This is not a transfer speculation piece, but it was inspired by a transfer speculation!
Rumours surrounding Petr Cech’s future have been gathering pace over the last few days; I don’t follow transfer news on mainstream media but I do come across tweets multiples times a day speculating on transfers while quoting news sources.
One such tweet today mentioned Chelsea wanting a homegrown player in exchange for Cech otherwise the deal won’t take place.
I’m not going to speculate whether or not this is true; but it certainly made sense that Chelsea would ask for such an exchange. More importantly, I feel, it is reflective of what the potential downside of, what I’ll refer to as, the ‘Abramovich model’ football clubs.
This is quite a spur of the moment post so I’ll try to give it some flow and structure, please bear with me!
To play or not to play?
We have heard Jose Mourinho talk about how he has been envious of Wenger for having a board that is very patient i.e. waiting so long for success. Whether or not there’s a hint of sarcasm in those statements is not important. Mourinho truly hasn’t had that privilege, and why should he have?
Every team, barring Porto, which he has managed, has invested vast amounts of money in players to bring instant success. It’s a very business-like approach; you expect high returns from high investments in a short amount of time.
Managers of such clubs will undoubtedly be under pressure to deliver results every single season. What’s the easiest way to try to achieve those results? Buy proven talent.
Whether or not that always works is debatable because, of course, proven talent is not the only factor that contributes to success; but, that’s a separate discussion.
Managers of such clubs will prioritize playing time for proven squad members because it minimizes the risk of losing games while increasing the probability of winning them.
Who loses out from this approach? Youth development loses out.
Despite significant investment in youth academies, the product isn’t coming through. Why should it come through? Why would I, as a manager of an Abramovich model club, allocate playing time to players who are not proven when I need to deliver results?
The problem, though, for a manager of such a club is the homegrown player rule(s). There is a requirement to have a certain number of homegrown players in the first-team squad. What will the manager do? He hasn’t bothered giving anyone a chance till now and doesn’t want to ‘waste’ a spot in the squad to unproven talent. That’s when we see signings such as Scott Sinclair to Manchester City, take place.
If this rumour about Chelsea wanting a homegrown player as part of the exchange is true, it’s reflective of a sad state of affairs. The Blues have several youngsters who have performed well on loan; but, once again, Mourinho would want someone proven at the top level. One can’t blame Mourinho for this; it’s the owners to blame. Either way, it’s not necessarily good for Chelsea or English football for that matter.
The Wider Picture
From a broader perspective, this is detrimental for English football. There were many debates surrounding suggestions that the allocation of homegrown players be increased rather than investment in grass-roots football. Personally I’m in favor of the latter; but, I can speculate as to why the former was suggested.
It’s the easy way out for the FA. It will place the onus of development on clubs. Clubs will be forced to invest in youth development not only to ensure they meet the rules; but, in order to compete effectively both domestically and on the continent, they’ll need to ensure that product coming through is top quality.
Despite there being an indication that the required allocation of homegrown players in the first team squad may be increased; the Abramovich model clubs are still being short-sighted and think that buying homegrown players is the solution! It may work now but, in the future, clubs will be more reluctant to let go of such talent because they’ll have their own squad requirements to meet. What will these Abramovich model clubs do then?
Even if the FA says fine, let’s not increase the allocation just yet; let’s invest in grass-roots football first. Let’s commit to a drive to have more qualified coaches in England. With such a large-scale investment in developing footballers, it is bound to be followed by an increase in allocation of homegrown players.
So far I have only discussed footballing downsides of being an Abramovich model club when it comes to youth development. Let’s quickly look at the non-footballing aspects that can be a detriment as well.
When Football is more than just Money
I would like to single out Arsenal but I think there are plenty of other clubs who have had players that have put in maximum effort week-in-week-out just because of their emotional attachment to the club. Play for the badge as they say. Liverpool has certainly reaped the benefit of having Gerrard in their ranks over the years. That’s just one example.
Motivation to play for the badge is one thing, motivation to actually want to join the club as a youngster is another. If I’m a talented youngster, with an option to join any academy I like, why would I join a Chelsea or a Manchester City? Why not Southampton or Arsenal where I’m more likely to be selected in the first team squad if I develop?
If the Abramovich model clubs continue as is, perhaps their will be a decline in better prospects signing up at their academies.
Club Culture and Identity
I personally believe that players that come through the ranks help form or maintain a certain identity of the club. It’s something that fans resonate with and helps attracts more supporters.
Arsenal, to me, is a club that is about history, tradition, professionalism, fantastic football, self-sufficient, and integrity. I’m an international Gooner and I’m sure Gooners who have grown up in England probably see more to Arsenal than I do.
Look at players like Adams, Dixon, Bould, Winterburn, Parlour, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere; they reflect those traits. I’m sure the older fans could name plenty of players from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, who were a reflection of the values of the club.
I wouldn’t be surprised if aspiring footballers also prioritized the clubs they want to play for based on this factor – what a club represents – as well. If they’re too young to think along those lines, then surely their parents put in a word in or two?
Yes it took quite a number of years for Arsenal to win some trophies but we have. At a time when prices for players are quite ridiculous, to say the least, developing young talent becomes even more important.
If Arsenal were to compete directly with Chelsea, City, PSG, etc. for a certain player; we can only hope that money is among the lower priorities for the player and he’ll sign for us. Otherwise there is no way we will try to match the bid that the richer clubs will place. Nor should we do so. I still can’t get over David Luiz going for 50m! Andre Schurrle for 25m also seemed quite a bit considering he didn’t do THAT much at Chelsea.
Dave Seager (@GoonerDave66) has written a series of really good posts on how things can work out even if Arsenal does not sign anyone. Can you imagine that? I can. The talent that we have at our disposal, especially the youngsters, has kept me relatively calm. No, it doesn’t mean we can’t improve; of course we can. However, we are not in a position like when Cesc and Nasri left and we had absolutely no quality cover.
Wenger has managed to not only ensure that talent has developed and come through the ranks; but, also manage to retain them. They want to play for Arsenal.
Wrapping it Up
I’ll end this by expressing some gratitude for the Arsenal management for having a long term view of matters. Fellow blogger @AFC_ChrisGooner wrote a fantastic, detailed piece, on Arsenal’s investments which reflect their long-term thinking; I strongly recommend you give it a read.
I hope the new money clubs take heed and become more patient; not only for themselves but also for football in England. I’m not English, but spent 10 years in a British school so I do support England – not passionately of course – and would like to see quality talent come through as the likes of Spain and Germany have seen.
Lastly, if you have any thoughts or comments then do share them, I always reply (hint: check the ‘notify me of follow-up comments by email’ box). Or you can tweet me and we can attempt a discussion limited by 140-character statements!