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.


  1. Goons_with_Guns

    July 24, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Knew it was going to be a problem when Arsene sold Flamini AND Gilberto AND Diarra within six months.

    And we will continue to suffer until we replace someone with their quality.

    • natsteel

      July 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

      I sometimes wonder if Gilberto would’ve stayed if he had known that Flamini was leaving.

  2. kman

    July 24, 2009 at 11:44 am

    But the FACT is that they are all gone now…DONE.

    Why not look onwards and upwards instead of jabbing fingers at the past?

    We will sort out the midfield either with an acquisition or through internal resources…it’s just a matter of time. FACT.

    Why is it a FACT? Because we have ARSENE WENGER. And that is the only FACT we need right about now.

    COME ON YOU GUNNERS!!!!!!!!!!!

    • natsteel

      July 24, 2009 at 12:09 pm

      You are misreading my post. I am simply pointing out a mistake that Arsene made, which I was fully in support of at the time. I am trying to say that even though it was a big mistake in hindsight, it was a very tough call at the time.

  3. Gooner Chris

    July 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Hey Nat,

    Just wondering if you’d be available to write a few opinion pieces for Gooner Talk?

    Let me know if you can.



    • natsteel

      July 24, 2009 at 12:10 pm

      Chris, did you have a specific topic in mind?

  4. Tsokan

    July 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I luv ur comment,kman.No body in d team,bt Arsene is d man.Gunners 4 ever.

  5. mike

    July 24, 2009 at 2:09 pm





  6. soccerfanbase.com

    July 24, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t think Wenger is the one to be blamed in this situation. I am sure Wenger would want to spend if giving the cash but the truth is that we don’t have enough cash at the moment which is partly the reason why Flamini left.

    I miss him and sincerely believe he was part of the reason we did not win the league last season but I think it is time we moved on.

    • natsteel

      July 24, 2009 at 3:34 pm

      The preseason, when nothing much is going on, is the time to reflect on things like this. Especially in the wake of Adebayor’s leaving, considering we gave him the money that would’ve kept Flamini. I am not blaming Wenger at all. In fact, I said I supported his decision at the time. That’s my point, it was a very hard decision at the time. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake. We all make mistakes.

  7. Alan@India

    July 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    I actually have a different view to all this. I think if Hleb would have stayed and Rosicky remained injury-free , we wouldnt have missed Flamini as much.
    He is a great player I agree. And I , on the contrary was of the opinion that Ade should have been sold and Flamini offered the contract.(even then) But with Hleb away from the club and Rosicky injured. Also the Fabregas injury, I dont suppose we would be in a very different position now. The lack of creativity in midfield would still be there. The other players would be the same and this means we would still have lost control of possesion a lot.
    Just that we would definitely have had more money from selling Adebayor at the right time.

    • natsteel

      July 24, 2009 at 5:33 pm

      I understand your point, Alan. However, I think that with the addition of Nasri and especially Arshavin that Hleb has not been missed at all, especially after January. Yet it was the groping for and lack of a defensive midfielder in the form of Song, Denilson, Diaby, etc… that hurt this team the most and was the biggest difference between the 07-08 team which led the league for most of the season and the team from last year. Flamini was THAT difference.

      • Alan@India

        July 25, 2009 at 7:02 am

        I think Arshavin has filled the void that Hleb left. And in the second half of the season we did see good performances from Song and Denilson. Diaby has never impressed me.

        Nasri is more used to passing the ball as soon as he gets it , so I dont think he is in the same mould as Hleb. But he reminds me a lot of Pires.

        I would like not like to see Flamini back though. And I dont think Wenger has ever brought a player back to Arsenal.

        My worry is that the team now lacks a main striker. All of Van Persie, Bendtner,Eduardo,Vela, Arshavin are good as support strikers.

  8. nixon

    July 25, 2009 at 6:21 am

    arsenal quickly contact at huntiler.and sing huntlar.

  9. ibbs

    July 25, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Flamini was made to look good by other players around him just like Adebayor……calling Adebayor greedy and urging Wenger to but back FLAMONEY IS QUITE RICH.
    TYPICAL of arsenal fans though,Toure,Eboue,Song,Denilson, Silvestre al deserve better than these ungrateful fans.
    EVEN Henry has been abused….TYPICAL.

    • Josh

      July 25, 2009 at 7:26 am

      ya i agree i donno about toure becoz alot of fans seem to think he’s great(i dnt) but ya eboue and song and denilson and RLY silveste who was never even done anything wrong

    • natsteel

      July 25, 2009 at 8:47 am

      The article doesn’t urge Wenger to buy back Flamini at all. It simply makes a distinction between Flamini and Adebayor/Hleb’s post-transfer behavior.

  10. Josh

    July 25, 2009 at 7:25 am

    personally i think saying it was his worst mistake is abit much becoz anyone who insults wenger should try be arsenal manager and see how hard it acturally is and football/fifa manager dnt count as being a real manager, its pretty obvious he knows wat he’s doing becoz he going after that Real M striker guy who’s rly good aswell i think ur blaming not having a more defensive midfield as a excuse to not blame the defence 4 slacking and being plain useless and i am a full on gunner fan btw not just insulting them my message is flamini is gone so deal with it

    • natsteel

      July 25, 2009 at 8:49 am

      Saying that Arsene made a mistake is not in any way an INSULT. And perhaps you should read more than the title since you would see that what I actually say is that it was an extremely tough choice at the time and that I had agreed with what he did. The piece is written with hindsight and is in no way a slight on Arsene Wenger.

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