Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Pecking Order

So in an attempt to shore up an ailing defence with the riches they acquired from selling Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Arsenal have put in a bid for Bolton's Gary Cahill. 

Yes, this is the same Gary Cahill that has been linked with big-money moves to every Premiership club that has it to spend. Owen Coyle himself has valued Cahill as highly as £20 million, while some reports put him in the £15-16 million range.

Arsenal's bid? Supposedly, as low as £6 million.

Needless to say, this has caused quite the reaction. Owen Coyle described the bid by saying "derisory does not even cover it," while Arséne Wenger has defended himself with his typical self-righteousness. He firstly accused Bolton owner Phil Gartside of deliberately misinforming the public about the bid: "That number is completely wrong. If Gartside can say I am lying I am ready to confront him," Before going on to say: "If you ask do I want to buy your house and you are not happy with the price you say no, that's it."

This is doubtless a fair position to take, but Arsenal fans outraged at Barcelona's low offers for Cesc Fabregas should take note. This summer has seen Barcelona offer £27 million for Fabregas, which is, admittedly, a laughably low offer given the current state of the transfer market. That is only 4 million more than what Man City paid for Mario Balotelli, 8 million less than what Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll, and just over half what Chelsea paid for Fernando Torres - not to mention lower than what they were offering last summer.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle said the
offer for Cahill "wasn't in the right ball park".

It seems what we have here, then, is yet another example of the footballing pecking order. Barcelona are taking part in what is essentially an arms race with Real Madrid in their ludicrous attempts to outdo each other in the transfer market, as they both make marquee signing after marquee signing.  The signing of Fabregas is one of the greatest indicators of this, given that what Barcelona really needed this summer was defensive reinforcement  (maybe they should have gone for Cahill...).

Meanwhile, Bolton are a mid-table club looking to improve a little further. Since Gary Megson left, they've improved drastically and even gone some way to shaking off their stereotype of long-ball, ugly football. Between the two you have Arsenal; without doubt one of England's top clubs, and yet increasingly being left behind by an inability to keep up with Manchester United and Chelsea's spending - and with Manchester City finishing above them last season before improving their squad again, Arsenal are falling even further behind.

This is not the first time this summer that this has happened. Chelsea's opening bid of £22 million for Luka Modric was just as derisory as Arsenal and Barcelona's respective bids. That's the same thing:  the bigger, more successful club underestimating the resolve of the smaller.

Maybe it comes down to a simple business decision. Smaller clubs are generally less financially stable and often need the money that a big transfer would provide. To put into perspective just how significant player sales are for generating cash flow, take a look at Champions League earnings. Tottenham's Champions League campaign saw them gain around £27 million for reaching the quarter-finals.

This is, without doubt, a lot of money. But this was the result of the club's most successful league campaign since the 89/90 season and a Champions League campaign that saw them go further than could have been expected. Two seasons' worth of hard work, then, to make £27 million.

Barcelona's first offer for Fabregas this summer
was reportedly lower than last year.

...Alternatively, they could have accepted Chelsea's second offer for Modric, which was still thought of as a low valuation, and bring in the same amount of money. That's what we're talking about here. I'm not underestimating the effect of Champions League prize money (especially when you compare it to the pittance you get for playing the Europa League), but players are so overvalued, the market so distorted, that from a business perspective it's almost better to become a midtable Premier League club, that buys players before selling them off for a huge profit without ever achieving tangible on-pitch success than it is to go off on some romantic chase for success and risk potential financial problems.

So yes, maybe it is a bit of craft from chairmen, in the same way a club can expect to get players for cheaper than they normally would have done if their club goes into administration. But we are not dealing with clubs that have to sell here. We're not dealing with clubs that are fighting for survival. Arsenal and Bolton are financially stable, so that's not an issue. What is basically comes down to, then, is the big club hoping the smaller one will see the shiny money and salivate, before hastily accepting the offer. A bit like a teenager fooling a five-year-old into trading aluminium foil for a videogame. Sort of.

But what about when you get two big dogs? There seems to be a mutual respect there. For instance, Real Madrid's two massive signings in 2009 came from two established European powerhouses; they signed Kaka' from AC Milan for £56 million and Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for £80 million. Both times there were talks of negotiations, and even some complaints from Utd about the way Real Madrid were treating the transfer in the media - but no reports of a low bid. In fact, in the end the deals were well in excess of the players' "objective" worth (if such a thing exists).

Chelsea's £50 million signing of Torres was similar in that regard; Chelsea did have bids rejected, but they were for in excess of £35 million - which was not unfair given Torres' injury record, his form, and the fact that the ridiculous signings like that of Andy Carroll hadn't happened yet.

That's the food chain of football. The alphas, the big dogs, they will argue a little. They might bicker. Alex Ferguson might bring up your club's past links to a fascist regime. But when it comes to money on the table, a concrete bid, ultimately it seems to be at least somewhat respectful.  If you are perceived to be an inferior club, however, then good luck.

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