Monday
Jun242019

FFP forces AC Milan into risible Torreira bid

Follow the smoke. For a little too long we’ve been hearing rumours of Lucas Torreira being unhappy - not specifically with Arsenal, but living in England.

His agent is Oscar Bentancourt who represents a host of Uruguayan players, although Torreira is by far the most valuable asset on Betancourt’s books. A move would therefore enable the agent a second jackpot commission in just over 12 months.

According to calciomercarto.com, AC Milan are definitely on the lookout for central midfielders, and that reasoning appears fairly sound upon examination of their squad. Milan’s midfield is ageing. Stalwart midfielders include Lucas Biglia (33), Riccardo Montolivo (34) and injury prone Giacomo Bonaventura, who only managed eight games last season.

The Italian club’s two main central midfielders are Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie. However, Bakayoko is currently on loan from Chelsea and was initially labelled a “disaster” despite managing 31 games for the club last term.

Meanwhile, AC Milan are in danger of losing the highly rated Franck Kessie due to FFP regulations. The club is in trouble with UEFA and could be forced into accepting an outrageous bid, with the supposedly unsettled Torreira considered a ‘cheap’ replacement. This scenario gives credence to Milan’s risible €38m offer, should Arsenal/Torreira first accept a two-year loan deal.

Torreira’s former manager Marco Giampaolo has recently been appointed manager of AC Milan making the club an attractive destination for the player should he hope to return to Italy.

Personally, I don’t see this moving happening as AC Milan’s bid is far too low. IMO Arsenal should not accept a bid under £55m, which would be too much for the cash-strapped Italian club unless they receive a massive bid for Kessie. Milan are also looking towards Jordan Veretout (Fiorentina), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma) and Dennis Praet (Sampdoria) as cheaper options.

Of course, Arsenal hold all the cards as Torreira has not kicked up too much of a stink, yet. The Uruguayan has previously complained he doesn't like the weather or speak English. The first would be a stupid excuse, the second shows a lack of commitment to life in England.

Despite Arsenal Truth considering Torreira to be Arsenal’s ‘Player of the Season’, the squad set a pretty low bar and his fitness issues have rendered him inoperable for too many games. Next season won’t be helped by his participation in this summer’s Copa America, therefore I believe a bid in the region of £55m would be acceptable if it helps the club rebuild.

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Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Monday
Jun172019

Clubs jockey for position as agents stoke the coals

Some of you may have noticed that Arsenal Truth has been given a lick of paint, chiefly to make it more readable on mobile. However, whilst decorating, I accidentally deleted the entire journal – 10 years’ worth of blog posts and comments disappeared!  I was immediately overwhelmed by feelings of annoyance and, weirdly, acceptance.

Thankfully, I found the entire blog residing in one of Squarespace’s virtual bins and restored it, but some of the links are broken and there may be some anomalies, so let me know if you have any problems reading pages or following links.

I tend to be quiet throughout the summer. The transfer din is tiresome and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the truth behind any particular rumour. Bear in mind, this is the time of year when the agents make their money. They’re like stock market traders; parasites feeding off the wealth of others.

Players are paid more than ever and the sport is swilling in unprecedented amounts of cash. There’s millions to be made and that makes agents extremely greedy and unethical.

Whatever dirty tricks are being reported, you probably don’t know the half of it. Agents push players towards sporting directors, providing them with a list of options that are probably glanced over but ignored half the time. God knows how those lists are made up, but you can only imagine the nonsense that goes on so they can make their 3%.

Rules pertaining to contract mandates are regularly abused. Agents field stories and push players towards certain clubs simply to coax a better deal elsewhere, hoping to prompt their preferred destination to act. Meanwhile, agents plant stories knowing the media is ready and willing to regurgitate their ‘financially incentivised’ click bait.

The whole charade is not something I’m keen to get too involved in. I find that if you’re looking for the truth, go with the smoke from reliable sources - sources that a have proven track record of being correct. The idea that someone on Twitter is going to provide inside information is frankly laughable – so stop reading it, you’re wasting your time. Ultimately, you’ll hear something legit when a club wants you to hear it. It will rarely come from a player, and certainly not an agent.

At the moment, agents and clubs are jockeying for position. When there’s serious movement, it tends to unlock budgets and activity begins to flow.

Meanwhile, as far as Arsenal are concerned, it’s clear that the club is strongly looking towards the academy to supplement the squad. Arsenal’s Director of High Performance, Darren Burgess, has been sacked while Arsenal.com is peddling a narrative surrounding the club’s “ongoing strategy to develop young players”.

You can look at that in two ways. One, that this is the direction the club should be going in – let’s face it, a lot of clubs are going backwards due to their policy of trying to spend their way to success. Two, the club’s relatively skint and wants you to get used to the idea that they’re going to have to behave like a skint club. That means promoting kids that are probably not ready to be promoted from an academy that has been historically used as a self-sufficient conveyor belt for the lower divisions rather than a serious, forward-thinking developmental tool.

