Category Archives: Transfers


Schneiderlin to United and Pedro to Chelsea: A Woman’s Touch?

One thing I wanted to touch on in yesterday’s article on Arsenal being in the third tier of the transfer market is about transfer stories and how there is an incestuousness about the market that many fans seem to forget.

One of the most pernicious problems with transfer reports is that journalists are often given scoops which further the client’s purposes. Fans take these scoops and run with them as fact that their club was interested and when the player doesn’t sign for their club, fans feel like “their club could have done more” or worse, that management is inept.

But agents will often give journalists information about a club like Arsenal contacting them because they want to use that link to further their bargaining position with the club that their player is currently negotiating with. Arturo Vidal did this with Juventus, a few years back, eventually securing a larger contract with the Old Grey Lady and leaving Arsenal fans feeling like their club didn’t do enough to land the player.

The role that agents play in a player’s career and life is often gravely understated, as is the role that money plays in these transactions. A great example of that is the Morgan Schneiderlin transfer saga from the last two years. This summer Philippe Auclair tweeted:

You can read this tweet two ways: Schneiderlin genuinely wanted to come to Arsenal but his agents hate Arsenal and Schneiderlin listens to his agents or that his agents were feeding this information to reporters so that they could improve their bargaining position with United and get a larger pay packet and media rights deal. In the end, Schneiderlin signed for United, United paid £150k a week for his services, and Morgan Schneiderlin chose the club which will pay him handsomely, and which will increase his global marketability, thus leading to even more money in endorsements.

I admit I read Auclair’s tweet the first way this summer. That stems from the fact that Schneiderlin’s agents are Gervinho’s agents and we know that Gervinho and Arsenal don’t see eye-to-eye over his time at the club. But it also stems from my desire to want Schneiderlin to want us.

Schneiderlin is one of the cool kids. He’s a terrific player and he would help our club. I want the cool kids to want to be in my club. And here is the cool kid saying “I’d join your club, but my agent advises me against it.” It’s the perfect scenario: I still get to pine for Schneiderlin, because he didn’t do anything wrong, and I get to blame either his agents (which is where I would go) or the Arsenal management (“for not trying hard enough” which is where others go). But what if Arsenal were never really a consideration?

Remember when Robin van Persie left Arsenal because he “didn’t agree with the direction of the club”? And when he went to United, he won the League, and many people said he fulfilled his dream. But there was another side to that transfer that people just don’t want to hear: by his third year at United, Robin van Persie was making $75m a season – making him one of the highest paid footballers in the world. Not just in salary, but in Salary, endorsements, and all the other perks that come with being a star player on a club like Man U.

When I say that Arsenal are a third tier transfer team, that’s what I’m talking about. Did Schneiderlin go to United because he longed to play for the notoriously grumpy van Gaal on a team that was struggling in the Champions League? Or was it because his agents and Arsenal didn’t get along? Or was it because including pay packet and endorsements, Arsenal couldn’t really compete financially with what Man U offer? And do I change my story now, because he’s a United player?

Other times journalists are given inside information in order to further the agenda of a club. Oliver Kay’s article on how Chelsea stole Pedro is one of those times.

First Kay accuses United of having a problem with “Hispanic” players in a few uncomfortable paragraphs:

it is fair to say that Hispanic footballers are not exactly thriving in Manchester under Van Gaal. Valdés joined United in January as a potential successor to David De Gea but is now surplus to requirements after falling out with Van Gaal over his refusal to play in an under-21 match; Rafael da Silva and Nani were sold, along with Ángelo Henríquez and Bebé; Ángel Di María quickly fell out of favour after a British record £59.7 million move from Real Madrid; Radamel Falcao’s loan move from Monaco did not work out.

De Gea wants to join Real, as almost every Hispanic player does, and has left Van Gaal convinced that he is not in the right frame of mind to play unless he is still at United when the transfer window closes; Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira remain, but there is a certain disenchantment among some of the Spanish and South American contingent at Old Trafford.

