A weird thing happened this weekend, something that a lot of Arsenal fans missed because we spend so much time in our own Arsenal bubble. It happened during Southampton’s 3-1 win over Manchester City and no, I don’t mean Joe Hart’s error that led to Southampton’s goal or Gareth Barry’s own goal which sealed the win for the Saints. I talking about a substitution which didn’t happen.
See, Man City went to Southampton with the most expensive team ever assembled on English soil. Sheikh Mansour has already spent well over a billion dollars assembling that team. He pays a lot for the players and then pays them well, the best paid team in the Premier League costs him $310,000,000 a year in salary. And yet, with 7 players on the bench, Manchester City couldn’t name a single striker.
Man City’s bench consisted of Costel Pantilimon, Maicon, Kolarov, Kolo Toure, James Milner Scott Sinclair, and Jack Rodwell. That’s a keeper, two defenders, a defensive midfielder, and three mostly-attack-minded midfielders.
Man City’s manager, Roberto Mancini looked up at the scoreboard, then down the line at his bench and with his team down 3 goals to 1, made three changes: James Milner, Maicon, and Kolarov. That’s an attack minded midfielder and two defenders.
The reason City got into this situation is because they have had problems with the attitude of certain players. Carlos Tevez was one of Man City’s first “big name” signings. They spent lavishly on him and touted him as the symbol of the shift in power from the red side to the blue side of Manchester.
But trouble has always followed Tevez and even with an enormous pay packet Carlos Tevez couldn’t buy what he needs to keep him happy. West Ham are still paying for their encounter with Tevez. Tevez saved them from relegation but because his ownership was muddied, making him ineligible to play in the Premier League, Sheffield United felt like they were relegated unfairly in 2007 and sued the Hammers. Sheffield United won the suit and the Hammers will make their last payment of £6m to Sheffield United in June.
Tevez wasn’t in the City team to face the Saints for “personal reasons”. A tune all too familiar to Man City fans who suffered through a year where Carlos played golf instead of football.
But City started the season with a plethora of talented strikers. They had Dzeko, the 12th man of the season last year, Kun Aguero (their leading goal scorer), Carlos Tevez, and Mario Balotelli — an insanely talented forward. But Balotelli was sold to AC Milan in January, Tevez sat out for personal reasons, and suddenly even the mighty Manchester City, with coffers full of gold, could only muster a substitution of two defenders and James Milner.
If anything this shows me how difficult it is to get this balancing game of players and playing time right. You can’t simply look at the world’s best strikers and say that Arsenal should sign them. You can, of course, but I suspect that you’d admit that you’re living in a fantasy world.
Whenever I write a transfer story I’m cognizant that what I’m really doing is providing you with a fantasy. Something that you can get excited about but which probably will never come true. This January there was the supposed £30m “activation fee” for Mario Goetze, or me comparing Edinson Cavani’s stats with some other player’s stats but really when it gets right down to it, it’s all fantasy.
Transfer stories are porn for sports fans. They are a carefully constructed fantasy world, full of perfect physical specimens, divorced from human emotion, and abstracted from the gritty reality of having to deal with real human interaction. “Can I fix your pipes?” becomes “Can I score some goals for you?” and “Can I head the ball away time and again, keeping clean sheet after clean sheet?”
Like the simplicity of sex in porn, we imagine our team just buying these players and then imagine these players performing physical acts for our team that will bring us to the climax of lifting a trophy.
Sadly, the reality is that even the richest owners in the world can’t just buy whomever they want and when they do they can’t keep the players they have happy, despite paying them a king’s ransom. That’s the reality of transfers and that’s the reality of porn; real people are messy. They have problems that even money can’t overcome.
I’m not saying that I don’t like a good transfer story or that I don’t think Arsenal should buy some players this summer. I’m just saying that I know the difference between reality and porn. And reality is that even Manchester City have difficulty keeping their bench stocked with top talent this season.
And we expect Arsenal to have 3 Cavanis? Fantasy.