Wenger’s Messi transfer policy

Arsene Wenger. Photo by: Ronnie Macdonald www.flickr.com

Arsene Wenger. Photo by: Ronnie Macdonald

According to Arsene Wenger, Arsenal tried to sign Leo Messi when he was a 15 year old playing in Barcelona’s youth team. A bold triple deal was proposed for Messi, Fabregas and Pique. Only Fabregas made the move.

Arsenal fans may well allow themselves a moment to wonder what would have happened had the boy wonder arrived in North London. Wenger seems to make a habit of announcing signings that he could have made or tried to make. If it’s an attempt to deflect criticism from his dealings in the transfer market then it’s not proving a very successful one.

He really hasn’t bought well in recent years and has failed to spend the necessary money to bring in players that would make Arsenal truly competitive at the top of the Premier League and in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Signing Alexis Sanchez in the summer signalled some intent but bringing Fabregas back would have sent a much louder message and it would have had more of a galvanising effect on the whole club. Wellbeck has done quite well since his switch from Manchester United (and £16m looks like a reasonable price to have paid) but is he a striker that’s going to fire you to the title? I suspect not.

Wenger appears to love a bargain (you can imagine him trying to calculate the true value of the three for two offers in the supermarket) and he also has a preference for signing young players that he can develop. There’s plenty of young talent at Arsenal but as has been pointed out many times in the last few years, the side lacks a bit of experience and leadership.

What Wenger would give for a player like Gerrard. The longer a club goes without signing the very best available in the transfer market the harder it becomes. I think that’s a big part of the reason for Manchester United’s summer spending spree. Another season like last season for them and it would have been much more difficult to attract the likes of Di Maria and Falcao.

I doubt either of those players would even have considered joining Arsenal. I’m a big fan of the Arsenal boss and there’s much to admire in his footballing philosophy. Messi, I’m sure, would have enjoyed playing under him.

The January transfer window is just over a month away. Who would you like to see arrive Arsenal fans? And perhaps more importantly, who do you think is a realistic target for you right now?

Ronaldo v Messi match abandoned at half time

Ronaldo. Photo by: Themeplus www.flickr.com

Ronaldo. Photo by: Themeplus

In the end there were 41,000 fans at Old Trafford for Portugal v Argentina (or Ronaldo v Messi) last night. Apparently that still wasn’t enough for the organisers to break-even but was more than I expected when I previewed this game in a post last week. I did get one thing right in that post though: I predicted that neither Ronaldo nor Messi would play for more than 45 minutes.

Both were substituted at half-time, leaving many fans disgruntled. Did they really expect anything else? One supporter was quoted on the BBC website saying: “Considering I had paid £50 to see them both, I thought it was shocking when they didn’t come out for the second half.” Considering what Real Madrid and Barcelona pay them to play, I think they would have been more shocked if the two had emerged for the second half.

Another fan that the BBC spoke to said: “They had obviously arranged beforehand how long they would both play for and, if I had known, I would rather have stayed at home and watched the Scotland-England friendly on TV.” Even if they had both played for 90 minutes I very much doubt it would have been worth the price of the tickets.

Ronaldo and Messi are both exceptional players and certainly worth watching but it’s clear that these friendlies hosted in a third country and put on by a private firm have only one aim in mind: making money from those who should know better or those who can afford not to. If it takes more than 41,000 people to turn up, at around £40/£50 per ticket, for a match like this to be profitable then the organisers really are living in a fantasy world.

The BBC report on the game notes that ‘this friendly was always unlikely to answer the question of which of the two is currently the best player.’ Well, quite. Imagine two blokes arguing in a Manchester pub last week.

Bloke 1: “Messi is clearly the greatest, not just now but of all time. He’s a phenomenon.” Bloke 2: “No way, Ronaldo is quicker, stronger and a more complete player. He’s undeniably the best in world.” Bloke 1: “They’re both playing at Old Trafford next week in a big glamour friendly. Let’s go and see it then we can settle this debate once and for all.”

