Project Youth – Can Arsenal learn from the The LA Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA??

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Lakers Project Youth – Anthony Davis

It was interesting to see that no more than a few hours after the Toronto Raptors sealed a (pre)historic NBA Championship over Golden State, that the LA Lakers – a team that has missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season and been all but irrelevant for quite a while, sent shock waves through the sport to seal the signature of Anthony Davis.

The Lakers have been out of sorts for years now and despite the acquisition of LeBron James last year, there seemed to be no cohesive plan to get the most out of him. Sound familiar?

Anthony Davis, a 6ft 10 power forward who is 8 years LeBron’s junior is a two-fold signing. Firstly, he will be used in tandem with LeBron to get the best out of the king. Secondly, when LeBron hangs up his jersey, Davis will be the man whom the Lakers will build their franchise around.

The aspect of this trade that interests me the most is not Davis or his effects on LeBron but the team Davis was acquired from and at what cost. The New Orleans Pelicans agreed to trade six-time All-Star Anthony Davis to the LA Lakers but only after extracting maximum value for their prized asset.

In return for Davis, the Pelicans received point guard Lonzo Ball, forward Brandon Ingram, shooting guard Josh Hart and three first-round draft choices. What is even more impressive is that Davis has made no secret of his apathy at the club. Despite having cut a sorry figure since January, when a late move for him fell through, the Pelicans still managed to shaft the La Lakers with a huge bill.

These names may ultimately mean little to the everyday football fan. The trading system in the NBA is far removed from that of the football world and the draft pick system makes it a far more intriguing prospect than simply whoever has the most money gets the best player. Regardless of this – clubs outside of the elite could learn a lesson from how the Pelicans not only accepted this trade but invited it.

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Pelicans Project Youth – Lesson for Gunners?

The Pelicans have strengthened three key positions and secured a number of first round draft-picks. While this is no guarantee of success – it is apparent that the Pelicans have a game plan of developing a young and exciting roster that will hopefully challenge the status quo.

Herein lies the lesson. The Pelicans will never have the fire-power or the same appeal as the LA Lakers. But they have recognised the NBAs trade market is quickly shifting. As such, they see their route to success through the hunger and desire of young talent rather than the presence of one or two star names.

Last year, the Toronto Raptors made the difficult decision to trade fans’ favourite Demar Derozan for the hugely talented but yet unproven Kahwi Leonard on a one year deal. The trade was a success. The Raptors overcame an all-star team, one that was admittedly hamstrung due to injuries, by assembling a roster of hungry and talented players to become the first team outside of the United States to win the NBA Championship.

However, with Leonard under no contractual obligation to stay – he is free to start negotiating with any of the other franchises, the Raptors face losing the man integral to this year’s success only 12 months after he agreed to join them. While this may sting Raptors fans, it is more of a dark lining on a silver cloud.

The trade window in the NBA is developing at a frantic pace with players taking shorter contracts in the hopes of having an impressive season and securing a lucrative move elsewhere. It’s a risky business but one that smaller franchises may take advantage of.

And this is something that I believe will soon start to seep into football. Players and agents may begin to negotiate shorter contracts in the belief that one or two seasons in a particular league may persuade a larger club to take a calculated risk on them. Particularly if their contract is drawing to a close.

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Expensive youth?

The transfer market in world football is becoming something of a supernova – it is reaching the astronomical climax of its life and is on the brink of a titanic explosion. A few years ago, clubs had to rethink their philosophy of release clauses after PSG paid Barcelona what they had originally intended to be an unfathomable figure. Joao Felix is similarly on the brink of having his release clause met – €120 million. One would presume that Benfica would be delighted with such a price but the reality is that a player of his talent will most likely double in price in a couple of years. Such is the crazy of the market it is a brave person who would bet on the next big signing but many will and Sporticos is known as a hot prediction site.

With elite clubs having a devil-may-care attitude to transfer fees, more clubs are going to start taking risks on younger, unknown talent in the hope of unearthing hidden gems. In order to attract the right calibre of player while still remaining in the black, contracts will need to be lucrative but short. This comes with its own risks – but perhaps the risk of losing a great player on a free is far more desirable than having swathes of mediocrity on long term contracts.

Arsenal are a club who could benefit from such an approach. Although the club are yet to venture into the transfer market, the names being cited suggest the Gunners are no longer dining at the top table. Names like Saliba, Praet, Neres propounds the belief that the Gunners are having another go at project youth.   

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Is Emery signing up for Project Youth?

To some, this may infuriate. To others, I believe it will be a welcome change. The club has needed an injection of youth and desire for a number of years. The first attempt at project youth (under Wenger) almost succeeded. But the protective nature of the manager allowed players to languish instead of thrive and the weak will of the board made them stick instead of twist.

The transfer market is in a state of flux, perhaps even on the precipice of a collapse. This does not mean that it is broken – simply that the rules have changed. Learn those rules quickly and a seat at the top table may not be far beyond the grasp.

 

Til next time,

JR

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