Sam Crocker takes a closer look at the strange phenomenon which his own club has now become a part of.
Approximately a year ago, Udinese saw them a Wojciech Szczensy’s outstretched palm-distance away from reaching the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in their history. Indeed, it was Antonio di Natale who missed the penalty that night in the Stadio Fruili, condemning the club to focus on their domestic campaign instead; one of the club’s most loyal performers over the years. Whilst the Gunners revelled in the triumph when so many casted doubt over this fixture, few noticed the significant list of names who had left Zebrette, with three of the club’s top performers in Cristian Zapata, Alexis Sanchez and Gokhan Inler all moving on to a better-paid and more bountiful pastures in terms of silverware (in theory). With yet more of Udinese’s most prized properties being sold off again this summer, I hold my nose and jump into the weird and murky abyss that is the “selling club” who provide the transfer petroleum to fuel club’s drive towards success.
Indeed, as we witness Jim White on Sky Sports News strangle his co-presenter because he’s just too damn excited that Gillingham have put in a bid of Lee Hughes, the chain of transfers and the route that the players have taken to get to this point is all too often forgotten. Whilst it’s almost seen as the norm for Europe’s top clubs to scout around those who sit just beneath them in the table or the equivalent team in other leagues and watch the chairman’s eyes roll into the back of his head as they wave swaths of cash in their face, unable to offer their in-demand player the same treasure nor the chance of potential silverware. Without the success to spend money or the money to create success, buying almost becomes simply for the purpose of selling them on for a profit. Relying on a set of superb and loyal players (an increasingly rare breed) to alter their prospects or the top clubs to falter, selling clubs find themselves in a state of limbo – with the only possible movement being in the wrong direction.
Italy is arguably the most renowned for this, with the two oldest clubs in Serie A being the victims – Genoa and Udinese. With the two Milan teams and Juventus historically dominating proceedings, and Napoli and Roma having the “Liverpool lure” of a team that once was, an incredible number of players have abandoned Udinese and Genoa for a shot at fame and glory instead. Francisco Acerbi, Kevin Constant and Roderigo Palacio have all left Genoa this summer for Milan, with other key man Miguel Veloso finding the prospect of Dynamo Kiev more appealing, whilst Samir Handanovic, Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla moving on to Inter and Juventus from Udinese, on top of the exodus that occurred last summer mentioned earlier on. It’s safe to say that any normal team would be well and truly crippled by the quantity of departures, as relatively new member to the selling club group found out at the beginning of last season with their 8-2 battering by Manchester United following the loss of Nasri and Fabregas, sparking the deadline day panic buying. Robin van Persie has stated his intention to move on, giving Arsenal fans a rather depressing peephole into the future of their club – third place or below.
Now that’s not to say it’s always doom and gloom, with clubs providing occasional exceptions to the rule. Gladbach appear to be building on their surprising success last year with some encouraging transfers and not too many significant losses, whilst Newcastle too look like they will continue their ascendency under Alan Pardew if they make the shrewd signings that they have been linked with and avoid losses. But you’ve got to wonder how sides like Udinese and Genoa manage to sustain themselves consistently for so long. Zebrette performed well above expectations considering the ability of their squad, whereas Genoa possibly got a taste of what is to come, following a near-relegation experience last season, and continuing their slightly strange habit of loaning their best players (Kevin Constant this season, Kevin-Prince Boateng previously) to the Milan teams.
It seems that success as a general rule can only come from money. Whether it be self-generated from previous historical success (e.g. Manchester United) or from a large unnatural injection of cash from an outside source (e.g. Manchester City). Because as long as these teams exist, they have little reason to develop their youth system to any significant level, as the clubs below them will always provide that for them. Arsenal has proved that success and youth-focus do not come hand-in-hand, and with the short-term nature of modern football, waiting for development and success is not an option.
As an Arsenal fan myself, this situation has become increasingly clear to me recently. It is rather depressing having little prospects beyond 3rd place, and is starting to force me out of love with football. Hopefully this will not happen, and the financial fair play rulings will help to even things out a bit. But to be honest, I have my doubts.
What do you make of the so-called ‘selling clubs’? Are you a supporter of one of these teams? Tweet @SB_Crocker or comment below.