That’s an incredible bit of journalism right there. I’m not one to take van Gaal’s side but citing Bebe, Henriquez, Nani, and da Silva as evidence that there’s a problem with “Hispanic” players and van Gaal, which then casts an almost racist tone over the whole dealings, is disingenuous at best. As for Falcao and Valdes, the evidence had long been clear before they signed that they were washed up. Di Maria is the only player who washed out at United under van Gaal, de Gea would be a starter if he hadn’t had his head turned by Real Madrid.

Kay’s lede, though, is the claim that Chelsea have a female “middle-man” (and Cesc’s girlfriend) who brokers these deals:

…a £21.1 million deal presented by Marina Granovskaia, the director, with a little help from Cesc Fàbregas and his girlfriend, Daniella Semaan.

For all the focus on José Mourinho and Roman Abramovich, it is Granovskaia, operating on the level between manager and owner, who has turned Chelsea from a club heavily reliant on agents to one who get their transfer business done quickly and, in many cases, far more privately and decisively than their rivals…

For Chelsea’s success in landing the player for what looks a reasonable fee, Granovskaia deserves much of the credit. The estrangement of Eva Carneiro, previously the first-team doctor, might have led some to accuse Chelsea of sexual discrimination, but this is a rare football club where, increasingly, a woman calls the shots.

It couldn’t be any clearer that this article was fed to Kay by Chelsea’s PR department. The story here is that United are “anti-Hispanic” and that Chelsea are “pro-woman.”

Chelsea have suffered the slings and arrows of their outrageous manager in the wake of his benching Eva Carneiro, who was promoted at the behest of Granovskaia, and along comes this story about the massive gazumping of their title rivals, which was conveniently brokered by Cesc’s girlfriend and a female executive.

Oliver Kay is the Chief Football Correspondent for the Times, a paper of record, and this article was his scoop. This is transfer journalism, folks.



If the players are available Wenger will buy them

Yesterday, I tweeted something that just seemed like common sense to me:

If a striker was available, who wanted to come to Arsenal, that Arsenal could afford, and who was better than Giroud, Wenger would buy him.

You could add other qualifiers like “and had the right attitude” or “proven to be a hard worker on and off the pitch” and “doesn’t get into a sword fight with a taxi in Copenhagen” but in general, I think this is how Arsenal’s transfer strategy works.

That belief comes from watching Wenger over the last few years. If players are available in the positions he’s interested in and if they are better than our current players he has no problem spending the money. Özil came in and immediately ousted Cazorla from the attacking midfield role and, contrary to the old chestnut that Wenger wouldn’t want to “kill” a player, even pushed Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey out of the attacking mid role.

Last year, Wenger went two steps further and landed Alexis among other players, many of which were bought in order to upgrade on Arsenal’s existing squad. Alexis upgrades all of Arsenal’s front line attackers. Debuchy was a replacement for Sagna but Chambers was bought as an upgrade on Jenkinson. Wenger also brought in several players on a gamble, to see if they could break into the first team. I count Welbeck and Gabriel in that group.

And this season, Wenger finally broke down and bought an upgrade on ‘keeper by landing Petr Cech. Wenger had tried (Schwarzer) and tried to get one in but the deals kept breaking down for one reason or another. Usually because the team in question simply refused to deal with Wenger and Arsenal.

DM is just behind ‘keeper in Wenger’s list of desires it seems. Just llike ‘keeper, Wenger has famously tried to land a big name DM but they player (or his agent as is the case with Schneiderlin and Gustavo) refused the deal. I suspect that like ‘keeper, Wenger is looking but having a hard time finding the guy who fits all the criteria I listed above.

The misstep in logic is to see a player’s name appear in the transfer rumor page and think that means he’s both available and wants to join Arsenal (for fans of other clubs reading this, insert your club here). Just because Pedro went to Chelsea, and even given the fact that he switched from Man U to Chelsea at the last minute, doesn’t mean that Wenger wanted or needed him at Arsenal or that the player wanted to go to Arsenal. It’s a huge leap in logic to go from “well, he was sold” to “we could have bought him, if we (showed the right ambition, paid more money, offered the player better terms, has a better negotiating team, scouted him earlier, tried to get our transfer business done sooner, and the myriad of reasons why people complain about transfers).

