x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A transfer sign of the times

Arsenal and Manchester United have yet to recruit a big-name and time is running out before the window closes.

Arsene Wenger has not made any major signiings this summer.
Arsene Wenger has not made any major signiings this summer.

The biggest football clubs usually buy the biggest football players. When that doesn't happen, fans become concerned. Nine days remain until the end of the transfer window but as we stand, Manchester United and Arsenal, the two biggest clubs in Britain, going by the size of their crowds, haven't bought a single big-name player.

I can understand why fans are concerned, though I'd rather pass judgement at the end of the transfer window as I think there will be movement.

United are looking for an attacking midfield player because they've lost Paul Scholes. They've made that public, they still have time to bring that player in. If that happens, everyone will look at United and say "they're on it". Am I worried it hasn't happened already? Naturally. If United get an injury in midfield they'll be a player light straight away. But I'd be really surprised if there wasn't a signing.

At United, the new manager and new chief executive want to put their stamp of authority on the club. It will show that the club has money and can attract the best players.

That's always been the case at United. I was one of the big-name signings in 1995. The signing made headlines, it lifted the confidence of fans and - at the same time - damaged the prospects of a rival, my old club, Newcastle. Those are the best types of transfers, the one which damage the enemy, put a dagger in their heart. It's a psychological and footballing blow. Remember Luis Figo to Madrid?

Wayne Rooney to Chelsea would be a huge coup for them. The rest of the league would take notice and it would make Chelsea stronger. That would be Jose Mourinho's big-name player.

Chelsea and Manchester City have already brought in some big names - and, importantly, very good players - though they haven't bought them from the biggest clubs.

It's easier buying a player from Sevilla or Fiorentina than it is from Barcelona or Real Madrid, two clubs which don't need to sell. Players there need to force themselves out of those clubs.

United are used to getting two or three established new players every close season, including some of the best players around.

It was always the case when I was there. I saw players like Juan Sebastian Veron, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dwight Yorke and Jaap Stam. They all improved the team.

Great players didn't start life as a big-name footballer, they earned that description. The best players improve any team.

Of course, it's a great idea for a team to all come through the youth ranks together and cost nothing, but the reality is different. Man United's class of 1992 was a freak year, not the norm.

You're doing well if you establish one player from the youth team into the first team each season. If you want to grow a team from youth players then that means you'll have to sacrifice trophies and need a very patient owner. Which big club has one of those? It's all about now, about winning trophies. That's how success is measured.

The reality is you need to buy, ideally by adding to an already successful team. If a project starts from scratch, if you want to run before you can walk, then you need to buy big names. They win matches, they make it easier for the other players. They control matches, give the ball away less, they know how to close games out in the toughest contests. That all leads to teams winning games. That's what Manchester City did.

I'd be fuming if I was an Arsenal fan paying more than £1,000 a year (Dh5,700) for a season ticket. I'd be wondering what on Earth is happening with my football club. They've not won a trophy since 2005, they've got money to spend. Yet Arsene Wenger refuses to spend it. That would be fine if they were winning the league, season after season, but they're in a fight for fourth this year. They haven't got a chance of the title.

When Wenger comes out and defends his position, what does he expect fans to say? "That's fine, Arsene, as long as we continue to challenge for fourth." Arsenal were the second-best team in the country when I played - and sometimes the first. They're going backwards. They used to have players who could close out the big games. Not now.

Arsenal and United need to sign a player before September 2. If they don't, it's a long wait until the January window. Fans will be fine if their team wins; they'll turn as soon as they don't - and ask, quite reasonably: "Why didn't we sign any big-name players in the summer?"

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

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