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armchair centreback :: pound foolish [or, why piers morgan is wrong]

please cheer up, arsenal fans. yes, your team had a woeful showing in the first leg of their elimination round against upstarts monaco, which made recovery well nigh on impossible, but you came so very close. and, on top of having to play the other team, you had some really questionable calls go against you, including a deserved penalty turned into a yellow card against your own player. you're still motoring along and, given all the injuries you sustained earlier this year and the fact that no team has been made to pay for their mistakes more than you have [seriously, how many games have united won that were completely undeserved this season?], you have reason to be proud of yourselves. now give us a hug. come on, all five million of you on twitter and everyone else, too. let's go for the biggest group hug in history.

c'mon
yeah, you definitely need a hug

and you- you guys are too adorable not to hug
all of you guys
you too, grandma
right, now that that's dealt with, let's talk about the future. not the immediate future, but what happens in the fallow season when decisions are made about who to sell and who to buy. [that sounds way more horrible than it is.] this happens every year and most years, arsenal fans have gotten frustrated as it has seemed impossible to pry the cash bags free from manager arsène wenger's iron grip. [that's only sort of true. that fact is that they were for some time relatively cash-poor because they were paying off a  spiffy new stadium.]

if you listen to piers morgan, arsenal's most vocal fan [also dubbed arsenal's most annoying fan], the club should splash out serious cash on signing a world-class striker, a guy who you bring on to score oodles of goals. based on his fanatical dedication to this cause [as well as the cause of getting wenger fired, which is sort of his pet project], you could be persuaded to think that this was the only possible course of action. but don't be persuaded just because some people [piers] voice their opinions louder than anyone else. there is basically one argument for signing a striker: he'll score lots of goals; and lots of arguments against making a striker your top priority. for instance:

he'll cost more money than a solid gold bentley that runs on liquified diamonds

yes, but spend wisely
barcelona got uruguyuan striker luis suarez [who was rumoured to be cosying up to arsenal before the start of the 2013/14 season] at a bit of  a discount because he keeps trying to eat defenders. they only had to pay about seventy-five million fucking pounds to get him from liverpool. the most expensive transfer in history was welshman gareth bale, for whom real madrid paid just over eighty-five million [again, we're talking british pounds here, so chances are it's a way bigger number in whatever currency you normally think in] to british side tottenham hotspur [who then flushed the money down the toilet, i believe].

strikers and centre forwards are the superstars of football and football is the biggest sport in the world. unless you manage to grow your own and keep everyone else in the world from finding out about him, you're going to pay a ridiculous amount for someone who shows even a little promise in this position. figures in the tens of millions of pounds are mooted for even very young players. strikers with a proven track record... well, that figure for suarez i quoted above takes into consideration that he couldn't even play for the first few months of the season because he was suspended over the cannibalism thing.

arsenal have lots of money by the standards of most people. hell, they have lots of money by the standards of a number of countries. but their most expensive signing in history cost about half a suarez or bale. buying a world-class, top-of-his-game guy basically means that arsenal are taking their entire savings account to the roulette table and saying "put it all on sixteen red".

[and remember: the purchase figure is what one team pays the other team to buy a player from them. the issue of how much the team pays the player himself gets worked out afterward.]

 it's not like they grow on trees [except possibly in south america]

not a world class striker
as you might expect, with everyone desperate to find the next big thing, teams spend a lot of money paying people to go around the world to find someone who fits the bill. world class strikers are never a well-kept secret. by the time a player is deemed worthy of being called "world class" you can bet there are thousands of people around the world wearing a shirt with his number and name, a small museum in his honour and probably several religious shrines with his picture. there are a very limited number of players available and everyone with even a passing interest knows who they are. furthermore, everyone who works as a scout for a team knows the players who will become that next generation of stars already. if a boy can reliably land a ball in the back of the net, you can rest assured that there are a dozen people observing him from a discreet distance and offering fancy gifts to the boy's family.

there are a really limited number of young men who will ever achieve this level of success. some will play for a few clubs during their career, while others will become so integral to one club that they spend basically their entire playing time there [before ending their days in north america's major league soccer, where great footballers are put out to stud]. so, if you're in the market for such a player, you can pretty much count on the fact that you're competing with virtually every other top team and that the player's current employers are going to sell to whoever makes the most ridiculously overpriced offer.

