Another summer, another saga. Football off-seasons are getting a little tiresome, with the constant cycle of nonsense speculation, agent-planted seeds, and the oil rich moneybags flashing their cleavage at their chosen prey of the year. Talk of ambition, talk of ‘a new challenge’ – it is all just a load of transparent posturing. Add to that the raw emotion felt by fans towards the club they love, and towards players who profess the same but largely see it is an enjoyable and enriching (in all senses) job, and you have a combustible mix. And that is without throwing in a heady smattering of impatience.
July still has a week to run. Every year fans expect transfer business to have concluded by this point, and every year those fans wind up disappointed. It doesn’t change, and it never will. It is rarely is the interest of all parties to complete deals early, particularly the big ones – more often than not, one side will benefit from dragging it out to get a better price, whether it is the selling club hoping to create a bidding war or the buying club hoping that the desperation to sell drives the asking price down as the deadline looms closer.
In our case, of course, we have two players playing a game that they know they will ultimately win. Van Persie and Walcott will, in the end, get what they want, whether it is a move away or a bumper new contract (I think we know which is which in this case). As ever, we want to see the matters resolved as quickly as possible, but perversely, that desire actually weakens our hand considerably.
Right now, three clubs are (apparently) bidding for Van Persie’s signature, although the trio all fall short of the valuation that we have placed on the player, offering between £8-12m rather than the £30m we are after. But make no mistake – this isall posturing, and we know how this will end – the price will be somewhere in the middle, likely around £15m, perhaps closer to £20m. We know that they will offer more than the tabled bids, and they know we will accept less than our stated asking price. But while the charade continues, who actually benefits from the matter being concluded quickly?
The answer is simple – we do. If Juventus, for example, offered £15m by the end of the month, I suspect we’d accept, send him on a plane and be done with it. The problem is that the Italians know this – both that we would accept that price and that they would be our preferred buyers. And therein lies the problem – the power has switched to them. If we would accept £15m for him now, perhaps we’d accept £12m or £10m as the season draws closer, particularly having seen the damage that can be done by dragging these sagas out. So where is their motivation to stump up the cash six weeks from the deadline?
“Not a problem. Just impose a deadline on offers, say the end of July, let the bidding clubs know, and get it sorted.”
This one always makes me laugh. Can you actually imagine City and Juventus being told that once July comes to an end, we won’t be picking up the phone? They would chuckle to themselves, go quiet, and then try again in August, in full knowledge that we’re not so stubborn and stupid that we would keep a player around who so obviously doesn’t want to stay. Like it or not, there is only one deadline, and that sits at the end of August. As long as brinkmanship suits someone, deals will be delayed until the last moment, irrespective of the collateral damage and desire of one side to get it done.
Take last summer, for example, and the case of Samir Nasri. He wanted to leave, we wanted to sell for the right price. City made no secret of their desire to sign him, and we were happy to sell to them as long as their inflated coffers ensured an equally inflated transfer fee that we could reinvest in those closing days of August. The uncooperative party were City themselves, who attempted to drive the price down by waiting until the final moments, in the hope that the bridges he had burned would save them a few million. We held firm, and after initially backing out of the deal, they coughed up.
I’m not claiming for one moment that we played the game perfectly. We certainly got the price we wanted, and not for the first time with City came away in the knowledge that we’d essentially ripped them off, but the timing of both this and the Cesc deal, combined with the fact that Champions League revenue wasn’t guaranteed until late August, meant that the start of our season was badly crippled.
Lessons must be learned, everyone cried, and to an extent those people were right. Perhaps we should accept a few million less if the bid comes in earlier. But note those words – if the bid comes in earlier. You cannot force it to. It is a line I see frequently amongst fans, who cannot understand why these sagas drag on all summer. The reason is simple – we are only one of three parties involved. The other club has to make the offer, and the player (along with their agent) has to accept the terms on offer. No matter how persuasive we are, we can’t complete the deal by ourselves.
It is same line that winds me up about contracts. How frequently do you see the comment ‘how did the club let his contract get down to one year?’, as if we can lock a player in a room and not let him emerge until the paperwork has been signed. Both Van Persie and Walcott, along with Nasri and Flamini before them, had countless contract offers waved in front of their noses, but all stalled, coming out with the usual ‘I’ll wait until the end of the season’ guff, at which point they held all the cards (or in Flamini’s case, an expired deal that allowed him to walk into a lucrative deal at Milan). When players know that delaying puts them in a stronger position, is it really a surprise when some of them go down that road?
For all those reasons, I am feeling a little jaded with the whole summer. We all saw the contract issues looming, but we also should have known that the players involved were not going to bend to our will all that easily. Players don’t anymore, even those who haven’t made it yet – witness Danny Welbeck at United, who is in the exact same position as Walcott, and using the same tactics. While we sit here and lambast the club for not getting things sorted earlier, we have to accept that it is not as easy as that, because we no longer wield the power. All we can do is put the best offer we can on the table, set our asking price for those we would sell, and wait. Realistically, what more can you do?
But despite all of that, I remain optimistic. Van Persie will leave, Theo will either fetch us a good price (being young, English and marketable) or sign a new deal, and I suspect we will add one or two more faces to the mix before the season begins, since the guarantee of Champions League money allows us to buy before we sell, unlike last year. The press will predict our demise, pointing at the loss of our star player and claiming that we cannot cope without him, despite history teaching them otherwise, and we will prove them wrong, as we always do. We may not win trophies – nothing can ever guarantee that – but predictions of doom are likely to be wide of the mark once again.
If I could give one piece of advice this summer, it would be this – let it play out. July is no time to judge anything – the game of posturing has yet to announce her winner.