26 August 2013

Bale to Madrid? No like. Not one bit.

The rumors around Gareth Bale's move to Real Madrid have heated up over the weekend with suggestions that he'll complete the move by Tuesday (and perhaps even before this post hits the web). Those of us with the good sense, taste, and fortune to be Gooners might at first react
The last we'll see from him?
with a bit of glee, perhaps even laced with a hint of spite, laboring under the false impression that his departure dooms Spurs to plummeting down the table. After all, he did produce one of the most brilliant seasons of football in the last campaign, wondrous enough to earn favorable comparisons with Ronaldo, among others. However, I've long argued against his departure, here and here, for example. His departure could blow up in our faces for any number of reasons ranging from our options and actions in the rapidly-closing transfer-window to our performance and theirs in the unfolding season. To wit, here's a quick run-down of why I hope the transfer falls through.

The Market
Just as we were closing in on Gonzalo Higuain, Napoli sold Cavani for £55m on July 16th. By July 27th, Higuain had signed with Napoli for around £35m. Obviously the direct route—Napoli sells one striker and buys another—yanked a rug out from under us. Such a direct route is less likely for Spurs should they sell Bale. After all, they don't have the Champions League to entice players to join. The fall-out could still likely undermine us anyway even if Spurs can't or don't poach our transfer-targets (whoever they may be at this point). Bale's selling price is apparently somewhere around £90m, and that is likely to inflate prices on other players we're looking at. Once Cavani sold, it seemed that Real Madrid looked at our bid for Higuain and decided to hold off for a better offer, one that, sadly, we were either unwilling to make or too slow in making. I worry that something similar could transpire again, whether it's Suarez or Rooney or whoever else it is we're bidding for.

Bale himself
I'm squeezing this one in somewhere in the middle because I know that it will be unpopular and might ruffle a few feathers. Bale is good for British football. He's a brilliant player, capable of stunning displays of skill...but I fear that a move to Real Madrid might overwhelm him. The klieg-lights that will shine down on him will be withering—think of it: he may displace Ronaldo as the world's biggest-ever transfer and join Ronaldo amidst comparisons that he is the next Ronaldo. I just don't see this as going down well with Ronaldo (how many more uses of "Ronaldo" do I need before it stops being a name and becomes just a sound?). He doesn't seem like one who suffers upstarts gladly, even less those who score (or misfire) instead of him. More to the point, instead of being his team's first, last, and only option, Bale would have to find his way in a pecking-order, presumably beneath Ronaldo, maybe even below Benzema. Even without that pressure, it's only a matter of time before defenses key on him more doggedly. Of his 31 goals for club and country, 15 came off that left foot of his. Sooner rather than later, defenders are going to sit on Bale's left hip, daring him to go to his right, with which he only scored four times last season. How could he justify his transfer-fee if he's not scoring at the rate that earned the fee in the first place?

Spurs
Of course, having £90m to spend is only as good as how you spend it. We've heard the brags and the boasts of our transfer war-chest, but it sits there gathering dust (for all we know). Spurs, however, have already been very active in the transfer-market, whether in an attempt to persuade Bale to stay or to reload should he leave anyway: Capoue, Soldado, and Paulinho make for a respectable if not intimidating haul. Selling Bale at, say, £90 would leave them £53m in the black (give or take). They beat us to Vertonghen and Lloris last year; who's to say that a motivated, bitter rival won't smell the blood in the water and beat us to a few more players this year? I don't think they could convince Rooney or Suarez to come to White Hart Lane, but they might have enough to convince a Pogba, Eto'o, or di Maria. Maybe. Even if they can't legitimately pursue these players, they could throw enough of a monkey-wrench into the negotiations that we see a player's asking-price spiral—and we already know all too well how allergic Arséne is to overpaying.

Urgency
Previously, I worried that Bale's departure might sap some of the squad's intensity; after all, the likely drop-off in Spurs' competitiveness without Bale (and even with a signing or two) might lull our players into assuming more blithely that we can anticipate a Spurs collapse. This mindset, subtle or unspoken though it may be, could see us drop points here and there, at first innocuously and later more ominously, until we find ourselves in another desperate late-season scramble against Spurs, Everton, and Liverpool. Like it or not, knowing that Bale was around last year and was capable of saving a game through a dramatic goal is in part what inspired us to finish as we did. Should that disappear, a more blasé attitude might infect the squad, if only enough to see us drop a handful of points. Given that we secured fourth place last season a mere 38 minutes before the end of our season, we simply can't afford to drop points. This, unfortunately, is a very abstract argument in August and only gains urgency in March and April, by which point it might be too late.

More recently, my worries over urgency have shifted from the squad to management. Should Bale leave, I worry that this might undermine the sense of urgency that Arséne has already seemed all too immune to. We haven't signed anyone of note (with apologies to Sanogo). With Bale gone, I worry that Arséne would size up the competition and decide that we don't truly need anyone to help us secure a fourth-place finish. Arteta, Vermaelen, the Ox, and, yes, even Diaby will return eventually, and the "like a new signing" idea might just gain enough traction to convince Arséne that we'll be fine if we just can hold our own until those players do return to fitness.

Conclusion
And that, inexorably, brings us right back to where we've been since the close of the 2012-13 season, hoping and praying for significant signings to bolster the squad. Spurs, with Bale or without, are likely to provide even stiffer competition, and we simply can't afford to let the transfer-window close without key signings, nor is there enough lasagna to ensure another late-season collapse. Arséne has claimed that "75% of things happen in the last ten days". By his own estimate, with eight days left, 20% of those last ten days have passed and we still have nothing to show for it. If we don't act soon, we may find ourselves competing with a Spurs club flush with cash and ambition. "Be careful what you ask for," the old saying goes; "you just might get it." Bale's departure, something we'd probably asked for more than once over the course of the last season, might just come back to haunt us. The "panic-buy" phrase has been bandied about, and if we wait to see what happens with Bale's future, even that phrase may be inadequate to describe our options or our reaction.