they have a short shelf life

you know what's rarer than a guy who can score goals against the best teams in the world? a guy who can score against the best teams in the world for more than a few years. swedish icon-cum-psychopath zlatan ibrahimovic is still banging them into the back of the net in his early thirties, but he was a late bloomer. by the time most strikers hit the big 3-0, people start talking about them being on the downward slope. of course, to establish yourself as one of the best, it takes time. in your early twenties, you're still just showing potential and people want to know if you can maintain that form. so it's really only when you're in your mid-twenties that people will start talking about you as one of the best and within five years, you'll be past it.

try working that out on a dollars per year basis. it's not a sound investment. midfielders and defenders tend to have a longer period of time when they're considered the best and goalkeepers can have more than a decade at the top. [juventus goalkeeper gianluigi buffon is still considered one of the best in the world at thirty-seven, alongside chelsea keeper thibault courtois, twenty-two.]

when you dish out that kind of money for one player, you like to think that the message you're sending is "we're serious about winning". i'd argue that the message you're sending is "we're richer than you can fucking dream of". yes, real madrid won the champions league last year, but they just barely eked out a victory over comparatively cash-poor rivals atletico madrid. chelsea won the champions league with a much smaller budget than they have this year, and they've already been eliminated from the competition.

not every team needs a superstar striker

there are teams who are all about the goals. when they had luis suarez up front, liverpool was that kind of team. who cares about your porous defense when you have a guy who could hit goal blindfolded from behind a brick wall? [they've had to make some adjustments this year.]

but not every team is like that. arsenal isn't like that and i can prove it. first of all, arsenal have the most goal-scorers of any team in the british premier league this year. no one else has had as many different guys hit the back of the net, which is especially shocking when you consider that arsenal have been derided all season for relying too heavily on new signing alexis sanchez.

so why should a team that has more players than anyone who can score spend their entire kitty buying one player who can score a lot? [especially considering that there are other areas that could do with a tune-up, *cough* defensive players *cough*.] 

arsenal don't even play the sort of game that favours an annoited "goal scorer", because they're much more about playing as a team. witness this nifty little graphic of an arsenal goal from this year where every single player including the goalkeeper was involved in the build-up.

and if you stare at this long enough, it starts moving

a single goalscorer can be taken out by a single injury. it's highly unlikely that all your key players will suffer injuries at the same time. [unless you're arsenal, especially this year.]

it doesn't always work out so well

yes, about that...
remember gareth bale from my first point? yeah, he's getting booed by his team's fans who don't think he's producing enough to justify his gigantic fee. rumour has it that he might be on his way back to the premier league after just two seasons.

arsenal fans [particularly piers morgan] were livid when the team sold robin van persie to manchester united on the back end of a great season. he had another great year the following season, after which he and the team have stumbled badly. almost perpetually suffering from injuries and uncertain on the pitch when he does play, it doesn't seem that arsenal lost that much after all. in his place, they added midfielder santi cazorla, widely considered to be having the best season of his career at age thirty and showing no signs of slowing down and striker olivier giroud, often branded as being below the standard of a top team, although he's scored just three fewer goals this season than league-leader diego costa, despite being sidelined with a broken tibia for three months. how bad does the van persie math look now?

gambling so much money on one player is, well... a gamble. you could end up with a very expensive salary on your books and very little to show for it.

so that's my case.

is having a big goalscorer a good thing? of course, if for no other reason than he's the kind of player who'll put asses in seats and shirts on torsos. is it necessary? no. and it's particularly not necessary when your team is built around not having one. take it easy, gooners, you're better off than you think.

looking just fine.

and that doesn't just go for arsenal. if you're not among the financial chosen people, you might want to remember that buying a big gun might sound like a good idea, but you'd probably be better off with a well-disciplined army. 

[note :: like him or loathe him, i do recommend following arsenal's most vocal/ annoying fan, piers morgan on twitter. you will be richly entertained no matter what your feelings on the man.] 

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