21 January 2015

Getting Gabriel: £10m and he's ours, work-permit or not...

As we draw nearer and nearer to the potential signing of Villareal's Gabriel Paulista, nagging questions undermine the optimism we're supposed to feel. After all, we've been burned before: Vela. Campbell. Gilberto. Heck, toss in Källström, and it's easy to see how Gooners might look this potential gift-horse in the mouth. After all, Gabriel has fallen far-short of the FA work-permit requirement that stipulates that a player has to have played 75% or more of his country's matches in the last two years—a quick check of the maths reveals that Gabriel has played in 0% of Brazil's matches, just a hair less than required. This raises the prospect of an unsavory appeal. Then again, money talks, and we do have a bit to spend if we're willing to put our money where our mouths are.

Here's the apparent rub: new FA proposals that could take effect this summer would allow any player purchased for a fee of at least £10m to get a work permit, setting aside that nigglesome 75% rule mentioned above. Therefore, if we're serious about signing this guy, we might as well just set aside our initial offer of £6m and just go to ten. Or eleven. Villareal, doing quite well thanks in part to Gabriel's services, have no interest in selling him for less than his reported £15.25m release clause, but they have to reconcile this with realizing that they're bound to lose him in the summer anyway. With these new work-permit regulations on the horizon, it might just be in the interest of both clubs to confirm a deal now rather than later.

Gabriel is unlikely to magically increase his rate of appearances for Brazil from 0% to 75% before the summer transfer-window, and £10m looks to be a convenient compromise price-point between our initial bid of £6m and that £15.25m release-clause. If we're serious about our interests (and addressing our needs), we should set aside the £6m bid and rise, however grudgingly in the spirit of haggling, to £10m or £11m. We get the player we need at a price that makes sense, and Villareal get a transfer-fee that they can reinvest in reinforcements. If the financials don't seduce you, there is the issue of precedent.

West Brom managed to sign Brown Ideye for £10m this summer, despite the Nigerian failing to meet the 75% threshold, and Leicester City signed Andrel Kramaric just a few days ago for £9.5m despite the Croatian's similar failure. Not placated yet? Chelsea pulled off the signing of Willian in 2013 even though that Brazilian has also failed to make the requisite number of international appearances. If our pursuit of Gabriel is sincere, then, there's ample precedent for appealing the current work-permit requirements.

Even if Gabriel hasn't made a single international appearance, Arsenal could easily make the claim that playing for a La Liga club vying for Champions League qualification does more to confirm that he is a "player of the highest calibre" and is "able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in England" than does the arbitrary number of appearances he might have made at the international level. Let's face it: breaking into the Brazil squad is a lot harder than breaking into, say, the Costa Rica squad (sorry, Joel). There are many, many more players vying for a spot in the Seleção than there are vying for a spot in, to cite a random example, the Biało-czerwoni (sorry, Krystian...).

On its face, whatever the transfer-fee the two clubs might agree to, the success-rate of appeals for a work-permit stands at 79%. We could bet the ranch on an appeal, or we could simply secure Gabriel for £10m, more or less. In a transfer-window in which we seem to have £20m to spend, it's hard to imagine us getting more of a player for fewer pounds.

Would Gabriel be a saviour? Unlikely. Would he be good enough to give Koscielny or Mertesacker just enough rest to preserve that pairing? Far more likely. His name might not sound as sexy as Hummels or Schneiderlin, Khedira or Carvalho, but his contributions might be every bit as vital. When we're looking to maximize the return on our investment in a winter transfer-window, £10m for an established centre-back might end up as pretty shrewd business.

That's all for now. We'll take a closer look at Krystian Bielik's official signing, as well as the FA Cup clash with Brighton & Hove Albion, in coming days. Thanks, as always, for enduring to this point!