There is another misstep in logic which happens all the time: X player is better than Y. I heard that all morning regarding Giroud and Dzeko. But if you look at things objectively, how much of an upgrade is Dzeko?

Giroud: transfer £13m, salary £80k/wk, 137 games, 59 goals, 0.43 gpg
Dzeko: transfer £27m, salary £130k/wk, 189 games, 72 goals, 0.38 gpg

Dzeko didn’t play as many minutes as Giroud, so, he ended up with a decent minutes per goal of 153 (all competitions),  but Giroud isn’t far behind him with a goal every 167 minutes (all competitions). That works out to 6 goals difference between the two players over 189 games or 11,020 minutes. And for what City have paid for Dzeko, you really have to ask “was he worth that much more?” Double? No.

It’s another leap in logic to see that player’s name linked to Arsenal and think that means he wants to join Arsenal. Player’s agents often use the papers to get a link to a big club in order to secure a bigger deal than they would have. 

The problem at Arsenal is one similar to the problem at a club like Man U. United’s recent transfer struggles are proof that even a club with endless amounts of money and a recent history of winning trophies, along with Champions League football can still be “gazumped” by a rival club like Chelsea. It’s no coincidence that the Pedro saga is being reported as one of dithering on the part of Man U, or of perhaps Cesc Fabregas’ girlfriend tapping up Pedro, United being cheap, and even that Chelsea’s females lured Pedro away from the “Hispanic” hating van Gaal and over to Chelsea. The press love these narratives because they can throw them out there as “opinion” and let the conjecture lie in the minds of the fans.

The problem is that there are really only three clubs who can land any player they want — Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich — but fans of Arsenal (and all of the clubs below those three) feel like they are in that elite group. We aren’t. We aren’t even close. I think that after the big three, there are the big money clubs — Man City, Chelsea, and PSG — and below them are the clubs with a pretty big draw but who aren’t at the level of a club like Bayern Munich — Arsenal, Man U, and to a lesser extent, Liverpool. I know that we like to think that Arsenal are “the greatest club, the world has ever seen” but by any objective measure we aren’t.

If you’re a club below the top three you have three choices: spend a shedload of money gathering a supersquad of mercenary players, do a constant rotation of expensive players kind of like a compost heap, or buy a little bit more wisely, wait for the really good players to be available and willing, and build slowly.

Which is what Arsenal are doing. They are looking for players who are available, who want to come to Arsenal, that Arsenal could afford, and who are better than our current players. If that player exists, Wenger will buy him.

I would like improvements, there are plenty of roster places we could improve, but I don’t think Wenger is blind, or stupid, or lacks ambition, or won’t spend the money or any of the countless calumnies people cast at him and the team. I firmly believe the players just aren’t there for us right now. Maybe they will be tomorrow. Maybe that guy on TalkSport is right and Arsenal had a £48m bid for Benzema accepted and we are going to have Benzema at Arsenal next season.

In the mean time it’s probably best not to look at other team’s transfers and assume that we could have had that player. Because even the mighty Man U, a team with a recent history of winning and a huge stack of cash, can’t just get any player they want. We’ve seen that time and again over the last three years.


How to read Kyrchowiak’s stats, would he be good for Arsenal, and is he worth €30m?

ESPN is reporting that the Telegraph is reporting that Arsenal sent scouts to Georgia (khachapuri not banjos) to watch Grzegorz Krychowiak play for Sevilla in the UEFA SuperCup match against Barcelona. Maybe Arsenal were there to scout Krychowiak and maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were there to scout Kychowiak’s teammate, Ever Banega. Or his other teammate, the little known forward “Reyes”. Or maybe they were there to scout Pedro or his teammate Lionel Messi. Arsenal send scouts to all of these kinds of games so, we could be after Krychowiak or not. We don’t know. We do know that reports are reporting that scouts were scouting.

