Contract Policy Debacle
When we look at our squad, and then look at the squads of Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, there is a clear gulf in both experience and in players capable of playing regular first team football. This is no accident and the root of the problem has been Arsene Wenger’s “over 30s contract policy” and the club being too quick to jettison youngsters.
When Dennis Bergkamp reached 30, Wenger decided that we would only over these players a one-year contract. Bergkamp went along with this charade and never wavered in his performances, despite playing until he was 37 years old. Having established this as the norm, Wenger refused to grant Robert Pires a two-year contract in 2006. Pires left on a free to join Villarreal where he is still instrumental in helping them reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League three seasons after being deemed too old to be worthy of being offered a two-year contract.
We have allowed other players to leave when they have hit the 30-year mark, notably Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, and Gilberto. None of these players has fallen to pieces (physically speaking) and they are still going strong. With the departures of these players, we have left a massive gap in our squad in terms of experience.
Look at Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, all into their thirties and they have all been given new contracts by Manchester United. This is not sentimental; it is a practical move by Ferguson. They are playing a vital part in United’s quest for silverware this season, he will use them sparingly, but more importantly, they will help younger players through the pressure period as United close in on trophies. How crucial could Pires or Vieira been last season as we sat 5 points clear at the top of the league?
The flipside of the over 30s policy, is the ease with which we release our youngsters, claiming that we could not guarantee them first team football. The Premiership and Championship is litters with players who we have release. Muamba (Bolton), Sidwell (Aston Villa), Penant (Portsmouth), Bentley (Tottenham), Hoyte (Middlesbrough), Larssom (Birmingham).
Whilst we might rub our hands together at the transfer fees received and the sell-on clauses inserted into their contracts, the presence of tow or three of these players in our squad today is worth more than the millions sitting in the bank.
We are crying out for a defensive midfielder who can dominate a game, in Fabrice Muamba we had the ideal player, yet we were prepared to let him leave for £4m without giving him a chance. Is Song any better than Muamba, a boy who was an academy product and had Arsenal blood running through his veins.
Look at Sidwell, a squad player at Chelsea and Aston Villa, a tenacious tackler, why could we not offer him a 5-year contract and then farm him out to Reading for two years to gain experience and then he can return to Arsenal as a squad player.
All of these players would fight to the end for Arsenal, they are products of our academy, they have been schooled in the Arsenal way, and they understand what it means to play for Arsenal.
If Manchester United can keep the likes of Fletcher, O’Shea and Brown happy as squad players, why could we not do the same?
I fear that the club will also jettison some of the current crop of youngsters; top of this list will be Mark Randall.
It is the older experienced players and the homegrown players that are missing from our squad; these are two vital elements that we are missing.