Could Luis Suarez be Arsene Wenger’s Cantona?

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Arsenal’s pursuit of Luis Suarez rumbles on. A snowball of a rumour has become an avalanche of claim and counter-claim.

Arsenal have had a second bid of £40,000,001 rejected. The £1 is significant: it enabled Arsenal to activate a clause in Suarez’s contract that ensures Liverpool must inform him of the bid. Apparently, he doesn’t read newspapers.

The true value of this clause is something of a mystery. My understanding is that the Suarez camp believed it to be a genuine release clause; Liverpool think nothing of the sort. Speaking to an agent friend this week, I was told that such confusion is common-place. Often a club will find a way to word a release clause that can mislead a player, causing doubt and eventually even legal dispute.

While Arsenal pore over the intricacies of Suarez’s contract, another major target has slipped through our fingers. Gonzalo Higuain has joined Napoli for a fee of around £34m. A few weeks ago it seemed Higuain was destined to end up in North London, but Arsenal have been distracted by the allure of Suarez. Our precious eggs are now all in the Uruguayan’s hostile basket.

Of the two players, I would have preferred us to sign Higuain. He’s a fine player with barely any baggage. To extend the metaphor, Higuain probably travels with just hand luggage. Suarez would arrive at check-in replete with two pairs of skis and several disease-carrying animals.

Higuain has already experienced life at Real Madrid, and decided it’s not for him. Suarez might just be making eyes at us to help get himself to the Bernabeu, either this summer or in 12 months time.

There are those that feel that Higuain is overpriced at £34m. In a world where Roberto Soldado fetches £26m and Hulk would cost you double that, that simply isn’t true.

Our focus on Suarez has seen us let Higuain out of our grasp. We had our hands around the moon but relinquished our grasp to reach for a red dwarf of a star that could ultimately destroy us all.

It’s such an odd strategic decision that I have to give serious consideration to the theory that this is a last throw of the dice from a manager who knows he will walk away in 12 month’s time. By then, Suarez would be someone else’s problem. Perhaps Real Madrid’s.

I’m trying to work out what is going on in Arsene’s head. I have followed his reign at Arsenal for 17 years, and the manager has rarely left me feeling so confused.

For Arsene to spend £50m – and that is what it would ultimately cost – on any one player is bafflingly unfamiliar. To spend that sum on an individual that is so wildly combustible seems like madness.

Wenger must believe that Suarez could be the catalyst to ignite his team and transform them from also-rans to trophy-winners. He must believe the Uruguayan to be the magical missing ingredient.

I am reminded of Sir Alex Ferguson’s radical decision to sign Eric Cantona more than 20 years ago.

Cantona was a maverick and a hot-head. His idiosyncrasies seemed at odds with Ferguson’s disciplinarian regime. But he was also an outstanding footballer, who moved from a rival club to galvanise the team around him in to an unprecedented period of dominance.

Wenger must see something of the same quality in Suarez. To be prepared to smash all his established policies, both economic and ethical, his belief in the Liverpool star must be astronomical.

Of course, when Ferguson snared Cantona, the Frenchman’s greatest sins – the red cards, the assault on a fan – were yet to come. The same, terrifyingly, could be true of Suarez. He’s a complicated cocktail of delightful skill and dysfunctional thinking. Signings Suarez would be a Faustian pact, with potential reward and certain cost.

Speaking of cost, there’s no way he’ll move for £40m, give or take a pound. Liverpool will demand £50m, matching the British transfer record.

The next couple of weeks will be crucial. Failing to sign Suarez could leave us without the marquee striker we desperately need. Signing Suarez will bring its own problems.

The fall-out to the end of this saga, one way or the other, could define more than just our chances next season.

Please, Arsene: Don’t sign Luis Suarez

A month from the start of the Premier League season seems an apt time to make a return to blogging. What’s more, I’ve got something to say.

I can’t really make this plain enough: I would hate to see Luis Suarez at Arsenal.

Long-term readers of the blog won’t be surprised. For me to say anything else would be hypocrisy of the worst kind. As recently as April I posted this diatribe:

Luis Suarez is a despicable human being. We’ve known that for some time.

In the aftermath of his latest transgression – biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – he has been widely criticised by the football media. The same football media who have spent much of the season praising him and may have already voted for him as the Football Writer’s Footballer of the Year.

Gary Lineker has begun a campaign last night to see Suarez removed from the PFA Player of the Year Shortlist. I can’t help but think: isn’t it strange that it’s his behaviour today that has precipitated this reaction, rather than Suarez’s previous conduct?

