Get French Football News (GFFN), a fairly reputable and reliable transfer source, reported that Arsenal are leading the way in the race to sign Willian after offering the “biggest financial offer”. That offer? Reportedly, a 3-year deal with an option to extend for a fourth year. This news surfaced after Willian reportedly turned down a 2-year extension from Chelsea.
You can hardly blame him for turning down a two year extension if there was a 3-4 year deal coming his way from Arsenal. It’s a deal that will worry many Arsenal, not only from a financial perspective, but because it suggests that as a club, Arsenal have not learned from their unsustainable, disastrous recent past.
Yes, this deal is a “free transfer” but in these scenarios, that’s an incredibly, misleading term. In general, when a player moves teams, they don’t lose money when it comes to wages. Yes, there are examples and yes, the details surrounding this exact deal have not emerged, but it is fair to expect that this deal would see Willian retain his £120,000-per-week salary. Over the course of three years, this would equate to over £18,000,000 in wages and we haven’t added signing bonus, performance bonuses or agent fees. Tack on the potential for another £6.25m to be added should Arsenal opt to extend him for his 4th year and you are looking at a fantastic way for Kia Joorabchian’s, would-be 35-year-old client to end his career. What was labeled as a free transfer would quickly turn into a twenty million pound transfer paid in three years of installments for a player that may only offer the club real value for one.
I understand that Arteta or the club may be looking for talent that is ready “now”. Players that could be ready to compete in the Premier League if you told them the match was tomorrow. But this short term team building is exactly what caught up with Arsenal in recent years and has been a major factor in their downward trajectory. Arsenal are built on aging stilts that have produced a massive and unaffordable wage bill. The idea of adding another name to that list is extremely worrisome. The simple notion of, “he improves us right away” can no longer be enough. Many players improve us right away and many others have value to the club long term, offer resale value in a few years, and are pillars in which Arsenal’s rebuild can be structured around for the next two or three years.
After Emery was let go and Arteta was brought in, the talk was that this rebuild needs to be done right and it needs to be given the proper time before judgment. Yet here we are, at the first opportunity to rebuild properly, and Arsenal are looking at bringing in someone with the exact flaws that many in our current side present – high wages, aging years, a short term solution, no resale value, and no way to move on from them on the club’s terms except seeing out the contract.
Some will say, “the move is fine if we reach the Champions League.” That is a massive if, it’s another huge gamble, and this move is the choice to gamble on someone providing a spark from not even their strongest position. Willian plays on the right wing, where Pepe plays, which means Arsenal are adjusting all sorts of things to accommodate him or paying through the nose to play a player a bit out of position. Should he play on the right wing over Pepe? Attacking midfielder? The right wing while Pepe switches to the left? It’s a recipe for disaster that leaves Arsenal with very little breathing room down the road if it all goes as wrong as it has in the recent past.
Let’s say he is signed, which by all accounts is imminent, plays well, but Arsenal don’t make the Champions League. It’s an outcome that is very likely. Aren’t Arsenal going to want to sign someone that is a longer term solution in the central midfield role? Aren’t they going to want to invest in someone better, younger, and with actual resale value? If Arsenal don’t make the Champions League, buying someone else is a move like that would likely need to be done after this year, which means Arsenal are stuck paying for their band-aid purchase of Willian and another player which sounds eerily familiar, seeing as the squad is filled with players that were short term solutions who haven’t paid off.
It’s alarming that Arsenal are firing up the same recipe, looking for the same short term solutions, and not considering what I would consider the larger picture that involves rebuilding this team properly, changing how we have done things to take into account what other more successful teams are doing to bring in quality players while keeping net spend low, and giving Arteta a real chance to compete this year, while keeping an eye on our future.
This is truly a deal, that on the surface, looks very beneficial for Willian and Kia Joorabchian, while offering Arsenal only one potential beneficial outcome dependent on this 31-year-old to be the piece that delivers Champions League football. Is he that person? It will take a lot of convincing for me to come around to that notion.