Friday, 26 August 2011

The Cahill offer: Is Wenger a victim of the rapidly changing English market?

The transfer talk of the day is Arsenal’s reported £6 million plus add-ons offer for Bolton defender Gary Cahill. The sum has been lambasted in media circles. “The word derisory doesn’t even cover it”, Bolton boss Owen Coyle has said of Arsenal’s proposal, “an insult to Bolton and Cahill” added BBC website chief sports writer Phil McNulty on Twitter. The offer is not an insult to Bolton and Cahill. 

Bolton’s valuation of the 25-year-old has little to do with the player’s ability. The only reason Cahill’s offer can be seen as insulting or derisory is when compared to some of the eye-watering fees circulating the English market.

Bolton's Gary Cahill, a subject of summer transfer speculation

Not only do we have a now ubiquitous ‘English player tax’ for home talent, but something else has altered the face of the market. Manchester City have changed transfers in England. They can afford any player in the world not only because they can make any club, whether Aston Villa for their prize asset two years running (Gareth Barry and James Milner) or Atlético Madrid for Serigo Agüero, coveted across the world, an offer too good to refuse, as well as being able to play any player’s wages.

The market has changed in a number of ways over the past twelve months. Firstly, it is now acceptable in England like nowhere else for a big club to get their man for an astronomical fee (to an extent where the amount a club spends is now generally the only factor in deciding how successful a transfer window they have had). It also means that, when the league’s bigger clubs want their players, smaller clubs can now start quoting outrageous sums for a player just because they can.

They can because 1) they have seen, justifiably or not, other similar calibre players sell on the market for the same high fees, and feel their own asset of equal worth, and 2) the bigger clubs, Man City’s rivals, are under more pressure to spend money given the dealings and big-money squad additions of their rivals. Let’s not forget Liverpool’s part in this either. Their policy of paying hugely over odds for young talent is inflating value of English players to approaching unsustainable levels.

Which brings us to Gary Cahill. The circumstances surrounding the proposal seem to have created a perfect storm for Arsène Wenger. It comes at a time when his own transfer policy has faced its biggest criticism yet. He has seen Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs spending between £30 and £50 million on players while his own record transfer remains the £17 million spent on José Antonio Reyes in 2004. The Gunners are not struggling because of their lack of big spending. But their current situation, having just sold Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, missing out on Juan Mata and facing increasing calls from fans to spend has heaped the pressure on Wenger, and means that Bolton might just get their way. 

The general media opinion, and that of the fans too, is that Wenger needs Cahill at any cost in order to compete. It’s entirely fair that Bolton should demand as much as they can get for Cahill, and can’t really be blamed for seeking to exploit the current inflated market in pursuit of a few extra million, especially at a time when smaller clubs like Wanderers might be worrying about their long-term financial stability given the increasing disparity between themselves and the richer clubs.

But at the same time, Wenger will not want to spend the £15 million Bolton are speculated to be holding out for. If he does, he will have done so purely because of the pressure of the market. Only in England is the transfer of a player of Cahill’s calibre anywhere near the sums Wenger is expected to cough up. Equally, the smaller clubs are becoming greedier, especially when it comes to an English player, a stone so rare clubs are willing to pay an extra £10 million for him. 

This is where I think Wenger is a victim. Both exploited through Arsenal’s own ambitious position by smaller clubs, and pressurised into big-money deals by the big ones, it is now almost impossible for a big club to successfully implement a frugal transfer policy against the tide of spending lunacy. 

Anywhere else in Europe at any other time such a fee for Cahill would not be appropriate. Bargians can be found when looked for; in the past two years, three outstanding players, attacking players, have left the Bundesliga for sums which would make English clubs weep: Mesut Özil and Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid for €15 million and €10 million respectively, and Arturo Vidal to Juventus for €10 million.

Arsène Wenger is likely to have to pay over-odds for his Bolton target; even the acutely stubborn Frenchman might have to bend to this one, having already paid a huge fee for youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. And in signing Gary Cahill he will likely take all the plaudits for capturing a player who is probably really worth a lot less than what he will have paid. He should not be attacked for trying to buy a player for a fee which, on the surface, seems reasonable, especially given that Cahill is in the last year of his contract, but now, down to circumstances out of Wenger’s control, seems almost laughable. 

Wenger is a man trying to go one way when the English market is going another, and how he reacts in the rapidly changing English market could even come to define his legacy at Arsenal.

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