A guest post from @foreverheady
Just for a moment I want to imagine what it must feel like to be Morgan Schneiderlin. Or rather, to imagine how he views his career and its likely progression. I should think he feels pretty good about things: another great season at Southampton, on the fringes of his national team and ready now to make a career defining move. A move that is perhaps the most important one he will ever make. Certainly the dogs are barking his name, and he is seen as the perfect fit for any one of a number of clubs, with Manchester United and Arsenal the most obviously touted by those who profess to know about these things. Premier league tried and tested, it is surely only a matter of time before he is seduced by the kind of fame and fortune that only the very top clubs can offer and virtually guarantee.
Except of course there are no guarantees in top level sport, and especially not in the cut-throat world of football.When Schneiderlin considers his options he will need to think about wages and length and terms of contract, and he must also think about the type of club he wants to represent. He must feel he can trust the manager, and that he will develop and grow under his tutelage. But above all he must feel absolutely certain that he will be a star at the club, and that he will pretty much be the first name on the team sheet. And that of course is the problem for players like him, because he wouldn’t necessarily be sure that he would be automatic first choice for any of the top four clubs. Make no mistake, he is a very fine player, but is he that much better than the options those clubs already have? James Milner is a prime example of this: he was an outstanding servant to Manchester City, but he knew that he wasn’t that high on the pecking order, and was likely to be displaced if any of the much-touted galactico signings take place as promised and as seem likely, given the apparent relaxation of FFP. Fed up with forever playing the Swiss Army Knife role Milner wanted to be a real star at his next club, and his move to Liverpool makes perfect sense. He will likely become a crowd favourite, and it is easy to imagine him really thriving: the move ticks all the boxes. But if Milner had wanted to play at United, or Chelsea, or the Arsenal, he would have faced pretty much the same situation as he did at City. It looks to me as if Schneiderlin is in a similar positon, and that is why I suspect he would not want to sign for The Arsenal, however much fans and pundits suggest he should.
Please understand, I am not suggesting that he is not good enough for The Arsenal, for his regular performances over the last couple of years suggest he would fit in easily at The Emirates. He would, I suspect, be very good indeed. But would he be good enough to command a regular starting role? Would he automatically push Coquelin out of the starting line-up, or Jack Wilshere, or Aaron Ramsey? I am not so sure he would, and I expect he is not that certain either. He would have looked at the starting XI in the Cup Final, and looked at the bench, and he would have come to his own conclusions. Does he really want to leave Southampton to become a squad player at the highest level, or does he want to wait until he can find a Milner type solution, the type of solution he has already found at Southampton. Much will depend on money, of course, but much will also depend on the extent of his playing ambitions, and how much he needs to be playing each week. Very good players demand huge wages if they know they are only going to be part of a squad and not the main man.
And that of course is the problem that faces The Arsenal as they attempt to make the most difficult step forward of all, the step from good to great. The club already has a very good squad, and doesn’t need to be adding costly extra players just to provide even more depth. It perhaps does need to add a player or two who would be better that what it already has. But they are few and far between, and they are highly prized and they tend to be even more highly priced. We have seen the difference that first Ozil and then Alexis made to the team, and I have no doubt that Arsene Wenger is keenly aware that another such signing would be very nice indeed; I suspect he is most actively pursuing a couple of players but he will be doing so discreetly and with customary stealth. He is unlikely to buy anyone for the sake of buying someone, and I would suggest he will not pay £25m for a Schneiderlin when he already has a Coquelin, unless he feels that he would actually be an upgrade, in which case he will already be actively persuading young Morgan, as one Strasbourgian to another, that he is top, top quality.
We will see and I find this summer a fascinating one. We have a great squad, and we have some amazing players. Should we have any luck at all with injuries we will be competitive next season whether we sign anyone or not, and that is a great –and also an unusual- situation to be in. It is the sort of situation that only arises though astonishing wealth, or luck, or meticulous and inspired planning. But I cannot believe for one moment that the club is satisfied to just be here, nor that it is as unambitious and limited as those who merely parrot the populist cry for a new spine, whatever that actually means in a dynamic and fluid game. The next moves will be exciting ones, and I suspect they will also be surprising, given that money for the highest quality is now very much there, as is the magnetic appeal of the likes of Ramsey, Ozil and Alexis.