I’m not saying there won’t be signings or that we don’t have some good young players, but there’s a likelihood we’ll be left underwhelmed by the club’s transfer activity this summer or have unrealistic expectations of the young players promoted from the academy.

Some people are dreaming that 2019/20 will be Emery’s final year. They probably hope he will fail so Massimiliano Allegri can be offered the job after his 12-month sabbatical. I think not. My gut feeling is that Emery will be given time to build a squad in his own image even if results and performances are underwhelming. Results alone do not necessarily denote the progress going on behind the scenes at a club, and the board recognises the huge task they have undertaken following the Wenger/Gazidis freak show.

Emery’s two-year deal protects against him being some literal mid-table disaster, it wasn’t designed in anticipation of some Chelsea-like manager merry-go-round. If you think like that, you’re probably going to be disappointed, unless you expect next season to be a literal mid-table disaster.

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Thursday
May302019

Chelsea 4 Arsenal 1: Koscielny instigates collapse

The moment Laurent Koscielny switched off in the 49th minute and allowed Giroud to step in front of him and head past Cech was the moment Arsenal lost the Europa League final. It precipitated an embarrassing collapse.

The ordeal was of no surprise to me. The Frenchman’s been at Arsenal for nine years, yet his tenure is littered with dozens of similar moments of professional neglect. Top players raise their game and deliver in key moments, Koscielny nearly always disintegrates.

This is not a game I’m keen to dissect. Arsenal performed well up to half time, even dominating possession in spells. Therefore, as underdogs, Emery’s tactics were beyond criticism.

Chelsea lacked confidence in the opening 30 minutes and were there for the taking so to speak, but the Gunners looked a forward short of making the breakthrough. That space was filled by Ozil, who I predicted would contribute nothing.

Encouraged by Arsenal’s inability to break the deadlock, Chelsea began to probe deeper into Arsenal territory towards the end of the first half – Giroud forcing a top save out of Cech.

At half-time, the game genuinely appeared 50/50, but when Koscielny forgot Giroud four minutes into the restart and Arsenal conceded, the meltdown was shocking – even for a supporter that is resigned to meltdowns.

11 minutes later, Kolasinac was nowhere to be seen as Pedro drifted inside and buried Hazard’s pass beyond Cech’s reach. Maitland Niles, who had an excellent first half, dissolved, bundling Giroud over in the box - 0-3.

Iwobi scored a blinder to give faint hope, but Chelsea were primed to destroy Arsenal on the break and duly did so; Hazard completing his farewell party three minutes later.

Ultimately, Emery had two tactical options to choose from, but I doubt either would have made much difference. For me, the main problem was the selection of Ozil. The rest of the team picked itself, but fielding the German was the one thing Emery could control.

His selection robbed Arsenal of the opportunity to steal a march when they had the upper hand. When Ramsey fulfilled that role at the Emirates in January, Chelsea were the ones who succumbed to pressure. In his absence, Iwobi should have picked up the mantle.

Looking back at this season, I feel Emery’s treatment of Ozil might be his biggest regret. The German was dropped from the squad on several occasions due to fitness-related issues rather than exasperation. Maybe the manager should have stuck to his vision rather than trying to ingratiate a player that has never shown himself worthy of being ingratiated.

Still, Emery is going nowhere and neither should he. Like any new manager, he deserves time to create a squad in his own image. Had Arsenal gone significantly backwards this season, one could reexamine through a different lens, but Arsenal have in fact taken small steps forward under the Spaniard’s tenure.

If 2018/19 has been about shaping and monitoring, the summer is now about culling. Those who expected radical improvement under the auspice of ‘visionary’ change are themselves the ones that lacked vision. It was never possible.

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Tuesday
May282019

Europa League Final – no psychological edge to be found

How am I feeling about Arsenal’s Europa League Final meeting against Chelsea tomorrow? Nervous? Excited? Optimistic? When it comes to cup finals, I don’t allow myself to be optimistic – I prefer to be pessimistic. Maybe it’s a self-protective mechanism, but I feel it’s the best psychological approach.

Lose and you’re not quite so devastated, win and you’re all the more euphoric. There’s no benefit to being super-confident.

Although cash in the bank makes this final much more important than previous finals that Arsenal have partaken in, I still consider ‘prestige’ to be the main prize.

Arsenal only have two European trophies in the bank, the last capture being a quarter of a century ago in 1994 when George Graham tactically outwitted Parma. That night, an Arsenal side shorn of 35-goal assassin Ian Wright, with a midfield starring an ageing Paul Davis alongside drivel such as Steve Morrow and Ian Selley, turned over Benarrivo, Sensini, Brolin, Zola and Asprilla in their prime.

