He’s one of the greatest managers to have ever graced the Premier League. He has revolutionised English football, and unearthed some of the finest players of the past decade. But still, Arsene Wenger has yet to master the art of spending big.
Over the past decade, The Professor has been able to compensate for his struggles with big-money signings with his unique ability to develop young and/or obscure talents into world-class footballers.
But with billionaire businessman Stan Kroenke recently buying a controlling stake in Arsenal worth 300 million pounds, fans (and Kroenke) will expect an expensive, marquee signing, and Wenger will have to deliver.
His record does not bode well for this endeavor. Almost every time Wenger has spent big, the players have failed to provide value for money. Here are some of his more expensive signings – Sylvain Wiltord, Jose Antonio Reyes, Francis Jeffers, Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin.
Reyes and Arshavin both started spectacularly, but became inconsistent. Walcott is still an enigma, and Jeffers is now playing for Motherwell. When a manager shells out the cash – at least relatively so in Wenger’s case – the players have to do better than that.
The only one who did reasonably well was then-record signing Wiltord, but he was playing with the likes of Henry, Vieira and Pires at their Invincible peak. Anybody would have done well in that team.
What Wenger know how to do, and is probably the best in the business at, is developing young and/or obscure players. For example, Henry and Vieira were both promising players, but were plucked from obscurity after mediocre spells in Italy. Pires was a known talent, but he was only on the fringes of the France team and still not widely known outside of his homeland.
(Incidentally, of that famous French trio, only Henry was considered expensive at 11 million pounds. Pires and Vieira cost Wenger six and 3.5 million respectively.)
He’s also had no problem bringing out the best in players like Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, Aaron Ramsey, etc. who were either young or little-known quantities. But the minute he forks out the big bucks, the players somehow don’t live up to their price tags.
The irony is that “The Professor” played such a huge role in maintaining Arsenal’s excellent financial status, but now he doesn’t know what to do with all that money.
It’s like a monkey on his back, some kind of mental block, that has made him cautious about spending the vast millions Arsenal can afford.
On the other hand, Kenny Dalglish had the cojones to splash 50 million pounds on Andy Carroll and Luiz Suarez just weeks after taking charge. Of course, one could argue that Arshavin and Reyes started their Arsenal careers brightly as well, and that there’s still plenty of time for Carroll and Suarez to bomb. But the thing is, Dalglish had no hesitations at all about splurging on the duo, and they seem more confident players because of that.
Jose Mourinho too, who had previously made a name for himself by winning the Champions League with a group of relatively unknown players, arrived at Chelsea and immediately started spending big – and to devastating effect, winning the league in his first season in charge (though Chelsea are an anomaly when it comes to spending, as there really wasn’t much pressure in terms of money).
Ferguson’s record with expensive signings might have a couple of blots, namely Juan Sebastian Veron and Dimitar Berbatov, but he’s been more consistent over the years. Think of Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Heck, even Harry Redknapp spends his cash with more conviction than Wenger, and look how well he’s done at Tottenham (yes, Spurs fans, he has done well. Quit yer whining).
In comparison to these contemporaries, Wenger’s problem is made even more apparent.
He lacks that romantic sense of adventure they have. His strengths lie in being meticulous, in being a perfectionist, in scientific method (hence the nickname Professor?), while his rivals have been more willing to throw caution to the win and take a gamble on players.
It’s not a bad thing. Far from it. Wenger’s personality and philosophy have done wonders for the club. But it’s just that with this new phase Arsenal is going through, I think Wenger might have to learn a few new tricks with his chequebook real soon, to make sure he doesn’t get left behind.