“Why is Edu so BAD at Selling Players?”

[All data sourced from Transfermarkt & Capology]

On the 9th of July 2019, Edu Gaspar was appointed as the first ever Technical Director of Arsenal Football Club. At Arsenal, Edu is responsible for the men’s first team, academy, the coaching staff, medical staff and more — but he is also ultimately responsible for Arsenal’s recruitment.

At time of writing, since July 2019, Arsenal have had 27 first team players permanently leave the club. Not counting the small fees received when players leave on loan during their final contracted year, the club have recouped a little over £109m in transfer fees. That’s just over £4m, on average, per player.

This summer, we’ve done an Accountants FC deal for Bernd Leno, received less than £6m for Lucas Torreira and look set to cancel another contract — and we’ve got a few more in the departure lounge too who don’t look set to make great deals of money, relatively speaking.

Hearing that, one could certainly draw the conclusion that Edu Gaspar is not skilled at extracting value from his squad. And you’d be hard pressed to argue that, before one begins to delve a little deeper.

For some reason, this image always makes me laugh.

A suited and booted Petr Čech is depicted negotiating his contract in a still from EA Sports’ FIFA 19 Career Mode, while still wearing his iconic protective headgear. It’s funny because it’s probably a mistake, but I also think it has some kind of bizarre potency, which is why it went viral.

The likes of FIFA and Football Manager have done an immeasurable amount of good for football, especially in terms of popularising the game overseas. But I also think their ubiquity and success, partly by “gamifying” such complex processes into fun, interactive cut scenes has percolated subconsciously into how many fans analyse the business of football.

I’m not saying there’s anyone who thinks this is actually how it works, but the speed of the news cycle and the booming business of reporting on transfers, spawning cult like followings for specific personalities, can often remove the human, unpredictable element of all this and gamify transfer business itself into one giant competition between clubs — detaching it from reality. In that image, Čech is a function. He is the graphic on the pitch moved to an unsuitable context, the headgear never removed so as to humanise him slightly, and remind you he’s not just an asset to be traded.

If you press the right buttons, he will do what you want.

Fans are impatient, and so am I. Understandably so when, in our case, it appears that further strengthening can’t happen without outgoings.

We know it’s not like the games, and we know we shouldn’t believe everything we read online, but how hard can it be to sell a Premier League footballer, and when we do… why do they go so cheap? What is Edu doing?

During Arsène Wenger’s final pre-season at Arsenal in July 2017, he said this:

Arsène’s intelligence saw him ahead of the curve more than a few times in his career, and this was no different. Neymar’s move to PSG, confirmed just 4 days after that footage was shot, was a watershed moment. 

For players wanting to move on from their clubs, aware there is a limit on their earning power in a relatively short career and a limit on clubs willing to match such an expenditure in the “post-Neymar market”, a new approach needed to be found. Now, by players running down their deals more frequently and forcing the issue, transfer fees can come down and moves are more likely to happen. The millions saved in paying the selling club’s expected fee can now go into signing on fees, wages and agent’s pockets.

Arsenal don’t exist in a vacuum. We had the Eddie Nketiah situation last year, waiting out his contract til the end of the season. Who knows if he always wanted to be at Arsenal, but we do know there is no way he was getting the wages he’s on now from a club who also had to pay a transfer fee 1 or 2 years ago. Without an up front fee, the overall financial package makes more sense to a club, us in this case, and Eddie gets a bigger slice of the pie. 

In fact here, he got the whole pie.

So the power balance has shifted further towards players — making someone like Edu’s job harder. But the balance of power in the top 5 European leagues has also changed. The frustrated fans just want us to “shift” some players, and resentment grows for the club and sometimes even the players. We just want them to go somewhere else… but where does Edu sell them to?

The numbers I’m about to cite are all according to data analysts and salary experts Capology. I’m slightly dubious of the accuracy of these as unless you’ve read the contract, you won’t know what the player is on, and bonuses complicate things. I think some of these are wrong — but the team of analysts appear to do their due diligence, issue corrections and take as much data from as wide a pool as they can — and I don’t think you’ll ever get total accuracy.

