August 29, 2012
It’s not about the name on the back of the shirt, it’s about the one on the front.
It was a useful phrase that. A show of defiance, even up to a few weeks ago. You could just declare that in the pub, with your mates, on your Arsenal blog and random people would applaud you, pat you on the back and you’d feel good, you’d feel strong.
Now I fear the phrase is getting a little bit worn. Tattered from overuse. It’s becoming less of a battlecry, more of a desperate mantra to be repeated over and over again as your bottom lip wobbles and you try to reassure yourself that everything’s going to be okay.
‘It’s not about the name on the back of the shirt, it’s about the one on the front. It’s not about the name on the back of the shirt, it’s about the one on the front. God, please, somebody hold me.’
Granted, it’s not like Theo Walcott has been a man to unite all Gooners in a state of mutual love and admiration. I get more angry comments on the blog about our number 14 than I do about anything else, my tendency to ramble at the top of blogs included. Understandable. You see a man running straight into a defender a thousand times in a row without learning his lesson and attempting to push the ball around him and it does something to your brain. Your only real outlet is a spew of invective on some random bloke’s webpage.
But while there’s clearly always a debate to be had about Theo’s ability and worth as a footballer I don’t think that’s what’s grinding people’s gears this morning. It’s the fact that if, as is being reported, talks have broken down between his representatives and the board and the club are threatening to sell rather than meet his pay demands, he would be the sixth prominent first teamer to leave the club in little over a year. Clichy, Cesc, Nasri, Song, Van Persie and now possibly Walcott. And don’t even get me started on Jeffrey Monakana.
It’s an astonishing turnover of first teamers in such a short space of time and completely at odds with Arsene Wenger’s oft stated aversion to changing more than a couple of new faces in a season. I think if you analysed the Theo situation on its own merits most people would agree that the club are acting in an entirely reasonable manner. But it’s very hard not to see it in terms of the bigger picture. A bigger picture of a club unable to hold on to its brightest talent.
But let’s look at Theo as an individual. With the usual apologies for taking estimated figures from the reports we’ve been given, here we have a man being paid around £60,000 a week whose contract has a year to go. Supposedly his people are asking for that to be bumped up to £100k. Arsenal are said to have offered £70-75k. And last night it seems that Theo’s representatives were so unimpressed by the offer that they turned it down and then leaked it to the press that they’d done so in an attempt to a) turn public opinion against the board and force them to up their offer or b) spark a bit of interest in the player’s services from the likes Man City and Liverpool.
The most disappointing thing for me here is that Arsenal’s previous attempts at being hardliners don’t seem to be having the desired effect. If nothing else they must be geting a reputation now for sticking to their guns over wage policy and being prepared to ship players out rather than meet their extreme demands. You’d have hoped that might mean that Theo would accept that he won’t get what he wants, meet us somewhere in the middle and get on with developing his game. But apparently that’s not happening.
I’ve seen a fair few commenters outraged that we’re not prepared to just offer what he wants. What difference, they argue. We can afford it and we can’t continue to shed our most established players. But could you really argue that Theo is worth £100,000 a week? Does he really deserve to be put in that top bracket of earners? Be the most highly paid player at Arsenal Football Club and one of the highest paid in our history?
I like Theo. I accept his limitations as a player but I don’t think we should overlook his strengths. People might say ‘blah blah, he’s just a speed merchant, blah’. Well fine. But that speed can be a devastating weapon. We’ve seen it. Not on a consistent basis but we’ve seen it. And he’s developing. Much more slowly than we hoped but 11 goals and 13 assists last season ain’t to be sniffed at. And what would be most galling of all about this transfer is those six years we just spent developing him to where he is today, six years of frustration and inconsistency, only to see him flourish at one of our rivals.
So it’s a conundrum. What’s particularly irritating about the situation is once again the timing. Why are we faced with losing one of our key players with only three days of the transfer window remaining? Most people would be fine with the idea of the transfer if a well considered replacement could be brought in but we’re given the distinct impression of a club scrabbling around desperate for any sort of replacement due to failing to sort out a contract situation ahead of time. To an extent our hands were tied. We tried to negotiate back in January but they refused, wanting to leave it until the summer when presumably they knew the club would be in a tougher position. But to fail to open negotiations until the very last week of the window smacks of stupidity on the club’s part. Put simply we have to learn to set our own internal deadlines to get these situations sorted out rather than be beholden to FIFA’s calendar.
It’s an indictment of where we are in the modern game when we have a player who according to reports would prefer to stay at a club, a club who would prefer to keep the player, and an offer on the table which is to most observers more than generous and yet we could still see the player walk away.
Unlike some I’m not convinced Theo’s departure is inevitable. I genuinely get the impression he’d prefer to stay. His lack of confidence on the pitch at times suggests an awareness of his limitations and he must know that if he goes elsewhere to pick up his £100,000 a week expectations from crowds and pundits will be even higher. Is he comfortable with that level of pressure?
I suspect he’d prefer to continue to develop his game amongst people who he’s worked with for years and who he knows and loves. Mind you, there might be more of those at City now than at Arsenal.
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