Arsenal's attempt to get Theo Walcott to sign a new contract for less money than he wants has dragged on for months now with neither side relenting enough to make the other happy. So a day after resigning five of the club's young talents all at once, Arsene Wenger took a new approach by telling the press that Walcott owes him.
From the Independent:
"I believe what is important to keep the young players together is that at some stage I have stood up for them," Wenger said yesterday. "'I played you at 17, 18, 19 years of age and I know I took a gamble.' It is easier to take a player of 25 and put him in the team. You know what you are getting."
Wenger bought a 16-year-old Walcott from Southampton for a base transfer fee of £5 million in 2006 with add-ons for club and country appearances that could've brought it up to £9 million. And while he did stick with Walcott through numerous injuries and disappointing form over the years since, it's worth noting that even Wenger classifies all of this as "a gamble."
"If you put them in at 17 or 18, you have to stand up for them. You know you risk losing games while they are learning their job. Once you have produced them, you want to say, 'Okay, let's stay together and win together.'"
You want them to say that, sure, but banking on them doing exactly that has been a dangerous game for Wenger that has too often backfired in recent years. And if you risk losing games while they learn their job and risk losing them to another club with a bigger wage offer once they have, is it really best to be gambling on teenagers instead of those aforementioned more predictable (and expensive) players of 25?
Having invested in the future by picking Walcott for years, Wenger believes Arsenal are entitled to a return on that in the form of loyalty. "I am happy to pay Theo the money he deserves," Wenger said. "But I feel as well that I bought him at 17 years of age and spent a lot of money on him. I am a big supporter and I believe he is happy here. He has always looked to me like he is an Arsenal man."
Well, one would hope that the man signing players for Arsenal would think all the players he signs look like Arsenal men. This includes Andre Santos.
"Somewhere along the line they need to give back to the club what the club has given to them. After when a guy gets to 30, you can understand it is his last contract and if he feels he wants a change, I can understand that. This is a more sensitive age, but basically, it is a reward for our policy."
But does Walcott truly need to give back to the club what the club as been given to him? A gamble doesn't need to return the gambler's investment. That's what makes it a gamble. And what about the players who feel that their club doesn't give them what they have given the club? It would be lovely if everyone was loyal to everyone, but that isn't (and can't) be how football or any other competitive endeavor works.
The belief that players should feel the desire to reward a club's policy beyond their contractual obligation is a romantic one, especially coming from a club that takes pride in operating like a real business with profits and a sensible budget while condemning other clubs that let human wants and whims take precedent over the bottom line. That's not to say that Wenger's feelings aren't understandable, but they shouldn't be a negotiating tactic either.