The transfer window shenanigans were madder than ever in the run up to 2 September in the Premier League. While most of the economy languishes in recession, the top football clubs, pumped up either by their oligarch benefactors and/ or the ever increasing TV money, looked to spend huge sums on new players, to boost their chances of a top four or six finish.
The biggest story was, of course, the sale of Gareth Bale by Spurs to Real Madrid. For around 100 million euros. Wow! Obscene really, but that’s football at the highest level. Spurs’ chairman hung on until the last moment to transact the deal, partly, I think, to try to sabotage any Arsenal deal with Real over any of their players. But it didn’t work, because the second biggest deal of the window was Arsenal’s. Totally out of character, as they splashed 50 million euros on the German playmaker, Mesut Ozil.
Ozil at Arsenal. That is so, so exciting! One of the world’s greatest attacking midfielders. A star in a brilliant German national team. The man who supplied more assists than anyone else to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Real team. Deemed surplus to requirements by the management, but not the players. Many have been lamenting his departure in the last few days. Wooed by Arsene Wenger, who could tell him, in German, how much he would be valued at Arsenal. How a team would be built around him…
Yes, Arsenal. My second team, by the way. West Ham is and always will be first. But when it comes to winning things, it’s Arsenal I find myself following. Just like my son, dad, father in law, brother in law. Except Arsenal haven’t won anything since the FA Cup in 2005. They have qualified for the Champions league every year though. And money-wise, that is what matters. On top of that they have built a new stadium – the magnificent Emirates Stadium – made money from the old site and basically set up a business model which is just now starting to pay dividends. They are in a sounder financial position than any other major club in England.
So now is the time for take off. And for the fans that is always about buying exciting new players. Arsenal don’t have a great track record of that in recent years . Their edgy fans have got edgier. And this summer looked for a while to be the least productive yet. A young striker from France, Sanogo, was for a long time, the only addition. The anti-Wenger faction – Arsene knows is no longer a consensus – were in full voice.
But at the last, they pulled it off. Mesut Ozil! What a buy.
Except, except, is that what Arsenal most needed? Another attacking midfielder? They’ve already got Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey, Walcott, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arteta. Ah yes, Arsene loves his attacking midfielders. Sticks a lot of them on the wing where they are less effective. Puts others in defensive midfield. The philosophy is that a good player can play anywhere. It’s not a bad philosophy, until you come up against the hard-nosed formations of Chelsea and Man City, with their two holding midfielders, or the dogs of war in teams like Everton and Stoke.
Most observers, and Arsenal fans too, recognised that what Arsenal needed to do was strengthen the spine. Keeper, centre back, defensive midfield, central striker. They didn’t do much of that - Flamini back from AC Milan on a free transfer, plus a reserve keeper, was all.
Instead they bought Mesut Ozil for £42m.
It’s a romantic deal. To hell with strengthening the spine – it’s OK already. Let’s go world class in the creative area. Inspire all the other, already excellent, players. Become the finest, most irresistible attacking team in the country again. The 1970 Brazil of the Premier League. Sweeping all before it, with its attacking prowess. No need to worry too much about defending. Attack is the best form of defence.
It’s a fabulous notion. I so hope it succeeds. But I fear the pragmatists – Mourinho, Moyes, so many of the bottom half managers – including my own Big Sam at West Ham of course – will find ways to stifle the creatives and exploit the weaknesses in that spine.
But let’s dream. Ozil inspires young Jack Wilshere to greater feats, slips those incisive passes to Walcott and Giroud and Podolski. Combines with Cazorla and Wilshere and Arteta in ways that you would only imagine possible at Barcelona, when Messi, Xavi and Iniesta get going. It’s possible. Arsenal could be the dream team.
That must be Arsene’s vision. He has staked his all on attack. He is the romantic. I’d so love to see him succeed. Wipe away all the cynicism, show that football in its most beautiful form can succeed outside Barcelona.
I’m not too optimistic, but I’m dreaming.