The transfer window is well and truly open and will remain so for another three weeks. Plenty of Premier League clubs have already been active in some way or another, buying, selling, in some cases even exchanging players in order to sharpen their squads in preparation for the upcoming campaign. So far, the money spent this summer hasn’t been eye-watering. Although some clubs have looked to get their business done early, Arsenal for example, many have found themselves in the position (especially with the Euros and Olympics) of having to be a little more patient in their pursuit of new talent. We can expect, therefore, to see much more toing and froing in the coming weeks as deadline day approaches and the pressure to close deals grows ever greater.
The majority of transfers run smoothly enough. An enquiry of availability is made, a bid is put in, negotiations take place, a fee is agreed and, once personal terms have been agreed and a medical completed, the player signs on the dotted line and moves on. There are however, more and more so it seems these days, inevitably transfers that become, in modern journalistic parlance, “sagas”. These tend to occur when a club is desperate to sign a player, the player is keen to move to said club, however, his current employers either wish to hold onto him or to ensure that top whack is paid in recompense.
There are generally three options of how a situation like this can pan out. The first option is for the selling club to eventually agree a deal with the prospective buyer and to reluctantly let the player move on. The second option is for the player to accept that he is contracted to his current club and recognise that they are under no obligation to sell, remain professional and see out his contract. The third is for the player to demand a move and try his best to force that move, come what may.
For players who choose the third route and become “contract rebels” it can be a dangerous road to travel. A ruthless chairman may call their bluff and refuse to sell and, unless they can re-ingratiate themselves with the manager and the rest of the squad they could easily find themselves rotting in the reserves. However, it isn’t a wise business move to let a player on high wages play a bit-part role simply in order to block a move or as some chairmen like to make out, on a matter of principle. Simply put, it’s a waste of an asset. The preferred logic in football is that when a player wants out, you’d better let him go.
This summer has seen its fair share or protracted transfer “sagas”. However, there are three that have dominated the headlines for large parts of the closed season and remain rumbling on. The three players involved have made clear their intentions to seek employment elsewhere whilst there current clubs do not wish to let them go for anything less than a premium fee. In this piece I’ll examine the three cases and give my opinion on how the “contract rebels” and their clubs can best resolve the respective situations.
Robin van Persie was without doubt the Premier League’s best player last season. The Dutchman was in lethal form as he pulled Arsenal kicking and screaming up the league table after enduring their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign. Van Persie notched up thirty league goals over the course of the 2011/12 season, helping Arsenal to a third place finish, beating their fiercest rivals Tottenham Hotspur down into fourth.
It is safe to say that, without van Persie, the Gunners would have been in terrible trouble last year, probably falling well short of making the Champions’ League spot, however, much of the talk surrounding the Arsenal camp, especially after Christmas, centred not around his goal return but on whether or not the “star” player would be signing a new contract with the club.
After crashing out of the Group Stages at Euro 2012, following a wretched showing by his native Holland, van Persie announce in a statement that he would not be signing a new contract with the London club, stating a lack of faith in the club’s policy for the future and expressing his desire to leave the Emirates.
Many Arsenal fans were up in arms about the manner of the statement and the fact that it seemed to be issued from behind closed doors, many others are simply disgusted that their talisman and captain has expressed a desire to quit the club publicly, both quite understandable reactions. However, it seems to me that van Persie’s desire is to move on is for legitimate reasons and, however hard of a pill it may be to swallow initially, Arsenal should let him go.
Van Persie is 29 years old, is entering the last year of his contract and has been at the club since 2004; he’s served his time. Many Arsenal fans complain that the club carried him and paid his wages whilst he was out of the game through a series of injuries. This is true, however, players can get injured, it’s an occupational hazard which clubs have to accept. That said, van Persie has still scored 132 goals in his career as a Gunner, making him Arsenal’s eighth highest scorer of all time; a notable contribution.
There are a host of clubs interested in the wantaway Arsenal frontman. Italian champions Juventus have been heavily linked with the Dutchman all summer, whilst in the Premier League the chase for his signature is being led by the two Manchester clubs. Arsene Wenger is continuing to make noises about trying to keep last season’s top scorer at the Emirates but, with van Persie’s stated desire to leave, I don’t see any way that the two parties can be reconciled. The player has already refused to take part in the club’s pre-season tour and his mind seems to be firmly made up.
Arsenal’s form in the early part of the 11/12 campaign was heavily affected by the late departure of Samir Nasri to Manchester City, after the London club failed in their effort to persuade the Frenchman to stay. The last thing they need is for something similar to happen with van Persie. The Gunners are much better prepared for any loss this time around, having signed Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla to play up front. Although none of these three are the lethal finisher that van Persie is, between them they certainly have goals so losing last season’s star should not be such a big blow. Liverpool lost Michael Owen for as little as £8m and went on to win the Champions’ League the following year, so losing your star striker doesn’t necessarily end in catastrophe.
The board at the Emirates are looking to maximise the transfer fee for van Persie, a fee of over£20m is being sought, but this is only likely to be met by one of the Gunners’ closest rivals. However, having signed him for less than £3m from Feyenoord, it would make more sense for the club to drop their fee and encourage Juventus to make a firm bid. Selling to Manchester United would be folly as they finished just one place ahead of the side from North London last term and selling to City, well it would just feed the perception that Arsenal have become a feeder club for the “super-rich new elite”.