The debate is set to run and run for longer and further than either player did last night. We still debate Pele v Maradona. Entirely erroneously in my view, Maradona is much the greater. As for Ronaldo v Messi, I think Ronaldo has had the better 2014 overall (despite a very mediocre World Cup) but that Messi is higher on the list of all-time greats – second only to Maradona for me.

In another friendly last night Scotland lost 3-1 to England. That’s all I’m going to say about that other than that I’m glad I didn’t get up at 4am to watch it.

Which is the best league in the world?

Photo by: Will Morley www.flickr.com

Photo by: Will Morley

I raise this question today since David Moyes proclaimed the Spanish La Liga as the best league in the world at his first press conference as manager of Real Sociedad. His reasons were simple: “La Liga has the finest players and great coaches and I want to test myself against the best.” So, is Moyes right? Is the Spanish league the best in the world?

There aren’t actually that many competitors for this title. I don’t think it’s too controversial to restrict this search to Europe. There’s a lot of great football played outside Europe (in terms of current growth and future potential, the MLS in America is hugely exciting) but it remains the case that the best players, the best coaches, and the biggest teams are overwhelmingly concentrated in a select few European leagues.

After careful consideration I took the decision to rule out the Scottish Premiership.

The big four leagues in Europe are the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, and La Liga in Spain (the French might make a case for being included over the Italians but I think Serie A remains stronger than Ligue 1 overall). As I’ve written before, I love Italian football even with all its present travails but there’s no doubt that the Serie A is not at the level of the other three right now. It could be thought of as the Andy Murray of the big four.

Let’s look at some evidence in order to give the impression of employing a scientific approach to ranking the three remaining contenders before arriving at the necessarily subjective conclusion.

I’ll start with the best players. The long list for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or was announced recently, comprising 23 players: Bale (La Liga), Benzema (La Liga), Costa (Premier League), Courtois (Premier League), Di Maria (Premier League), Goetze (Bundesliga), Hazard (Premier League), Ibrahimovic (Ligue 1), Iniesta (La Liga), Kroos (La Liga), Lahm (Bundesliga), Mascherano (La Liga), Messi (La Liga), Mueller (Bundesliga), Neuer (Bundesliga), Neymar (La Liga), Pogba (Serie A), Ramos (La Liga), Robben (Bundesliga), Rodriguez (La Liga), Ronaldo (La Liga), Schweinsteiger (Bundesliga), and Toure (Premier League).

Moyes would appear to be right about the best players then. 10 players on the list are based in Spain, six in Germany, five in England, and one each in Italy and France. Overall, the Spanish league does have more of the best players in the world and in Messi and Ronaldo it has the top two.

Photo by: Jan Solo www.flickr.com

Photo by: Jan Solo

It also has Suarez who is not included on the Ballon d’Or list. Some people are upset by that but the list is about players who have performed best over the year; Suarez has spent rather a lot of the year not playing at all on account of his disgraceful conduct. I have little sympathy regarding his absence.

How about coaches? There are ten contenders for Fifa’s coach of the year award: Ancelotti (La Liga), Conte (currently coach of the Italian national team), Guardiola (Bundesliga), Klinsmann (coach of the U.S. national team), Loew (coach of the German national team), Mourinho (Premier League), Pellegrini (Premier League), Sabella (coached Argentina at the World Cup), Simeone (La Liga), and Van Gaal (Premier League).

The Premier League comes out on top here with three, La Liga has two, and the Bundesliga one. It probably is true that most of the best coaches want to manage in England. I expect Guardiola to move to an English club at some point in the future.

Finally, let’s consider supporters since they are the lifeblood of the leagues. Earlier this year, the Sporting Intelligence website published average attendance figures for the leagues based on the 2012-2013 season (http://www.sportingintelligence.com/finance-biz/business-intelligence/global-attendances/). The Bundesliga’s average attendance was 41,914 (total attendance for the season was 12,825,684), while the Premier League’s average was 35,931 (but with a higher total attendance of 13,653,780), and La Liga’s average was 29,330 (with a total attendance of 11,145,277).

