take the money, move on another guy who appears quite happy to turn his back on the manager who has given him his Premier League chance and without whom he’d be much less of a player, but spend the money and spend it well. This Arsenal side needs to bring in at least two quality players if it wants to challenge for the title and we don’t have much time to do that. And while it looked as if lessons from last summer had been learned with the early signings of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski, we’ve found ourselves pulled from pillar to post by agents and players who don’t really care one bit for our club.
If they did, they wouldn’t behave like this, and if you can’t count on a guy who wore Arsenal kit as a kid and idolised Dennis Bergkamp then you can’t count on any of them. If this is a clearing of the decks (albeit a different kind than we had thought this summer), we have to look at how we manage our players from a contractual point of view, and why they seem so quick to snub us. We have to look at how we do our business and how it is that agents can run rings around us at times. Is there a common denominator here and if so what can we do about it?
Anyway, we’ll have to see how this pans out. The stark reality, for both sides, might be that there isn’t sufficient interest in Walcott for him to move. There’s a 48 hour deadline apparently but a resolution needs to be found. We can’t rely on goodwill from any player and Walcott is a few months away from being able to negotiate a lucrative Bosman move while Arsenal will receive nothing. If that doesn’t force our hand then I don’t know what will.
It’s another fine mess we find ourselves having to deal with in a week which was already going to be busy because of Friday’s deadline. And those tasked with sorting this out have got themselves a lot of work to do to ensure this summer is considered a success or an improvement on last year.