Having entered the final 12 months of his Arsenal contract, reports suggest that Theo Walcott has now rejected Arsenal’s final offer of a renewal, said to be worth around £75k per week. For Wenger, the situation must be painfully reminiscent of negotiations with Ashley Cole several years ago, when the former Arsenal left-back moved across London to Chelsea.
Cole and Walcott are not the only players in recent years to turn their backs on Arsenal and Wenger: most have cited reasons other than money, but the déjà vu for the club’s manager must persist. Wenger’s mantra as a manager is to sign young players and help their development, giving them time to perform where clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea would allow them to rot in the reserves at the first sign of a poor performance.
Arsenal, in spite of several forays into the market this summer, will never spend money to rival Manchester City and Chelsea, at least not whilst Wenger remains at the helm. In 15 years in England, Wenger has consistently unearthed rough diamonds, polishing them and reaping the rewards.
That was, at least, until a few seasons ago. Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry had all struggled in Italy before Wenger turned all three into superstars renowned the world over who spent their best years in North London. Nicolas Anelka was signed for less than £1m from France, Robin van Persie for just £2.5m from Feyenoord.
Van Persie, though, recently became yet another to jump ship after finally delivering in his Arsenal career. Signed in 2004, until last season he had never scored more than 20 goals in a league season for Arsenal. Injuries had plagued his time in London, with last season also being the first time he had played more than 30 games in a year.
The Dutchman is not the only one to benefit from Wenger’s patience only to move on to bigger and better things. Alex Song has moved to Barcelona in spite of having looked calamitous for many years until last season. Walcott himself has also often flattered to deceive. And yet when all three players finally showed a lasting run of good form, they have all seemingly headed for the exit do0r.
After completing his transfer, van Persie remarked that he had been a fan of Manchester United since he was a young boy. Oddly enough, he failed to mention this soft spot between 2004-2008 when he only made 87 league appearances and scored just 28 goals in four seasons for Arsenal. For all of Wenger’s work at nurturing talent, it seems he is now polishing diamonds for the benefit of others. Barcelona and Manchester City have both become likely destinations for the stars that Wenger helped to create.
In today’s football world, almost two decades after Jean-Marc Bosman, players grow ever more powerful, with clubs seemingly ready to oblige, to ego-massage, to pander to the desires of legions of spoilt footballers. Wenger may feel he has taken a stand, refusing to play the game whereby millions of pounds are thrown around at the drop of a hat. But for as long as somebody else will pay more than £75k per week to a winger whose crossing can best be described as average, the status quo will remain, overpaid players will demand more and more money, and those who seek to patiently develop young players will continue to work for the benefit of the impatient rich.