Arsène Wenger is a man who knows what he likes, and what he doesn’t.
Hoofing the ball forward aimlessly, opponents clattering recklessly into the back of his boys (therefore all things Stoke City), sub-standard referees, criticism of his ethics, plus, of course, the prospect of paying over the odds for a player, all make the Arsenal boss feel distinctly peeved.
On the flip side, there are few things the Frenchman enjoys more than the delight of capturing a top-class footballing bargain.
Wenger’s critics claim he’s lost his knack for spotting a cut-price gem, but the world has changed dramatically since he went undercover to snare the likes of Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fàbregas for peanuts.
Back then the internet had hardly anything on it. Niche bedroom bloggers didn’t exist to give the game away, youth tournaments weren’t screened on the telly and, believe it or not, if you wanted a scouting report you had to send a professional to watch the game in person.
I was an Arsenal player when Vieira and Anelka walked through the doors in the mid-to-late nineties as virtual unknowns – certainly, none of us had heard of them. Their arrivals were a product of secretive scouting, expert analysis and sheer bloody hard work.
Anyone who argues that’s still possible at the highest level in 2013 is delusional. There’s just too much knowledge, too much exposure and too much competition for world-beaters (even potential ones) to slip under the radar. If you want the best nowadays, even if they’re kids, you have to pay through the nose.
As the whole world knows, Arsenal’s manager has always been reluctant to do that. Needing to be sufficiently convinced a player will provide value for money before swooping, the 63-year-old has missed out on plenty of his targets to more carefree bidders in recent times.
Like every boss he’s made the occasional misjudgment, but as a recent study by the Swiss-based CIES Football Observatory showed, his eye for a discounted diamond is still almost 20-20. According to the report, Arsenal’s current squad has increased in value to the tune of £119million; a figure way ahead of the rest of the Premier League, and that doesn’t include the enormous profits made on Fàbregas and Van Persie.
Yet while this statistic is admirable, the absence of trophies still outweighs it as a negative. Criticism of the club’s eight-year drought is fair.
This summer there is a switch in approach. Arsenal know they need to flex their financial muscle in order to keep up, and as a consequence their transfer record of £15m could be smashed three or four times. But Wenger still loves a bargain, and if Real Madrid finally get around to rubber stamping the transfer of Gonzalo Higuaín for about £22m, it would be the steal of the summer.
Strong, powerful and deceptively quick, the Argentine has all the athletic qualities the Arsenal boss looks for in a Premier League player. At times he appeared sluggish last term, but José Mourinho’s over-rotation was culpable. Regular football will restore his sharpness.
Technically, Higuaín is also a Wenger-type. Smooth on the ball, adaptable and hard-working, he’s a class act anywhere in the final third. A record of 97 league goals in 146 matches during the past five seasons also proves he can finish.
Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez are all wonderful attacking talents, but are valued at more than double the price of the Arsenal target this summer. Are they all going to be twice as productive as the 25-year-old over the next few seasons? I really don’t think so.
Pound-for-pound, I’m not sure anyone will be able to match the prospective purchase of Higuaín. In the current climate he will prove to be phenomenal value for money, should the move go through.