Don’t exclude him from a shortlist because he bit someone. Exclude him from all shortlists – exclude him from English football entirely – because of his racist behaviour. It’s a thousand times worse; a thousand times more significant. I’ve been sickened and disappointed by how easily English football seems to have forgiven Suarez for his proven abuse of Patrice Evra.

Pundits will queue up to ask what kind of example Suarez biting Ivanovic sets to kids. I’d ask them instead what sort of example their season-long praise of a man guilty of proven racist behaviour sets.

I recognise that Suarez is a fantastic footballer. But that, like the biting, is something of a red herring.

This season, some Premier League players chose not to wear t-shirts that bore the slogan ‘Kick it out’. It saddens me that the stark and important message of that campaign seems to have been forgotten.

I stand by those views. Suarez appalls me. His conduct simply isn’t befitting of a club of our stature.

When stories of our initial bid for Suarez broke, I was dubious. However, enough credible Liverpool-based reporters were covering the story that I soon realised it was legitimate.

Initially I, like others, thought the bid might be a smoke-screen: a way of forcing Real Madrid to relinquish their grasp over Gonzalo Higuain. However, as the Suarez story has waxed the Higuain link has waned. Incredibly, it appears that Suarez may have emerged as our primary target.

From a footballing point of view, it makes sense. There’s no doubting Suarez’s talent. He also provides a suitably different option to Olivier Giroud. Arsene Wenger has already said he’s loathe to sign another traditional target man, and when we were first linked to Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic, I said:

Stefan Jovetic is the name being linked most frequently in the press, and you can understand why. He is a different type of forward to Giroud – mobile, inventive and technically-gifted. He offers a similarly diverse threat to that of Luis Suarez, only without the biting.

Jovetic, however, seems destined for Manchester City. Arsenal now seem determined to snare Suarez, biting and all.

For some fans, the ‘football reasons’ outlined above are good enough to counter-balance the full horror of Suarez’s character. Fair enough. In a way, I admire your determined objectivity.

What I don’t like is revisionism. I don’t like the fact that thousands of fans who castigated Suarez as recently as a few months ago are now hailing him as “misunderstood”.

I don’t like what I’m seeing, but equally I can’t blame the fans. The situation is symptomatic of our club’s plight. The supporters are starved of excitement. There is such now such wide-spread clamour and desperation for a big signing – any big signing – that fans are prepared to shut their eyes and ears to the full reality. They want that transfer record smashed, and they don’t care what else gets broken along the way.

As I say, I am sympathetic. Empathetic, almost. What I find harder to understand is how the likes of Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis – the men charged with making decisions at the head of our football club – are even countenancing this deal.

I cannot understand why a manager as ethical and principled as Arsene would go near a player like Suarez. I cannot fathom why our great club would seek to harbour a footballing fugitive. The situation is made all the more bizarre by the apparent availability of the talented and seemingly decent Gonzalo Higuain, who is now edging towards a move to Napoli.

It’s genuinely baffling. Arsenal paying £40m for a player is something I hoped I’d see one day. However, the sight of Luis Suarez in an Arsenal shirt is something I still hope I’ll never see.

Blowing that sum on a player who will be dogged by suspension and controversy is lunacy. What’s more, Suarez has a proven track record of forcing transfers every couple of seasons. If he joins us, he’ll view us merely as an escape raft until he can leverage a move to Real Madrid.

Earlier in the summer I wondered if this day might come. Arsenal have stated their intention to establish themselves as a financial super-power. Stepping up to that elite level usually involves a degree of adjustment in policy. Principles are often the first victim of compromise.

Manchester City fans have had to accept their managers being ruthlessly dispatched. Chelsea fans have done their own deal with the devil: if they stopped to examine the source of their owner’s wealth, they might find their joy at their grubbily purchased trophies tempered. What’s more, they’ve found themselves cheering on the likes of Ashley Cole and John Terry despite their many public indiscretions.

In terms of players, Suarez’s roll call of dishonour makes him, in my opinion, the worst of the worst. When Wayne Rooney seems the more palatable option, you know you’re dealing with an unsavoury character.

Nothing could diminish my love for Arsenal. However, if they do sign Luis Suarez, the club will have sorely disappointed me.
There are other alternatives, travelling with less baggage, at a lower fare. Make the right choice, Arsene.

Arsenal ahead of Liverpool in race for Clement Grenier

Grenier

In the past few weeks, Arsenal have been consistently linked with a move for Lyon midfielder Clement Grenier. As of last night, my understanding is that all this smoke has a very real fire at its heart.

