They say choppy waters make skilled sailors and skilled sailors are exactly the type of people who will make it through Arsenal’s current situation with their sanity intact. Arsenal find themselves in uncharted territory. Not simply because of the current suspension of games brought on by a worldwide pandemic – everyone is dealing with that. No, Arsenal’s uncharted territory lies within their struggle to regain a sense of financial security by qualifying for the Champions League – something that has become a must for any major club to keep itself from the edge of the cliff and falling into the void of being a “second tier” team.
A task they haven’t had to complete for over 20 years and one that will have been hindered greatly by this year’s suspension and potential cancellation of remaining games. While Arsenal have gone through some of their current issues in the public eye, their issues are ones faced by clubs around the world. How to keep staff paid, the club afloat, and make up for lost revenue. In their attempt to do this, Arsenal opened the door to a media wildfire when their player wage cut proposal was leaked to the media. This agreement eventually led to most players accepting a 12.5% wage cut and gave many media outlets, myself included, something real to write about.
Many have likely noticed that as soon as the suspension was put in place, the amount of valuable news to report about dried up faster than club revenue streams, resulting in an uptick of one type of news that is never short on stories – transfer rumors.
Transfer rumors are like low quality beer. There are a ton out there, people seem to like to buy it, it’s cheap and easy to make, but in the end – they’re all a bit shit.
I should clarify something. There is transfer news, told by people who are connected with good sources, doing some investigative journalism, who can be believed even though they sometimes get things wrong – think Ornstein, Fabrizio Romano, The Athletic, Amy Lawrence, etc. – and there are transfer rumors pedaled by a ton of small, obscure, sketchy publications pushing stories that source almost no one, an obscure event on social media, or weave together a bunch of events with little dotted lines that seem to make sense if you squint really hard. They play to an audience of fans longing for their club to bring in top players at any cost.
These are the publications that will spray out an article for each club the prospective player is loosely connected to in any fashion in order to weave together a saga of blows and boosts like the nearly fictious story they are. They know each story will capture the attention of fans dreaming of the ways their team could line up if they just signed that one big name player or prospect. How they could become title contenders if they simply seal every deal they are linked with and sell all the players they don’t need.
Which brings us to the second issue of transfer rumors – how easy it can be for these deals to get done. It’s an important aspect of the perfect transfer rumor. You not only discuss the player, how the club has been after them for a while, or how that player is a perfect fit for the club – you have to discuss how simple it would be to have it all happen.
Take this year for example, if things are to be believed, Arsenal simply need to sell – Mkhitaryan, Elneny, Sokratis, Torreira, potentially Lacazette and/or Aubameyang, Mavropanos, potentially Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and Ozil. This will see us capable of purchasing Pablo Mari, Cedric Soares – who will be signed because of Kia Joorabchian, Willian – another Kia player, Thomas Partey, Upamecano or N’Dicka or Disasi, an Ozil replacement – preferably Havertz, Edouard or Jovetic, and, only if we can swing it, someone like Max Aarons. You know, just for cover. Any funds we need to purchase these players that we don’t get from sales, just pull them from those cash reserves that are intended for stadium loans and paying past transfers or that “massive cash injection” from Kroenke that is definitely going toward transfers and not reassuring creditors we can pay them without revenue streams.
One second readers. Let me just copy the above paragraph, open email, address to firstname.lastname@example.org, paste, and send. That’s their work done for year. Edu, you are welcome. Consider it a gift, free of charge, pro bono work. After all, how could they turn down something that beneficial that is that easy?
I know I have made a ridiculous paragraph and that not everyone has gone to that extent, but people are regularly proposing windows that would see Arsenal close 12+ major deals in the window. This includes finding buyers or players, negotiating the price, negotiating the upfront cost and payments over time, agreeing to wage terms with players we buy, agreeing to agent fees given Raul’s methods and doing it all within the given amount of time, in the aftermath of these suspensions that will likely see clubs fighting tooth and nail for every penny they can. Twelve times. Keeping in mind that similar to our own ability to purchase players being contingent on player sales, other club’s windows are as well, meaning all the pieces need to come together at the same time.
To put this in perspective, Arsenal have been considered to have large transfer windows the last two or three years and in none of the summers have they produced over 10 completed deals involving cash over £8m, much less multiple £20m+. The closest would be their 17/18 season.
To imagine that quantity of business getting done with that amount of money involved, or that amount being spent as clubs are negotiating for players to take wage cuts and help them out is setting yourself and fellow supporters up for failure, aggravation, and outrage. It’s almost insane, given the writing that seems to be written on the wall, but every day you will see a new addition to the saga and these “trusted” newspapers aren’t alone.
Their stories trickle down to smaller outlets, social media influencers, twitter accounts with thousands of fans, AFTV – a whole ‘nother aspect, bloggers, vloggers, fan pages, football twitter, and every other person looking to pass along this fictitious dream to their audience knowing that if they post about it, people will like it. It makes sense. People like reading good things about their club – true or not. But over time, the tale – and I use tale because most are tales – gets spread so much that it becomes engrained as something that is a given. A done deal. No problem. Until the deal never materializes.
I can hear some you right now. “Lighten up, it’s just fun, don’t take it so serious” and that’s fine for you to say, but there is a negative side to the way these rumors are pitched. There is damage done when these deals aren’t completed, and fans hold it against the club. Something that is okay with these writers and outlets because that’s a whole new story, but in a world where every year, countless fanbases create their own “#_ _ Out”, these rumors play a role in continuing to deteriorate the relationship between supporters and clubs.
Clubs deserve scrutiny. Owners, boards, coaches – it’s football’s own version of checks and balances. There is nothing wrong with that. But holding failed transfers against them based on rumors, that may never have had a realistic chance of being completed, weren’t actively being pursued beyond being interested in a prospect the way every club is interested in top prospects, or was mostly fictitious, is not fair to anyone.
Have we progressed to a point where articles are to that level of “reader beware”? Maybe we have, but there should be a level of onus put on those that wield the power their words hold over an audience.
I understand that few of these articles lie. They hide behind half-truths and speculations to cover themselves and they write enough articles about a player going to a club that in the end they “predicted” right. Except they were also wrong about all the others.
Then, every Fall, Winter, or Spring, when a club’s chances start to dissipate and results don’t come — fans vent their anger and suggest things would be different if specific transfers were made and the club took things seriously, which becomes a problem when it was never a realistic option for the club to achieve for their supporters. Whether that is for financial reasons, accolades and aspirations, competitive reasons, coaching preferences – players select to go elsewhere for an abundance of reasons.
But for fans who have spent months being told it’s as good as done, who have spent months laying out what that would do for the starting lineup, who have spent months ranking the lineup against competitive rivals – it’s a failure. True or not.
The fictitious transfer rumor does damage and those that pedal them based on little to nothing should accept accountability for their role in that damage.