Arsene’s Biggest Mistake

By on July 24, 2009

Those who know me know that I am an unqualified supporter of Arsene Wenger. However, that does not mean that I am beyond questioning his choices both on the pitch and in the transfer market. From this golden perch known as hindsight, we can all see that one decision in late May/early June of 2008 has had a profound and likely lasting effect on the fortunes of Arsenal Football Club. It was then that Arsene, seemingly with the financial ability to choose only one option, made perhaps his biggest mistake as Arsenal manager by deciding to renegotiate Adebayor’s contract for a pay rise rather than give Flamini the deal that he felt he deserved.

It would be a bit much to completely excoriate Arsene or the Board’s decision because at the time it was, admittedly, a very difficult choice. This was before all the Spanish shenanigans so excellently re-chronicled on Arseblog this morning. It was also following a season in which Adebayor had scored 30 goals in 48 appearances. And many people, including me, felt that, between the two, it would be much easier to replace a defensive midfielder than a 30-goal scorer. Oh, how we, and Arsene, were wrong.

The prime consideration for the Board at the time was the wage structure at the club. Flamini was reportedly seeking £70,000 a week and Arsenal were willing to give him a new contract at £50,000. He apparently came up with this self-valuation by calculating the probable cost of replacing him, which he pegged at £20m. There was also the somewhat less convincing argument that Flamini felt sorely underappreciated. Considering that he had been ready to walk out on the club the summer before his emergence and that he had only finally come good in his fourth year at the club, this seemed a little over the top.

It seemed to me at the time that Flamini was just as upset about not being offered a deal back in November or December as he was about the proposed salary. At the time, he was playing a big role on the pitch but he had only been a regular in the starting XI for a few months. The rumours of proposed moves to Juventus and AC Milan began a few weeks before the winter transfer window opened and that speculation hung over the club for the rest of the season. By the end of May, I still thought that Flamini would eventually accept the near 100% pay rise offered, but, of course, he did not.

Back when Adebayor was poor.

Back when Adebayor was poor.

Meanwhile, Adebayor got his second contract in as many summers. We will probably never know for certain whether Arsene always expected to plug Song or Denilson into Flamini’s vacated spot or if he truly believed he would be able to find and secure a replacement. But, as rumour after rumour came and went and Arsenal offers were rebuffed by clubs and players, the man the Boss had chosen over Flamini was well on his descent before eventually crashing and burning.

The rumours surrounding Adebayor and a move to Barcelona or AC Milan continued even after he signed the new contract and the player’s total lack of understanding for the media and the supporters only made it worse. Adebayor lost the supporters last summer and he never won them back. The Football Focus interview now seems to be the final nail in the coffin he had building for the last 12-14 months. Now, today he is in The Times blaming Arsenal supporters for his departure:

“The way the fans behaved towards me was not nice at all. I can’t understand why they were after me. I did my best for them and I was very happy there. I scored 30 goals in a season – it’s not my fault that Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid wanted to sign me. In any summer, Barcelona try to sign Cesc Fabregas. But the fans never turned on him.”

It just shows how little understanding he has of the relationship between supporters and their club and its players. Whenever the Barcelona rumours pop up lately, a statement from Cesc comes up on Arsenal.com within a day or so declaring his loyalty and allegiance to the club. The thing that Adebayor doesn’t understand is that Cesc doesn’t even have to do that much. But he goes out of his way to assure the supporters and that’s why he will be loved long after he eventually goes back to Spain. but Adebayor couldn’t even do the minimal, which would have been to keep his mouth shut. Instead, he makes those ridiculous “Beyonce” quotes and has his picture taken in Spain for an interview wherein he seems ignorant or oblivious to the fact that he is being played by the Catalan media. Adebayor apparently can’t understand why, after suffering a stressful summer in which Flamini and Hleb left, Arsenal fans were upset with his conduct and his “I-was-on-vacation” excuses for not addressing the rumours.

One can only imagine how different last season may have turned out had Arsenal taken the money for Adebayor last summer and used it to give Flamini his new and well-deserved deal. Unlike Flamini, Alexander Hleb is disliked by many Arsenal supporters because not only did he leave after Flamini, but, once at Barcelona, was regularly talking in the press about Arsenal and how he had called Cesc about coming to Barcelona. The rumour from a few weeks ago about Barcelona offering us Hleb back along with Gudjohnsen for Cesc is absolutely laughable. Hleb and Adebayor could never come back after what he’s done. However, considering his behavior following his departure, I would gladly welcome Flamini back home.