Arsenal’s interest is genuine. They have already held discussions with the player’s agent, and Grenier knows what he woud stand to earn at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal are not the only Premier League club looking to Grenier to provide their midfield with an injection of creativity. A delegation from Liverpool travelled to France to speak with the player’s representatives last week. However, their offer fell significantly short of Arsenal’s proposed salary.

As yet there is no deal in place between Arsenal and Lyon. Given Grenier’s delicate contractual situation – he has just one year left on his deal – I suspect Arsenal would be looking to secure a bargain. Given our reticence to push the boat out when it comes to transfer fees, it may be that the France midfielder is forced to see out his current deal before moving on a bumper Bosman salary next summer. However, given that Arsene Wenger is already in direct contact with Lyon, it’s clear Arsenal would prefer to secure his signature now.

Grenier, a central playmaker, is not a player we urgently need. However, he would add depth and quality in an area of the park where we are forced to rely on injury-prone players like Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere.

On the subject of Lyon, many of you have emailed me to ask about our interest in Grenier’s side-kick, the more defensively-minded Maxime Gonalons. The honest truth is that I haven’t heard a peep about that deal since I told you that initial discussions had taken place with his representatives in the spring. Perhaps the end of season form of Aaron Ramsey put an end to those particular negotiations.

Although we may not yet be making headlines in the media, it’s comforting to know that Dick Law & Co are beavering away behind the scenes. Hopefully their labours come to fruition soon.

Further reading: Clement Grenier – Scouting Report

Over to you, Arsene

Ivan Gazidis takes a lot of stick from Arsenal fans. Our perceived lack of ambition is generally pinned on the multi-accented CEO, who is free of the emotional complications most reasonable fans still feel with regards to Arsene Wenger.

The refrain was heard frequently at the Emirates last year: “Ivan Gazidis, what do you do?”

In the light of this week’s extensive Q&A, I’d like to pose a response: what more can he do?

Gazidis’ primary duty has been to put the club on a secure financial footing. With the new commercial deals signed and settled, he has done that. It is not Gazidis’ responsibility to decide how that money is spent. It is Arsene’s.

Gazidis has been explicit. There are funds available. Big funds. Here are a few choice excerpts from Thursday’s mission statement:

“Could we spend £25m on a player and pay him £200k p/week? Of course we could do that. We could do more than that. We have a certain amount which we’ve held in reserve. We also have new revenue streams coming on board and all of these things mean we can do some things which would excite you.

The key to this summer is going to be making the right decisions without damaging the great team unity and spirit which we have – adding to that appropriately and I think we have the right person to do that in Arsene. I think he will make the right decisions and I think we will go into this next season with a lot of excitement around the team.

So certainly we will take a step forward this summer, how bigger step will depend on how well we are able to execute over the next month or two.”

It’s bold stuff. As a fan, it’s impossible not to be excited by Gazidis’ words. The financial landscape has shifted, and Arsenal have been raised aloft to join the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

Dreams become plausible. Before yesterday I would have dismissed the link to £20m Gonzalo Higuain as ‘pie in the sky’ stuff. Now, it’s tempting to believe we might just pull it off.

If there’s a nagging concern, it’s that Arsene may not be able to shake the shackles of a decade of prudence. Talk remains cheap. Arsenal are using the rhetoric of a super-club. Now they need to act like one, too.

A significant part of yesterday’s news was Gazidis’ allusion to a new contract for Arsene. Personally, I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to hand him a new deal. The final day euphoria has masked an otherwise disappointing season. The club’s trajectory is worrying. I’d have waited to see how Arsene fared this summer and in the first part of next season before broaching the subject a new contract.

Some will argue it’s vital to have a manager tied to a long-term deal to win over new signings. That’s nonsense. Robin van Persie joined Manchester United with no guarantees over Alex Ferguson’s future. Similarly, the players who come and go at Chelsea care little about the short-term tenancy agreements of the Stamford Bridge dugout.

In modern football, few players are a disciple to any one managerial messiah. Money and medals matter far more.

Perhaps Gazidis feels it’s important to present a united front. I can understand that, with a couple of caveats.

The first is that this contract must be breakable. Conventionally, a three year deal for Arsene means exactly that: three years. In his Arsenal career to date, it’s been explicitly clear he’d never be sacked and similarly that Wenger himself would never walk away from a contract.

With that in mind, if our downward trajectory continues, his signature could swiftly become a sentence. If Gazidis and Wenger agree a new medium-term contract, it must be on the understanding that it may have to be suddenly cut short if things don’t improve.

The second stipulation is that Gazidis and Wenger have already had a discussion about transfer targets in which the manager has show willingness to break a habit and actually spend what is available to him.

Gazidis has done his job. Player recruitment is Wenger’s bag.

Over to you, Arsene.