We also know that Sevilla just paid €3.5M for Krychowiak and that they want €30m for him this season, after winning the UEFA Cup in his first season with the team. That’s a fairly steep price increase for a player who has really only had one good season in his career. But the Sevilla supporters consider him and Ever Banega the two most irreplaceable players on the team and it looks like Arsenal would have to pay the full release clause to get Krychow. So, take this article less as a “Arsenal are after Krychowiak” and more as a pointer for how to look at player’s stats in the future.

On first glance at Krychowiak’s numbers he looks like exactly the kind of midfielder Arsene would never buy: 13 yellow cards last season and a poor passing percentage of just 80%. After last weekend’s display, where players were simply passing the ball out of bounds, Wenger, the pass master, doesn’t need another waster in midfield. But you have to read stats in context and in this case the context is telling me that Krychowiak isn’t as bad a passer as that 80% shows.

So, first, passing stats are not individual stats — a pass requires two players€ — and super high passing percentages — like Cazorla’s 90+% — requires a specific team set up. If a team is a counter attacking team, they will almost certainly have low passing percentages across the board. If a team is a possession team, they will almost certainly have high passing percentages across the board.

In Krychowiak’s case, Sevilla is a 76% passing team and their best passing player was Ever Banega who completed just 82.5% of his passes last season.

Krychowiak was also a long ball merchant for Sevilla. He attempted 6.3 long passes per game and completed just 3.7. That’s 58% and that’s pretty poor. Though, again, in context, Sevilla is just a 45% long ball team. To put that further into context, Coquelin completed 60% of his long balls and Arsenal were a 50% long ball team.

Krychowiak, then, is one of the most accurate passers on a team that doesn’t pass the ball very well and who attempt a lot of long passes which go errant often. I have no doubt that if Arsenal were to buy him, his passing numbers would change to reflect Arsenal’s superior talent and team set up which encourages short, accurate passing.

What is exciting about Krychowiak’s stats is that he was 4th in La Liga in tackles per game (3.3) and 17th in interceptions per game (3). He was also an 80% tackler on a 76% tackling team. Again, in comparison, Coquelin was a 71% tackler on a 75% tackling team.

Tackle numbers are, like passing, one of the most misread stats in football. A player making a lot of tackles is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, a tackle is the last resort and usually indicates that the defender is out of position and had to get back and make a challenge. Tackles are also problematic because if you miss the tackle, you’re out of the play.  And finally, if a player is making a lot of tackles it usually means that the opposition team is targeting him for dribbling. They sense a weakness there.

But Krychowiak’s tackling numbers are excellent. 80% tackling, despite being challenged over 4 times a game, is indicative of a player who tackles well — in La Liga. There is no telling how well he will tackle in the Premier League: Alex Song was a 75% tackler at Barcelona (2/2.6) and a 61% tackler at West Ham (3.3/5.4) and a 67% tackler (2.9/4.3) in his last season at Arsenal. Coquelin is pretty excellent for Arsenal and he made just 74% of his tackles last season.

And finally, Krychowiak is able to play in several positions and in fact, played center back in the SuperCup match against Barcelona according to the UEFA official team sheets. In that match he complete 90% of his passes as well going 35/39. He was 4/5 long passing, 26/26 medium passing, but 5/8 short. I didn’t see the game but from the stats it looks like he was helpful to Sevilla going forward but made some pretty basic passing errors with some short balls. He also got an early yellow card which limited him and he was part of a center back pairing which conceded 5 goals. Of course it was five goals to Barcelona, but still.

Funny enough, Ever Banega’s stats line against Barcelona was wildly impressive: led Sevilla in touches, 97; 2 dribbles, 2 key passes, 2 shots, both on target, one for a goal; led the team in tackles, with 4; and was 8 for 12 long balls. Maybe Arsenal’s scouts will report back to Wenger, “yeah we went to see Kry, but came back impressed with Ever.”

What’s his release clause?