The year is 1996. The date is August 14. Arsenal are on the verge of a new signing.
The player in question is Patrick Vieira. A tall rangy midfielder who has struggled to make the grade at AC Milan, after showing such promise for AS Cannes – who he captained when he was just 19 years of age.
The fee is £3.5m. A sizeable amount for a 20-year-old who critics are worried may not make the cut at a top European club.
Now, imagine that deal – but within the world of Twitter.
Personally, I can imagine such a scenario incredibly easily. It would go a little something like this.
‘Arsenal: We are delighted to announce the signing of French midfielder Patrick Vieira from AC Milan for £3.5m #WelcomePatrick’
Then the comments…
‘Are you kidding? This muppet didn’t even make the grade in Serie A! Waste of f**king money.’
‘What are the club playing at? Lad is 20 and already flopped, another random signing by the club. Useless.’
You get the picture.
As we all know, Vieira went on to become one of the greatest Arsenal players of all-time. Captain of the Invincibles team which destroyed all before them during the 2003/04 season, he is undeniably a true great.
But what I am getting at is that such a talent could not have blossomed in the world of Twitter.
Just look at it now. Fans have become like rabid dogs when it comes to transfers, satisfied only when large fees and big names are thrown about. If he doesn’t cost at least £20m, then most aren’t interested.
The general rule of thumb for the masses on Twitter is, ‘if I haven’t heard of him or seen him play, then – well – he must be shit.’
Simply put, that is a ridiculous philosophy to follow.
This blog – or perhaps rant is a better word – was born out of the reaction to Arsène Wenger reportedly chasing Loïc Perrin and Krystian Bielik. Two relatively unknown defensive midfielders who are valued at around the £4m mark.
Instantly, the backlash on social media occurred. Fans were fuming at Wenger’s unwillingness to spend, lambasting him for going after players they haven’t even seen. And yes, watching a five-minute highlight reel on YouTube certainly doesn’t count as seeing a player in action.
I personally had not seen either of the duo play regularly. I had seen snippets of Perrin on BTSports coverage of European football, but Bielik I wouldn’t recognise if he turned up at my local five-a-side game.
But that didn’t mean I instantly ridiculed Wenger and the club for pursuing either of the targets. Without an informed opinion or view, who am I to discount one of the greatest managers in Premier League history?
I really do genuinely wonder what the early Wenger years would have looked like in the world we currently live in. Back then stories were broken in newspapers, not by keyboard warriors in the bedroom.
So many transfer rumours emerge nowadays. There is a new one every day. A new player to search on Google, to check on FIFA and to sign on Football Manager.
It makes me wonder how Vieira and Henry, and others, would have been received on social media. Henry was another with unfulfilled potential. Wenger got it out of him, but how quick would the criticising tweets come in on the great man when he struggled in his early Arsenal days. I am not saying he would have been affected, by we have seen with the likes of Emmanuel Eboué and Gervinho that negativity is toxic.
So far I have ranted and raved, but to finish I want to come to some concluding thoughts that at least point towards a positive future.
It seems that with Twitter and social media, any sense of realism in the transfer market has gone out the window. Wilfried Bony is set to join Manchester City for £30m. £30m. Alexis Sánchez cost just £5m more than that.
Don’t get me wrong, Bony is a good striker but such an inflated price demonstrates the market clubs now operate in. Genuine value for a player is hard to find, which is why supporters need to empathise and understand Wenger’s situation.
You can lambast and hound him for scouting the likes of Perrin and Bielik, but players like that still exist and can be masterstrokes.
It can often be the case though that with players of that ilk that they require time. Patience is needed. But in the world of instant tweets and Facebook posts, patience has essentially gone. However, that is what I hope this post promotes. Don’t race to jump on the bandwagon, instead stop and wait for a minute. Actually think about the player and what you know. You never know, given the time, they could turn out to be a star.
Simon Collings is a Regular Columnist here at #ABW – check him out on Twitter at @sr_collings.