Could Luis Suarez be Arsene Wenger’s Cantona?

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 22.23.56

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.

Transfer thoughts: Koscielny, Grenier, Higuain, Jovetic and more

Football’s annual auction is also known as the ‘silly season’. I’m not sure silly does it justice. For starters, it sounds a lot more fun than the seasonal process of being pillaged, gazumped and ultimately disappointed.

This summer, we’re told, will be different. We’ll see. It felt worryingly familiar yesterday when Laurent Koscielny started mouthing off about his future. The quote that made the headlines was:

I want to lift trophies and to have a winning record. I hope the club will give me the means. If this weren’t the case, I’d look elsewhere. Paris [Saint Germain]? I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything.

Clearly Kos isn’t content with finishing top of the Fair Play League.

In seriousness, I’m not sure there’s much to worry about here. Koscielny is merely echoing the sentiment of the fans: we all want the club to push on and compete for trophies. He also told Eurosport “I do not want to go anywhere”, but that just isn’t as interesting to journalists.

The PSG link seems entirely spurious. Here’s a transfer window tip for you all: if you ever see a player quoted as mentioning a club in the form of a rhetorical question, it’s because they’ve been asked about it directly by an interviewer. They haven’t brought it up themselves. No-one talks like that.

I am not hungry right now, but eventually I may want to eat something. A sandwich? I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything. Of course sandwiches are delicious, so I am flattered to be linked with them.

This journalistic quirk also accounts for the quotes from Gonzalo Higuain suggesting a move to Arsenal may be on the cards:

There have already been offers and I hope that Madrid do the best for me and themselves.

Arsenal? They would suit me, I’m still young and I have goals.

I’m glad Higuain still has goals. Arsenal could use about thirty of them per season.

I’d love to see a player of Higuain’s undoubted calibre at Arsenal, but as yet there’s little evidence that there’s much substance to this story. There are an unusual number of high quality forwards available on the market this summer. The likes of Higuain, Villa, Rooney, Benteke, Cavani, Falcao, Gomez and more could all be on the move. Everyone knows that Arsenal need a forward, so it’s just a question of connecting the dots to create a story. It’s almost impossible for us to know how legitimate any one of these rumours is. The chances are that one is bang on. If you give enough monkeys enough typewriters, they will write a correct transfer story on Goal.com.

The story with most smoke around it is the link to Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic. The most recent twist is that according to The Times Chelsea have entered the race. Wouldn’t it be just like Mourinho to announce his return to English football by ruining our transfer plans?

Anyhow, after that detour through the apparent rhetorical habits of footballers, back to matters closer to home. If Laurent Koscielny’s future seems safe, the same can’t be said for Bacary Sagna. The full-back insists that talks with Arsenal are ongoing, but the lack of progress is telling. I suspect the club are unwilling to provide Sagna with the length of deal he’ll be offered elsewhere. For a player who has suffered two broken legs inside two seasons, security will be paramount.

Arsenal may be faced with a choice: sell Sagna now, or allow him to hobble away on a Bosman in a year’s time. Personally, I hope they choose the latter of those two options. Sagna still has plenty to offer, and another season would help Arsene decide whether or not Carl Jenkinson is ready to inherit his first-team spot. What’s more, Sagna’s market value is not sufficiently high to demand selling now. It’s not like we’d be throwing £20m+ away, as with Nasri and Van Persie.

Sagna is French. So is Clement Grenier. As this article has worn on, you may have noticed that my links have become progressively more lazy. I wrote a brief scouting report on Grenier which you can find here. Grenier is a central attacking playmaker with the shuffling gait and effortless technical skill of Robert Pires. He is not, at first glance, the midfielder that we need.

Heading in to the window, many expected Arsenal to recruit a holding midfielder. Indeed, I mentioned a month or so ago that talks had taken place with the representatives of Grenier’s defensive-minded Lyon team-mate, Maxime Gonalons. Subsequent links with the likes of Victor Wanyama have strengthened the idea that Arsene Wenger is looking to add steel rather than sheen to his midfield.

However, perhaps the outstanding performances of Aaron Ramsey in that role have given Arsene pause for thought. In recent weeks, with Cazorla playing predominantly on the wing, the number 10 berth has been shared between Tomas Rosicky and  Jack Wilshere. Given the increasing age of the former and the fitness problems of both, perhaps recruiting a new playmaker wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.

We can but wait and see.