Whilst the prospect of Higuain appears relatively free of controversy, only Fellaini and to a lesser extent Gareth Barry have enjoyed the more ‘conventional’ outcomes of debated good enough/not good enough verdicts being cast upon their vaunted moves south.
The ethical and moral dilemmas many fans of Arsenal find themselves in when wrestling with the Rooney/Suarez demons could likely only be surpassed by news that we might be about to sign Chelsea’s John Terry.
For different reasons, both Suarez and Rooney have been the rotton apple in the eyes of many neutral’s. For some Arsenal fans, the return of Cesc Fabregas to these footballing shores is also not without its difficulties, but for very different reasons.
Suarez is difficult.
For his antics at the World Cup, his unfortunate tendency to use his teeth in attack and the use of language that may or may not be technically racist but to most appears to be sat firmly in that particular corner of the room; he presents problems to supporters simply not used to their club’s reputation being potentially sullied by a player with his kind of baggage.
And Rooney is also tricky for many of us for, well, being Rooney, mainly.
That, but also for his regrettable tendency to play really, really well against us over many years; the absence of any kind of shyness when it comes to cheating (again, awkwardly for today’s consciences, something he has also done to us, with devastating effect), a largely regrettable history of personal PR disasters off the field that have at times made him something of a figure of fun and distaste in largely equal measure in the eyes of many (well, most of us, let’s be honest).
Yet, as I write, both these apparent undesirables seem to have a fighting, biting, diving chance of joining our beloved club. Which means, as supporters of Arsenal we may be shortly in the invidious position of, by extension, supporting one or even both of THEM.
On the upside, at least both are winners.
But for some of us, it’s not just winning that matters – it’s HOW we win. By this criterion, Cesc’s hypothetical return causes us the fewest problems; regardless of his occasional back-heeled lapses on the pitch and a somewhat ‘relaxed’ attitude towards contracts, he was never really known as a cheat; he was always more likely to throw the pizza rather than try to eat it – or his opponents.
One of the luxuries of being an Arsenal supporter is that we were never Leeds.
We never will be Stoke.
We’ll almost certainly never be managed by Sam Allardyce. Or Tony Pulis.
The closest we came, at least in recent memory, to cringe-making tawdriness is the alleged bungs of George Graham. But then we went and spoilt that by immediately sacking him. We have had the odd player behaving, well, oddly – few will forget the loss of Tony Adams to prison for excessive drinking and Paul Merson was clearly sailing close to all manner of windy excess. All hugely regrettable but rarely the cause of genuine, hand-wringing condemnation, at least at the time. At the time, George (Graham, not Blackburn) shouldn’t have got caught, and drink-driving wasn’t taken as seriously as it is today. Gambling, well, odds are it’s a mugs game, innit?
In some ways, this goes to the heart of our distaste when looking at the possibility of signing either Suarez or Rooney. We have never previously been desperate enough – or ambitiously mercenary – to win at all costs.
We have never previously needed to be.
Sure, we’ve been fortunate enough not to have to fight for our league status on a regular – or even occasional – basis. And we have never required our players to sacrifice their reputations in order to win games, to win the league or at the very least, prevent our opponents from doing so.
But one of the less commented upon downsides to the outstanding success of Manure’s mighty commercial arm is that these huge contracts facilitating their financial riches – which only now are Arsenal beginning to replicate – is that Manchester United HAVE to win. Their marketability depends upon it; their future survival as a top club now relies upon it. This is the price they pay for the scale of their sponsorship dealings. When Rooney dived to win the penalty that enabled his club to end our unbeaten run at game number 49, it wasn’t just to piss us all off mightily. It was cheating with one eye on winning a game and the other on helping to protect and promote United’s commercial interests.
They simply could not afford to have us running away with anything.
And, to some extent, this is the place Arsenal FC now start to find themselves.
As every season goes by, we are seemingly blessed by the opening up of new sponsorship channels. But none of these deals have been struck on the basis of the club resting in mid-table, or, even, doing a Liverpool or Spurs and merely threatening to break into the elite (and, whisper it, never quite managing to do so).
We are – or shortly will be – in the position where we, like Man U, HAVE to be winners on the pitch in order to justify our existing commercial relationships and facilitate the generation of new ones. Not just coming 4th or even 2nd but actually dusting down the trophy cabinet on periodic and timely basis.
The supreme irony of this is that, in future, we will need players of the calibre of Suarez and Rooney, prepared and capable of doing anything and everything on the menu to win for our club. It’s a shockingly distasteful truth but leaving aside these two, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that even The World’s Greatest Player (Messi, not Bale), routinely dives to gain advantage for his side. Yes, he does. And as for the Player of the Year, I’ve actually lost count of how many times Bale has been booked for diving and other simian simulation in the last season alone. (Okay, maybe he’s not been booked for his appearance). None of these players have been cast adrift by their clubs, at least, not up until now.
There will be many Arsenal supporters for whom this will be of very little consequence – many will be happy to adopt a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Their anguished howling in the columns of Twitter are evidence they are already amongst us. And looking at clubs like Manure, Chelsea and City, it would seem that whilst you are winning, exactly HOW you are doing it is unlikely to be at the top of most fan’s discussion agenda. Even if the rest of the football world views things a little differently …
For those of us who DO struggle with the idea of Wayne or Luis coming to the club, the future could prove almost as challenging as, say, the last eight years or so of sticking by the club come what may, defending it against its own fans as much as the media and our opponents.
Up to now, our club’s quest has been a noble one, based on paying our way, self-sufficiency, ethical behaviour and any number of other white horses of virtuosity that have ridden our way.
But we may look back in a few years and smile at the summer our consciences’ spent so much time wrestling with the prospect of players like Suarez and Rooney.
For many neutrals, Patrick Viera and Roy Keane were brutes of players, always being booked and sent off for cutting loose with the rules and paying scant regard for the health and safety of their opponents. For the fans of both those clubs, they were simply probably the best midfielders in their club’s respective histories. HOW they came to be so effective was rarely criticised by their own fans and today is hardly even mentioned.
If you are a player who courts controversy, for as long as you are a winner, your licence to perform is unlikely to be rescinded. Our tolerance for those living on the edge of what is deemed acceptable will always be greater if they end up on the winning side. And whilst I’m not comparing Viera or Keane to Rooney or Suarez, there is surely some truth in the point that had they not been winners, their playing styles would have caused them to be labelled liabilities and their reputations would have ended up being very different.
And it’s worth remembering that Michael Owen was condemned by few for his World Cup dive against the Argentines – he won a penalty. Beckham was once castigated by all for his soft World Cup sending off – HE was blamed for that loss. No-one said a word about Gascoigne’s tearful semi-final booking as, in the end, it didn’t matter anyway, we never made the final. All three, one way or another, broke the rules, but our subsequent treatment of them all was very different.
If either Rooney or Suarez do indeed join us, some suggest that Arsene can be relied upon to rein in their worst excesses. Which, of course, he could well do.
But who will rein US in, with our expectations of success and tolerance for the behaviour of those who deliver it, wayward or otherwise?
Exactly how much are we prepared to pay for success?