A Myth is quite simply “a widely held but false belief or idea.”
Positivistas, how many of you, like me, first daily instinct during the transfer window is to reach for whatever internet device is at hand to check if there is any new transfer story affecting our great club? Yup, I see many of you shaking your heads in agreement. But I know there is an unrepentant few who are reacting with disgust to such heresy, appalled that there is a majority who weakly submit to the twice yearly season of rumor-mongering, click-baiting and outright lying by all segments of the sporting media.
Despite my admiration for those of us who can resist the temptation to not religiously scan twitter and the lying mainstream media for transfer news, the fact is the buying and selling of players has a powerful hold over many supporters and cannot be ignored. Even yours truly was briefly caught-up in the madness last weekend after EuroSport-France proclaimed boldly that Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez decides to join Arsenal, €50m move close. So much so I became a member of scouting twitterati hanging onto every ball Mahrez kicked in Leicester’s friendly with Celtics that Saturday morning (EST). Predictably, nothing came of the transfer. Less than one-week later it became apparent this was a big con-job by either Mahrez or his agent to get a big wage increase from Leicester, using the same leverage as his team-mate Jaime Vardy; i.e. being publicly linked with Arsenal. Lesson learnt anybody?
So why does transfers have such a big hold on our thinking despite clear and repetitive evidence that transfers are no guarantee to footballing success? Is it because the facts are not compelling? How more compelling can that major 2013 study by Nick Harris of Sporting Intelligence for the Arsenal Supporters Trust, of all the people, when he provided 13 years of data to come to the conclusion that:
“Wenger is telling the truth when he speaks, often, about wanting value in the transfer market, and wanting to buy players when they are better than he already has. Because he knows, from that 2005-06 season, and from the following season and a few others, that all business is not necessarily good business. And too much business can have a negative impact on the team, if selection becomes too ‘unstable’, which we can show, in a general sense, for Arsenal and key rivals, is a bad thing.”
He ranked the ‘big six’ in the Premier League in order of their total net spending on transfers plus wages combined between 2000 and 2012 over the 13 years in question. Chelsea spent most, with £2.078 billion, then Man Utd on £1.43bn, then City with £1.4bn, then Liverpool with £1.3bn then Arsenal with £1.1bn and Spurs on £777 million.
Chelsea did not do better than their resources in any year, under-performing against their wage bill eight times and doing only as well as expected four times.
United did better seven times, worse three times and as well as expected twice.
Manchester City performed better once: when finishing ninth in 2002-03 when wages said they should have finished 10th. They have otherwise under-performed apart from the title-winning season when they did as well as expected.
Liverpool did better than expected four times in the period, worse four times and as expected four times.
ARSENAL out-performed their wage spending seven times, did as well as expected three times, and under-performed in 2005-06 and 2006-07. We’ll come back to that – but it’s better than any rival.
Tottenham did better than their wage bill six times – and worse six times, in the period under review.
Nothing since 2013 in the PL has changed from my observation. To the contrary Harris’ findings have been reinforced by the dramatic results of the last season. At the end of the 2015 summer window the following was the top-ranking spenders vs eventual league position:
Despite Leicester breaking conventional wisdom and proving that one can win the League without breaking transfer records, the usual suspects have been screaming murder and throwing childish tantrums because Ivan Gazidis recently used two major media opportunities to pour cold-water on expectations that the club will “show ambition” in the transfer market. The latest was an interview with no less than the New York Times when he stated:
“We would not be successful if we simply went out into the transfer market and tried to outgun our competitors. We’re run in a self-sustaining way, and a way that we believe in, because we believe it gives us certainty for the future, and enables us to plan our future with confidence. That means we can’t afford to make huge mistakes in the transfer market. We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money to splurge on transfer fees than we do. So we have to be very careful, very selective about how we do things.”
My fellow blogger and friend Stew Black has dismissed this statement as simply “public relations” but I would suggest that for the CEO of the club to make similar statements within a week to both ESPN and the Times, major media outlets in their own right, is a significant message to the fans and other key constituencies. Gazidis was fully aware that there was a major kerfuffle after his initial round of cold water. Even Wenger was forced to comment after the Lens game that the CEO was not ruling out a big transfer if the right player became available. Less than one week later Gazidis repeated the same mantra almost word for word. Outside of Stan this is the voice of the Board of Directors, we ignore him at our peril.
So despite the compelling weight of facts and figures and the admonishments of the CEO, bloggers and tweeters continue to believe that the club is showing no ambition or that Wenger is dithering in the transfer market. It would seem to me that if the club does not find the right player, many are in for a rude awakening.
Sooner or later myths must confront reality.