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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
At this time of year, particularly in the UK, it's not unusual to be struck down by the post-holiday blues. Everywhere you look you can see the sad, sun-tanned faces of those who have let their problems ebb away on a hot beach, only to return home to the sickening blow of normality. For some, the plight is even worse. Arsene Wenger would have loved to have returned to normality, but instead he arrived at pre-season training this week to find his intricately assembled squad tearing themselves apart.

Arsenal have a policy of refusing to spend 'silly money' on players wages, partly because the club is run sensibly, but mainly because shiny new stadiums don't come for free. With that in mind, Wenger has constructed his side on a tight budget, making use of a highly developed scouting network and scooping up the best young talent on the planet. He can't pay enormous salaries, but he can offer a footballing education, a chance of first-team experience and the opportunity to play in one of the most attractive sides in Europe. Up until now, the strategy has worked perfectly, but after this summer, Wenger may have to think again.

Emmanuel Adebayor's sudden demands for an astronomical payrise came as something of a surprise to everyone. The Togolese striker scored 24 goals in the last campaign, but it should be noted that this was the first time in his career that he had actually racked up double figures. He has great pace and physical strength, but his finishing is still erratic and his positioning is so bad that even a neutral like myself has been on the verge of standing up in the pressbox and bellowing, "For goodness sake, Emmanuel, you're miles offside!" He is a good striker, on the verge of maturing, but there are many better. It is a sad measure of the man that he appears willing to give up a first-team place and Champions League football in pursuit of his real love; money. Still, I'm sure he'll do very well in the UEFA Cup.

Aleksandr Hleb's departure was equally mystifying. The poor chap is reported to have said that he couldn't stand the frantic pace of life in London, and so he's been negotiating a move to a quiet Spanish fishing village by the name of Barcelona. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that Hleb lived in Hampstead, a phenomenally expensive and sedate suburb of London where the craziest thing you can do is to get whacked up on coffee and go second-hand book shopping. Either he's the most timid, retiring man in Europe, in which case I'd love to see his first impressions of Las Ramblas, or he's going for the money.

The acquisitions of Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey suggest that Wenger isn't about to change his formula, and that's reassuring to see. Rightly or wrongly, Arsenal's policy of progress through the education of youth seems more genuine and worthy than the rapid, expensive accumulation of ready-made talent and there's a sense that, in an ideal world, this is how all football managers would work. Unfortunately, as we've seen this summer, the real world has a habit of shattering Utopian visions.

This is a vital season for Arsenal. It is now five years since Les Invincibles began their incredible unbeaten season, but since that triumph, Arsenal have won just a single FA Cup. Wenger's ability to bewitch observers with style has masked what is now becoming a serious issue. They're not actually winning anything. That in itself should be enough of a worry for fans, but more concerning is the thought that, one of these days, Wenger is going to want to come back from holiday without having to worry about wage budgets. The players aren't the only stars who can move on.