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.