Why Wenger Won’t be Buying a World-Class Defender in January

By ‘#ABW Regular Columnist’ Simon Collings (@sr_collings)

Somewhere in the halls of the Emirates Stadium.

Agent of Player X: Thanks for taking the time to speak to my client and I in person Arsène, it means a lot. I am glad we finally managed to agree a fee between the two clubs, even though it was less than they were asking for. My client is happy with the salary you are offering, even though it means him taking a pay-cut, but we have just one more query.

Wenger: Yes sure, no problem. What is it?

Agent of Player X: What is his likelihood of featuring in the first-team on a regular basis? As that is what he really wants and other clubs have promised it.

Wenger: I cannot guarantee any player a spot in my team, but we have to compete on many fronts for titles so he will play. Plus, we often get injuries so I am sure he’ll feature at points.

Agent of Player X: Ah okay, well let my client and I leave and have a think about this.


Somewhere in the halls of Stamford Bridge

Agent of Player X: Thanks for taking the time to speak to my client, I am sure José would have wanted to be here but I understand he is busy.

Chelsea Representative: Yes apologies, José is exceedingly busy today. Is the contract all in order?

Agent of Player X: It is very generous and thank you for agreeing a fee with my client’s club so quickly, it makes matters much faster to conclude. We have just one more query, what are José’s plans for involving him in the first-team?

Chelsea Representative: José believes he is a fantastic player and can have a huge role to play here. Several players have come here and won trophies, it can be the same for your client. Chelsea want him to be a part of our project.


Both those conversations may be fictitious, but they are based upon anecdotes that have been discussed in the past about the transfer activities of Arsène Wenger and José Mourinho.

The podcast’s very own Geoff Arsenal (@GeoffArsenal) has often said how Wenger will not lie to a player about the game-time he will receive, confessing that they may not be a regular. And herein lies Wenger’s greatest strength and weakness.

Other managers, such as José Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, are/were ruthless when it comes to buying players. At the end of the day, success is all that matters and if that means bringing in someone to sit on the bench and provide cover then so be it.

It is a scenario that often occurs at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho. The fact that Chelsea can have Filipe Luís, a £19m buy from Atletico Madrid on the bench, says it all. They are in a different league.

It was the same with Sir Alex at Old Trafford, those clubs can afford to have ludicrously expensive defenders on the bench. Confident that if they do start moaning they can ship them out and begin the process all over again.

But for Wenger and Arsenal the same situation rarely occurs.

A prime example is that of Kostas Manolas in the summer. Arsenal were keen on the Greece international and talks progressed to the point where a medical was being discussed.

But, Wenger could not guarantee him a regular spot and rather than lie to the young centre-back he told him the truth. Roma, on other hand, promised him a place in the starting 11.

Manolas joined the Serie A club.

In some regards I admire Wenger for his brutal honesty. It is what makes him so loved by his players, both former and current ones.

Look back at the players who have left Arsenal and very rarely will you find one who bad mouths Wenger. In fact it is quite the opposite, they are eternally grateful to him.

Just look at Thomas Vermaelen, Wenger allowed the club captain to leave for Barcelona – even though we had not bought a replacement yet.

A more cynical manager, like Mourinho, would have quite happily kept Vermaelen to sit on the bench – regardless of the player’s wishes.

To say that Wenger didn’t know we would be left short by selling Vermaelen is an insult to the Frenchman’s intelligence. Of course he knew.

But he also knew that Vermaelen would not be a starter this season and that keeping him against his wishes may not be wise for the player’s development.

So selflessly, or stupidly in some fans’ eyes, he let Vermaelen go. Once again sticking to his policy of honesty – as he always has.

Just look at The FA Cup final, Wenger started Łukasz Fabiański despite the fact he was leaving and Wojciech Szczęsny was going to be our long-term goalkeeper.

It’s because Wenger had said to Fabiański he would play the cup games and, true to his word, the Poland international did.

But back to the question posed at the start of this blog. Why won’t Wenger be buying a world-class defender in January?

Well, to put it bluntly, first and foremost, there aren’t many out there.

If we take a look at the top five transfer fees for defenders in the history of football, all of them have happened in the last two years. While three of them, including number one of the list, happened in last summer’s transfer window.

Top five defenders by transfer fee:

  1. David Luiz – Chelsea to PSG – £48m
  2. Thiago Silva – AC Milan to PSG – £35m
  3. Eliaquim Mangala – Porto to Manchester City – £32m
  4. Luke Shaw – Southampton to Manchester United – £32m
  5. Marquinhos – Roma to PSG – £30.1m

The statistics demonstrate just how prized a commodity defenders have become in the market. £786m was spent on the top 25 biggest transfers of this summer. 30% of that amount, £239m, was spent on defenders. The year before just £27m was spent on defensive players.

Clubs are becoming all the more aware of the need for defenders. Just look at Liverpool, with a greater defence they most likely would have won the Premier League last season.

But perhaps the most startling revelation are the comments made by PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi.

When asked why the French champions had pulled the plug on a deal for Ángel Di Maria, he responded: “We spoke with Real Madrid about the possibility, but it was too expensive. Even without Financial Fair Play, we wouldn’t have signed him.”

But after signing David Luiz for just £10m less than the £59.7m Manchester United shelled out for Di Maria, Al-Khelaifi argued: “I don’t find David Luiz expensive. Other clubs were interested. The coach really wanted to have this player.”

When the richest club in the world deems it worthy and justifiable to spend that amount of money on a defender you know the market is bonkers.

And more importantly you know that defenders are a rare and expensive commodity. Make no mistake, finding defensive reinforcements in January is going to be exceeding hard for Wenger.

But the biggest stumbling block of all in January will be Wenger’s honesty and trust. He believes in the partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, he also has an undeniable faith in Calum Chambers.

That means whoever comes in during the January transfer window will be a fourth choice centre-back, and what’s more Wenger will tell them so.

He will tell them the truth like he does and always has with his players.

It means the market of players available shrinks significantly to those who are willing to come to a club aware that playing time will be hard to come by.

So when it comes to the middle of January and the club are struggling to add to the squad, don’t smash away on your keyboard and blame Wenger for not buying Mats Hummels. Understand that this is not FIFA, these players are humans.

It does at least mean one thing, whoever does come in during the window will be fully aware of their role, fully committed to the club and fully committed to what Wenger believes in. And that is because honesty has always been Wenger’s policy.

By ‘#ABW Regular Columnist’ Simon Collings (@sr_collings)

Ed. – Simon has joined us as a new regular columnist. We’re excited to have him aboard – go give him a follow.

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