United seem to be the favourites to snap van Persie up, with a medical reportedly due to take place over the weekend. However, if I was Wenger, I would do my utmost to make sure that this doesn’t happen, for obvious reasons. For the player himself, as mentioned above, he has angered many with his actions and words so far, however, should he go abroad to pursue trophies, he will quickly be forgiven by the Arsenal faithful. If on the other hand he chooses to ply his trade in Manchester, either for City or United, his legacy will be very different. He will forever be remembered as a turncoat, a Judas, somebody who thumbed his nose at the club after receiving nothing but support throughout his Arsenal career. After giving so much of his footballing life to one club, that would be a crying shame.
Across the North London divide now, to White Hart Lane and a certain Luka Modric. The Croat, signed by Juande Ramos in 2008, quickly established himself as a classy playmaker and, over the course of the last four seasons has become an integral part in a Spurs side that was very unlucky not to qualify for the Champions’ League for the second time in three years.
After missing out on Champions’ League football with Tottenham last year, Modric was heavily linked with a move to, London rivals, Chelsea in the summer of 2011. Daniel Levy, Spurs chairman, refused to accept Chelsea’s offers for the Croat as he was a vital cog in, then manager, Harry Redknapp’s system.
Modric was fairly non-plussed by the hierarchy’s intransigence and behaved a little like a spoilt child by all accounts. However as deadline day approached and with a move definitely off the cards, the Croat, with the help of Harry Redknapp’s arm round the shoulder style of man management, reconciled himself to another season at White Hart lane. He went on to perform superbly in the Premier League for Spurs and helped guide them to fourth place (narrowly missing out on third). However thanks to Chelsea’s thoroughly unexpected and, some would say, undeserved victory in the Champions’ League, Tottenham cruelly missed out on a place at Europe’s top table for a second year running.
That result in Munich, amongst other things, cost Redknapp his job and left a number of issues unresolved at White Hart Lane. Not least the future of Luka Modric. Having dedicated himself to the cause last year and faced disappointment again, Modric is ready to move on, this time amidst heavy interest from Real Madrid. Levy has again rebuffed the advances of the Spanish giants, who are believed to have tabled an offer of £25m for the player. Whilst this might have been a good move by Levy last season, it may not prove to be so wise this time around.
Modric is almost 28 and now has just two seasons left on his “whopping” six year contract. He is undoubtedly a class act and has been great for Spurs, however, after refusing to travel on the club’s tour of North America and now being forced to train on his own, he has made it clear that he sees his future away from White Hart Lane.
The Croat, who starred at Euro 2012 as his national side were very unfortunate to be knocked out in the group stage, will never be worth more than he is now and, although Levy values him at closer to £40m, unless he’s going to PSG, no club will pay that. Modric is fantastic but not irreplaceable. There are question marks over whether he will thrive under the “cold fish” style of man management preferred by new boss Andre Villas Boas and, unless Levy wants to risk making a loss on his star man or worse, see him go for nothing in two seasons, now is the time to sell.
Modric has given Tottenham a lot in his time there, however, being from Croatia and having spent four years in London already, I think it’s fair to say that he should be allowed to move on. This, like van Persie, is likely to be the last big move in his career and to want to have a chance of winning titles by joining Mourinho at Real is perfectly understandable. An accommodation should be reached, the deal would be beneficial for all.
Spurs would make £10m on a player who is at his peak market value, whilst selling to a club they will rarely face. Modric would be happy as would Real. The £25m plus could then be spent on a player like Moutinho, somebody who can do a similar job and is more the type of player that AVB is used to. As far as Levy and Spurs are concerned, I would say this: it’s one thing sticking to your principles, it’s another cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Staying in the capital (it seems to be the preferred home of contract rebels), but moving West, to Craven Cottage, home of Fulham. Clint Dempsey has been linked with a move to Liverpool for the duration of the transfer window to date. It had been thought that a deal had been struck for the U.S.A. forward, however, Fulham’s refusal to budge on their £10m asking price has become more than a little stumbling block.
Dempsey is 29 years old and joined the Cottagers in January 2007 for a fee of roughly £2m from MLS side New England Revolution. He has since become a firm favourite at the Cottage and one of their most consistent performers. Dempsey can operate as an attacking midfielder or across the front line and has notched up an impressive 50 league goals in 184 appearances for Fulham.
Last season was Dempsey’s most prolific, scoring 23 in all competitions (17 in the Premier League) and, as such, he came to the attention of several top clubs including Arsenal and Liverpool. Dempsey has since stated his desire to leave Fulham and move to the North West in order to join Liverpool. With less than eighteen months left on his current deal, the U.S.A. star has refused to sign an extension and has signalled his intent to force through a move.
With the club due to fly to Switzerland for a pre-season tour a fortnight ago, Dempsey asked manager Martin Jol to be excluded and instead asked to remain in London and train with the youth squad. Needless to say this caused a heated debate and, although Dempsey was left behind, upon the first team squad’s return, he has been made to train alone.
Once again this seems like an untenable situation and an unfair position for Fulham to take surrounding the transfer. Dempsey has given five and a half years to Fulham, he is 29 and will never get another chance like this in his career. Once again, he is not from London and therefore has displayed enough loyalty to the club and fans in his time at Craven Cottage, what he’s asking for is not unreasonable.
£10m is too much to hope to receive for a player who has two, possibly three good seasons left, so it seems a compromise must be reached. There has been talk of Charlie Adam moving in a cash plus player deal, rumours which have gained more credence in recent days. Whatever happens, Fulham would be well advised to sell, they’ll never get more for Dempsey and risk losing him for nothing if they stubbornly refuse to budge.
These have been the lengthiest sagas of the summer so far and they have produced three genuine contract rebels. How and when the clubs and players involved wil resolve their respective positions remains up in the air, but whatever the outcomes there will be more twists and turns ahead.
Van Persie Image by Ronnie Macdonald. Modric image by aspasciuto.
Dempsey image by wjarrettc aka Jarrett Campbell