They say that in the Bundesliga, the highest paid player that doesn’t play for either Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund is Andre Silva at RB Leipzig, on around £121,000 per week. To put that into context, dependent on when you’re reading this, Héctor Béllerín was or is on around £110,000 per week at Arsenal.

The 25th best paid player in the Premier League is Heung-Min Son, earning just under £200,000 per week — and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else came into that slot with a higher wage before the window closed. The 25th best paid player in the Bundesliga is on £88,000 per week, Wolfsburg’s Maximilian Arnold. Pablo Marí was or is on £85,000 per week.

The top 10 individual earners in each league play for either Barçelona or the two Madrid clubs in Spain, Dortmund or Munich in Germany, Juventus or Inter in Italy, and you know who in Ligue 1. In the Premier League the top 10 is dominated by City, Liverpool & United, but the top 25 also includes Chelsea 4 times, Spurs 3 times, Arsenal 2 times and Nottingham Forest once — so there is a much wider pool of clubs able to offer substantial wages within our league.

Lingard is another great example of the Nketiah-type situation mentioned earlier. His club, Nottingham Forest, have outspent every Serie A club this window, and don’t seem to be slowing down. Italy’s top paid player, Duśan Vlahovic, is on less than Anthony Martial.

All of that is to say that the Premier League is miles ahead financially — in fact, more than we think at times. So when we look at where players in our departure lounge can go, the pool is very, very limited to get good financial packages for those who won’t be going to the top 10 or 12 elite clubs outside England. It’s all very well saying we need to “sell players” but if there’s no buyers, you’ll struggle.

Let’s take Nicolas Pepe as an example, probably the most valuable player in that lounge, but hopefully it’s not unfair to say he’s not getting in PSG’s front line over Mbappe and Messi. I think that’s fair, maybe someone in the comments will say it isn’t…

Which clubs are interested in Pepe? Other than whisperings of Premier League clubs, which seem more likely to me, we’ve seen links to Lyon, Marseille & Sevilla. Let’s say we want £20m for Pepe in an ideal world.

Lyon’s record ever acquisition is former Arsenal man Jeff Reine-Adélaïde for £21m. Marseille’s is Dmitri Payet for £26.37m and Sevilla’s record transfer fee was for Jules Kounde at £31.5m. Knowing that Pepe is unwanted at Arsenal looking at his minutes, and that Arsenal seem willing to do a loan with option type deal, I can’t see any of those clubs coming in with a permanent bid, smashing their record and getting anywhere near most Arsenal fan’s ideal valuation for a player who could best be described as ‘out of form’ any time soon.

Also, though he’d probably be looking for an increase, if Pepe just stayed on the same wages as he is now, he’d comfortably be Sevilla’s second highest earner. At Marseille he’d be top, and at Lyon he’d be top by nearly double ahead of… Lac… Lac… sorry, never heard of him.

So when you look at the total financial package that each club would have to put together relative to their current squad, considering the player is likely to want an increase in wages, waiting out the contract begins to look more and more of a smart move for Pepe — as Arsène predicted — and it’s why giving out stupid contracts in the last few years has hamstrung Arsenal more than it would have say 10 or 15 years ago. As Edu said — if you’re in London, on a good contract and comfortable… why move?

Cancelling contracts is met with an eye roll, from myself included — but if there’s no interest in the player, you’re paying extortionate wages and the player is close to the end of their contract and isn’t going to renew… it starts to look pretty enticing.

Listen to the names of every club that an Arsenal player has departed to either permanently or on loan (at time of writing) since the beginning of the 2020/21 season, Arteta’s first full season.

Marseille, Galatasary, Fulham, Stuttgart, Lyon, Birmingham, Newcastle, Fiorentina, Roma, Villa, AS Trencin, Barcelona, Corinthians, Real Betis, OH Leuven, Feyenoord, Udinese, Hertha, Schalke, Hibernian, Olympiacos, Fernerbahce, Nice, West Brom, Atletico and Shrewsbury.

