At the end of the season, I was planning to put together a piece on how the single most important thing we can do this summer is keep the squad intact, and avoid the major losses we’ve suffered over the past few years. I never actually got round to it, but to remind you, here are our major sales from our last four summers:
2008: Flamini, Gilberto, Hleb, Lehmann (following Diarra in January)
2007: Henry, Ljungberg (following Lauren in January)
2006: Campbell, Cole, Pires
2005: Vieira, Edu
Some stellar names there, I’m sure you’ll agree. Players come and go, and eventually everyone leaves, so it is completely unrealistic to expect a few seasons without departures of some significance, but it has been a while since we’ve had a summer of stability. The knock on effect of that is we’ve generally needed two signings just to get back to where we were, save for exceptional circumstances (e.g. in 2005 when Cesc stepped up to replace Vieira).
When two or three first teamers leave, you either need someone ready made to raise their game and force their way into the side, or you need to dip into the transfer market. And if you’re trying to improve on the previous season, you then need to go beyond that. It is a lot to ask.
The quietest summer we had was in 2003, when Seaman was replaced by Lehmann and not a lot else happened. Many wrote us off that summer, as United had been busy, spending around £30m, but in the end, the stability pushed an already talented side forward to become the Invincibles we now use as Wenger’s benchmark.
Last summer was a painful one because three departures all came from the same position – central midfield, and in reality Wenger never had a hope of replacing the trio effectively. Players were forced to step up who weren’t ready, and the sense of competition for places was lost.
Towards the back end of last season, we began to see that competition return. Eboue was ousted from the side, Adebayor was threatened by Bendtner’s progression, and Gibbs proved himself an excellent understudy to the injured Clichy. With Rosicky back this season, and Vermaelen signed, the wide men and the central defenders are in the same boat.
And that is how it should be at a top club. What we don’t want now is for first team players to start moving on before we’re ready to let them go. So it is superb to see that so many of our players are being tied down to long term contracts – Ramsey, Gibbs, Fabianski and Wilshere have all extended their deals so far, and were yesterday joined by Van Persie, probably the one player with a contractual question mark over him when the close season began.
Long may the stability continue. Two signings and no departures is usually better than four signings and three departures, no matter how unglamorous it may seem.
Not only have the players pulled together, so have the board, in rejecting Usmanov’s rights proposal, which seemed to involve a dilution of shares to provide more capital for either paying off a chunk of debt, or more likely making cash available for a marquee signing that would placate the fans watching some of the crazy antics going on elsewhere.
And I’m glad they turned it down, although the Sun, seemingly becoming the repulsive Uzbeki’s destabilising mouthpiece, interpret the news as a ‘blow’ to Wenger. Given Wenger’s faith in the squad and ability to bring in and develop younger players, I expect he fully endorsed the board’s stance.
It is a self-sustaining model, with one condition. Signing the players that will become the world’s best, and helping them fulfill their potential, is fantastic, if you can keep them. With the quiet dealings going on this summer, we are putting ourselves into a very strong position.
It may not be extravagant, but it is absolutely the right approach. Don’t let the hacks convince you otherwise.