I’ve been to games in all three leagues and I would award victory to the Bundesliga in the supporters’ category. The combination of low ticket prices, superb atmosphere in the stadiums, and excellent German beer and sausage makes the Bundesliga a clear winner here.

Photo by: lackystrike www.flickr.com

Photo by: lackystrike

So where does that leave us? It seems that Spain is the place to be as a player, its England if you are a coach, and Germany if you are supporter.

The Spanish league is technically and tactically sophisticated, has the best players in the world and the two biggest clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid (El Classico is the game in world football these days). Last season’s remarkable title triumph by Atletico Madrid aside however, the big two tend to overshadow the rest of the league in a way that’s not altogether healthy.

The Premier League is arguably the most competitive, has many world class players and many of the world’s best coaches. Ticket prices are generally too expensive though and the football can be of rather uneven quality.

The Bundesliga takes care of its supporters and offers an excellent quality of football but the increasing dominance of Bayern Munich is making it a bit less competitive than would be ideal. In the next few years, even Bayern may struggle to prevent more players following Kroos out of the Bundesliga.

Is Moyes right then? Has he just landed in the world’s best league? Has he just left it? Should he have opted for Germany?

It’s a tough call and a close one but for me, right now, I would still award the overall title of best league in the world to the Premier League. It’s the most exciting, the fan experience is not as great as in Germany but the atmosphere is still good, there are more than enough great players (including the likes of Aguero, Fabregas and Sterling who didn’t make the Ballon d’Or list) and some of the finest coaches.

England it is then by a whisker from Spain, followed by Germany. Do you agree?

Not much clamour for the glamour (friendly)

Photo by: Alex Jilitsky www.flickr.com

Photo by: Alex Jilitsky

Argentina face Portugal in an international friendly next Tuesday at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, UK. Apparently just 15,000 tickets have been sold so far. The capacity of the stadium is over 75,000 so those spectators will have plenty of room to stretch their legs.

The perplexed organiser of the fixture, Leo Morales, said: “I don’t know why we haven’t had more sales.” The cheapest adult ticket is £40. So there’s one reason straight away Leo. It’s exactly six weeks until Christmas (yes, that shocked me too when I just looked it up) and most people probably have better things to spend £40 on right now.

The game is likely to be played on a cold, wet Tuesday night in November. I make that prediction with some confidence having lived in Manchester for a year. Most Tuesday nights after August are cold and wet. So there’s another potential reason.

Also, I’m assuming it might already have been pointed out to Leo that Manchester is not in fact in either Argentina or Portugal. Manchester is 6,950 miles from Buenos Aires and 1,073 miles from Lisbon. Manchester is a great city but when I lived there I don’t recall seeing huge communities of either Argentinians or Portuguese. Why on earth is this match not being played in Portugal?

Manchester United’s website refers to the game as a ‘glamour clash, produced by Torneos y Competencias and World Eleven.’ I had naively thought it would have been produced by the Argentinian FA and the Portuguese FA.

World Eleven’s website boasts that their ‘experience in efficiently managing international teams’ has allowed them to ‘obtain the exclusive rights to organize the Argentine national team’s friendly games.’ So what does Argentina’s FA do exactly?

The marketing and commercial expertise of World Eleven can be judged by the fact that 15,000 tickets have been sold (so far) for this game and the organiser remains confused as to why.

More and more of these ‘glamour’ friendlies are popping up and many get staged in the UK. British fans are obviously seen as among the most willing to pay for this type of fare but they already enjoy a diet of quite glamorous fixtures on a regular basis. Glamour friendlies are a bit like fast food; they are tempting but you tend to end up with a slightly dissatisfied feeling afterwards.

Argentina v Portugal is being billed as Messi v Ronaldo but it’s less than a month since we all tuned in for El Classico. That was a game that really mattered and it was brilliant to watch. I’ll be surprised if either plays more than a half next week and they will be conserving themselves for more meaningful tests ahead.

Messi and Ronaldo are undoubtedly the best two players in the world right now. If they can’t sell a glamour friendly these days then who can? Good luck Leo Morales.