Other than Barcelona and Atletico, I would say every single other club is a step down from Arsenal — and even with those two, one was a special case with Aubameyang and the other was a loan where Torreira didn’t play. That tells you something about the makeup of the squad, and the value and quality of the assets Edu and Arteta started their work with. How can you sell assets for high fees if they’re not high quality?

But they’ve addressed that. In the time they’ve been at the club, the average wage per player per week has decreased from £81,415 in 19/20 to £68,573 in 22/23 (pre-sales), and the squad value has increased from £546.89m in 19/20 to £609.93m in 22/23 (post-sales, pre more potential additions). Wages down, value up — good business. And of Arsenal’s 15 most valuable assets, 13 of them are 25 and under. All are all on long contracts or likely to renew; indicating their value will increase.

For comparison, with a team with a similar financial model to us, Liverpool’s average wage per week per player in 19/20 was £92,043, and in 22/23 (pre-sales) is £97,053. In 19/20, their squad was worth £902.39m and is worth £783.00m (post-sales, pre-more potential additions) now.

In the calendar year 2021, Arsenal earned 1 less point than Liverpool in the same amount of games.

It was blindingly obvious what needed to happen when Edu came in in the summer of 2019, and I am certainly not blind to Edu’s mistakes in that time frame. I would agree with the statement that Edu has not extracted maximum value he possibly could have from Arsenal’s assets, and that’s his job, at least partly. If you sign a player and that player doesn’t perform, that’s partly on you. As much as the signs looked good from his final season at Chelsea, Willian was a mistake — an expensive one.

We can also look at contracts that look stupid in retrospect under this regime which is fair, but there’s context there too. In the 19/20 season, in negotiations with the likes of Marí, Cedric, Partey and Pepe, the elephant in the room was Özil on £350k a week, Aubameyang on £250k, Sead Kolašinac on £100k a week and Mustafi on £90k per week, driving up expectations in the wage structure. That’s why these things take time, and getting the wages off the books is a process that frees you up, though cancelling them isn’t ideal.

It’s also complicated further by the fact that Arteta requires a very specific style of player to play for him. This is a photo of the squad at the beginning of the 19/20 Premier League season.

I think I’m right in saying that only 5 of them, Tierney, Saka, Xhaka Smith Rowe and Martinelli are likely to play any significant role in the upcoming season, and only 8 out of 26 are even here at all if Béllerín goes. That tells us that this is not the team of players Arteta wanted. When a club knows that you don’t want your assets, they’re hardly going to pay over the odds for something you don’t even want in the first place.

Liverpool sell well because they have a balanced squad, a proper wage structure and they manage their assets well contract-wise. Fighting for the top titles, they’re in a position of power — as are Man City. They don’t need to sell, they want their assets, and clubs know that. Neco Williams can be sold for £18m because he was on £25,000 a week, is a good player and he had four years to run on his contract. They also had a ready made replacement in Calvin Ramsay, buying before they sold — like they did with Diaz before Mane’s departure.

That’s long term planning and proper joined up thinking, that Arsenal are starting to do themselves.

As I said earlier, Arsenal don’t exist in a vacuum, and these issues don’t just affect us, meaning the accusations on Edu as an individual can be softened in my opinion. Name me a club around us who are particularly good at selling other than Liverpool & City — and you’ll struggle. Chelsea’s asset management has been poor, Spurs don’t sell particularly well historically though Bergwijn was good business, and Man Utd……

It’s frustrating, all this, because it takes time. No one wants to hear that we’re still paying the price for the mistakes of old regimes nearly three years later — it’s boring. But with Arsenal’s recent fortunes, squad turnover and unrest, we haven’t been in a position of strength or an international context to do much better than £4m on average per player for a very, very long time. Gary Neville put it perfectly the other day when speaking about United — and it rung true because this used to be us.

The money is real, with real life consequences, and the market dictates all, much as we don’t want it to. Perhaps at times we’ve paid for Edu’s inexperience — but the signs, to me, point to someone quickly learning on the job. In real life, you can’t quick sell someone — these are humans, with families, dependants and responsibilities… and funny headgear.

The bigger picture, moving towards a position of strength in negotiations, should always be the focus.

Alexander Moneypenny, @AMonFootball

Oh I know that Lacazette guy!

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