Graham’s defensive legacy lasted years after he left and underpinned the success that followed. Meanwhile, Unai Emery inherited a defensive carbuncle that no other Arsenal manager in living memory has bequeathed another.

Naturally, fans are looking for a psychological edge, but in my opinion there’s almost too many factors at play to configurate a decisive opinion on that front.

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is 60 years old, but has never won a trophy. Emery, meanwhile, is only 47 and has already won this competition on three separate occasions.

Chelsea have Eden Hazard, a world-class player capable of destroying any side, although he rarely turns up when his team doesn’t. It’s almost certainly his last game for the club, but I doubt that would add another layer to his performance. At his best, he doesn’t need to add another layer to tank Arsenal.

Some say N’Golo Kante is not fit to play. Does Sarri take the risk? A dodgy hamstring can seriously limit an agile defensive midfielder who relies on short sprints. I’d wager his omission would be a huge psychological blow for his team mates.

Higuain has been a Chelsea flop, with 5 goals in 18. He obviously has the quality to damage a leaky defence, but at 31 and with six years in Italy under his belt, one wonders whether the ferocity of the Premier League really suits him. However, throw Giroud into the mix, and you have a striker ready to write Arsenal’s tabloid post-mortem.

The numbers show Chelsea’s defence is superior, but their attack inferior. As mentioned, Hazard is key for them. Shut him up and half the job is done, but that’s much easier said.

Let’s face it, Maitland-Niles’ performance could be decisive. If Sarri has a brain, he’ll be targeted by Hazard who is capable of destroying him one on one, as is Alonso on a good day. How will Emery manage that headache? In my opinion, by playing the same formation that beat Chelsea 2-0 at The Emirates in January: 4-3-3.

Dropping Mustafi into a back three is suicide. Emery doesn’t want to be blamed for fielding a car crash like him if it all goes pear shaped. Monreal rarely fares much better, and having the extra centre back might not mitigate Hazard anyway; Sokratis is not nimble enough to deal with him.

Better to have Torreira sitting wide of a midfield trio to give AMN protection with Lacazette tracking the full back. Is Torreira mature enough to fulfill a marking role on Hazard? And is playing a midfield three featuring the youthful Guendouzi a tad risky? Maybe so, but I’d still go with three in the middle.

On a good day, Koscielny and Sokratis are capable of holding things together defensively, but the left side of Arsenal’s defence is also a big problem. Kolasinac is brainless in a back four and Monreal has the experience but lacks recovery pace to defend/support attacks. Xhaka routinely switches off, so he’s not adequate cover on that side. Like Arsenal’s defensive right, the left side is also fragile.

Much has been debated regarding whether Cech should start having disclosed he has been offered a job by Chelsea next season. For me, he’s too professional to be affected by that and creating a big fuss would only put pressure on Leno.

Cech has played in a Champions League final and has much more big game experience than his colleague, so all said and done best to stick with him. Whilst he may be slightly inferior to Leno, the Czech certainly doesn’t fill you with dread like Almunia or Ospina would.

Clearly, Arsenal have defensive woes, but up front Aubameyang and Lacazette couldn’t be any more confident with 10 goals between them this month. If the favourites are always the ones under pressure, then Chelsea’s defence won’t relish playing against those two.

On the flip side, Ozil is a big problem for Emery. Let’s face it, he won’t turn up and Kante (assuming he plays) and Jorginho will walk all over him. I’d rather Arsenal play 4-4-2 or replace Ozil with Iwobi.

One would think a midfield trio of Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic would take control of this game, but they all played in the January defeat at the Emirates, where Ozil was a notable omission.

Both managers can make tactical mistakes that won’t help their team. Clearly, Sarri is no tactical genius and his Chelsea side tends to motivate itself. Likewise, playing Ozil would be a mistake in my book that could swing this game. I hope Emery is brave enough to drop him.

All in all, an hors d’oeuvres of pros and cons for both sides, but too many to make an assumption that any one particular factor can swing the final. One thing’s for certain, the fitness issues that plagued Arsenal during their Premier League run-in will have dissipated, and they’ve generally competed well in the big games this season when they’ve had the energy to play an aggressive pressing game.

Just watch and enjoy, if that’s the right word.

—oo—  

Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.

Thursday
May162019

The complexities of Arsenal’s transfer budget and how to spend it

You often read people online (me included) crudely ascertaining that Arsenal have a transfer budget of £50m to spend, therefore buying player ‘X’ for £10m will leave £40m in the pot to buy additional players. If only the logistics of spending a transfer budget was that simple. In reality, transfer negotiations are extraordinarily complex transactions, not simple unitary payments.

