Date: 8th July 2008 at 7:39pm
Written by:

It is risky ground basing any piece on uncorroborated press quotes but avoiding the sensationalising aspects of some articles built around quotes taken out of context then in amongst the offerings of the last few days an interesting point is raised. Lost around the distorted stories purportedly bemoaning lack of transfer funds Wenger seemingly branded some players as mercenaries. ‘If I had the power to change anything in football, it would be the transfer system which makes mercenaries of players’ Wenger was quoted as saying ‘If they are bad ones they stay. If they are good, they think only of leaving’

In the equally distorted and roughly translated Hleb phone-in interview with the Belarussian media he was asked why he was thinking of leaving Arsenal given that sporting wise they could be considered a top club. His reply was I believe that world football has 10 top clubs, and when a couple of clubs are interested in you and offer better terms. Fair enough then a couple of clubs are offering him a better deal and being a mercenary he is looking to take advantage of it. How does he justify it? I believe that at my other place [presumably Stutgaart] would have been exactly the same. But Arsenal roads for me, I am grateful to Wenger for what he did for me. A bit quaint translated verbatim from Russian but what this seems to mean is that he left Stutgaart for much the same reason he is justifying now leaving Arsenal. Therein lies the paradox. If Hleb weren`t a mercenary then he wouldn`t be at Arsenal in the first place. Arsenal were able to offer him a better deal than he could get from Stutgaart.

It is true that changes in contract law makes it difficult to retain players, or at least those players you want to retain, but those players tend to be the mercenaries anyway. Is there any coincidence that the 3 wantaways this season Flamini, Hleb and Adebayor all came to us as mercenaries? The primary attraction may have been the glamour of a top club but the associated rewards were, undoubtedly, a motivation too. Those players who have been with us from a younger age such as Toure, Clichy and Cesc seem, for the present at least, to be more settled and willing to show greater commitment. Club lawyers will get better at drawing contracts with performance and loyalty bonuses geared to encouraging those we want to stay. But as things stand football needs its mercenaries and if anything many supporters are more irritated when we don`t seem to rush to import more of them.

Not all ‘imports’ are as mercenary as others. Some, and there are a number of honourable examples, will and do go on to become loyal servants to the club. But nurturing youngsters, whatever their nationality, and giving them a sense of place and purpose may be our best hope of rooting talent to the club. Arsenal has possibly the highest percentage of ‘homegrown` players in the premier league. While little can be guaranteed hopefully this may prove a significant factor in time. In the meantime we may not rely on mercenaries as much as some other clubs but they are, and will remain for some time still, a necessity.



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