For a start, wages have to be factored into any player purchase, and in some cases a player’s wage will be more costly to a club than their transfer fee. For example, if you buy player ‘X’ for £50m on a five-year deal and his wage is £250k per week, the wage cost is £65m; £15m more than the transfer fee. That also means you’re looking at a total expenditure of £115m.

Of course, not all of that is payable up front. The wage is paid across the duration of the player’s contract and, usually, so is the transfer fee through a process called amortisation - the action or process of gradually writing off the initial cost of an asset.

That means, under our example of buying a player for £50m on a £250k per week salary, an initial cost of £23m would represent the year-one expenditure of both the player’s wage and transfer fee amortised over the five-year duration of his contract.

Why do clubs do this? Basically, it’s a case of kicking the can down the road. By spreading out the cost of the transfer fee over a number of years, there is more money left in the transfer pot to spend on players in the here and now. However, it’s worth noting that paying off multiple large transfer fees across the length of player contracts will affect the balance sheet somewhere along the line, impacting on future transfer budgets. Only if you can sell players for equitable amounts can costs actually be balanced.

Unfortunately, this remains a very simplistic analysis of the transfer free process, as many other costs also have to be factored in. The agent commands a sizeable fee, there’s signing on fees, national insurance contributions and VAT has to be paid on domestic transfers, and possibly EU transfers if Brexit comes to pass. Performance-related bonuses across the duration of a season will also detract from the amount of money available for the transfer pot.

The transfer budget also has to take into account player wages increased through renewal of existing contracts. If player X signs a new four-year deal increasing his wage from £100k to £200k per week, that immediately removes £5.2m from the kitty - representing the first year's payment of that increase.

In the case of Aaron Ramsey, whose agent reportedly demanded a tripling of his wage from £110-£350k per week, that contract would have immediately stripped Arsenal’s transfer budget of £12.4m.

This relatively simple explanation enables some understanding of how transfer budgets are in constant motion, and why £40-50m is petty cash when faced with the task of rebuilding a Premier League squad of Arsenal’s ilk. That’s why, in our case, it will be vitally important to increase the pot this summer by selling players, thus providing income and lowering the wage bill to enable further capacity to spend.

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So, the question is: by how much can Arsenal realistically top-up their transfer pot by cutting players loose?

With contracts expiring for Ramsey, Welbeck, Cech, Ospina, Lichtsteiner, Campbell and Jenkinson, the wage bill will drop by approximately £21.5m next season. However, that doesn’t generate income because there’s no transfer fee involved; it just allows some manoeuvrability to increase the wage bill without exceeding STCC rules.

Monreal accepted a one-year contract extension in January, so he won’t be leaving, and I doubt Koscielny’s wrecked Achilles would pass a medical at another club, so he’ll probably stay for his final year. Meanwhile, Arsenal are particularly light on experience in central midfield, so while Xhaka is deeply flawed, personally, I’d be surprised if he was moved on.

Arsenal’s 25-man squad also needs to include eight home grown players. With Ramsey, Jenkinson and Welbeck departing – they have to be replaced; Iwobi is therefore not a realistic sale. Arsenal could buy one or two home grown players to bring the quota up, otherwise I’d expect to see Chambers, Nketiah, Willock, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Nelson and Smith Rowe added in. Indeed, Chambers only signed a new four-year deal last summer and I’d imagine the home grown rule was factored into that decision.

With the above in mind, and employing sensible, conservative pricing, the only realistic sales I can see generating significant income are:

Mustafi - £20m / Elneny - £7.5m /Kolasinac - £20m /Mkhitaryan – £20m = £67.5m

There would also be a huge benefit to getting rid of Ozil in terms of reducing the wage bill to a more sensible and manageable level. However, due to his wages, I can’t see Ozil commanding a transfer fee considering nobody would take him on a Bosman 18 months ago.

Assuming the above departures are in Arsenal’s thinking, and achievable at those prices, the club could conceivably have a transfer budget in the region of £112m this summer. However, the club would be unable to spend the entire budget. There are other infrastructure-related wages to pay, and as mentioned previously, certain fluctuating factors require the pot to stay topped up to a certain level. The club might also want to keep some powder dry for a January acquisition or two.

I’d therefore say we’d probably be looking at four or five acquisitions in the £10-25m range on salaries in the region of £150k.

If Arsenal were to win the Europa League, an additional £40m would arrive through prize money and forward investment from CL qualification. Income from various recent commercial deals could also add to the board’s firepower.

These factors combined would enable Arsenal further room to invest in players, but a lot’s dependent on whether Ozil and Mkhitaryan stay at the club. Their salaries combined are likely to seriously impinge on Arsenal’s ability to push the boat out without exceeding the PL’s STCC rules, especially considering new deals are reportedly incoming for the likes of Guendouzi, Aubameyang and Lacazette.

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Arsenal Truth can be found on twitter @ https://twitter.com/trutharsenal

Comments should be intelligible and relevant. All others will be binned.