Arsenal must pay the price

Arsenal go to Newcastle on Sunday for their final Premier League fixture, when a point will be enough to clinch Champions League qualification – and what a massively important outcome that would be for the Gunners. The word is that manager Arsene Wenger will have up to £70m to spend in the transfer market this summer, provided he maintains his annual success in qualifying for Europe’s top competition. It follows that, if Wenger spends big on top-drawer names, he will also have to pay top wages and that’s something Arsenal haven’t done. At least, not in comparison to the Manchester Uniteds, Manchester Citys and Chelseas of this world. I think that is what the Gunners will have to do if they are to end their recent trophy-less seasons and take on the Big Three.

Arsenal is one of the best-run clubs in the world and, in Wenger, they have a manager who has consistently produced teams that play exciting, fluid football. Wenger’s teams get behind the opposition, get to the byline so often. I often think how happy I would have been to be the centre-forward. If you could put Alan Shearer in to the teams Wenger has produced, he would have smashed every scoring record. The problem has been that Wenger has lost a lot of top class players in recent years, men who have gone to other clubs where they have often doubled their wages. And, because Wenger has been unable to compete in the pay stakes, his replacements have too often not been of similar quality. I am an admirer of Wenger, who goes on producing inspirational – if not always functional – teams, despite this financial handicap and I believe that, if the board backs him with hard cash, Arsenal will be a serious threat next season. Put it this way, if they are serious about trying to lure Wayne Rooney, from Manchester United, they will have to increase their current top pay packet of £100,000 a week to £250,000. Crazy, I know. But that is football at the highest level in the modern era. It will also be interesting to see if Tottenham, who are also knocking on the door for that final Champions League place, reassess their wages policy in a bid to make the step up to the top four.



D-day looms for Rooney

Wayne Rooney, by far England’s most talented striker, is ending the season in no man’s land, with a parting slap from retiring Sir Alex Ferguson, who pointedly left Rooney out of the squad for his last home match in charge, against Swansea, on Sunday. Sir Alex says he has turned down a transfer request from the player, while admitting he can’t be sure Rooney will be at United next season, so it will be down to new boss David Moyes to decide how the situation is resolved.

One thing I do know is that Rooney remains by far this country’s best forward, still the only Englishman who guarantee 20 goals a season in the Premier League. And that is because, at his best, he is strong, aggressive, deceptively fast, good in the air for a man of average height, utterly fearless and possessed with a fierce will to win. That particular characteristic was clear for us to see when he was nine/ten years old and preparing to join Everton’s Academy, when I was manager in the mid-90′s. He is so good that he can operate with equal effectiveness either up front, wide or in central midfield. And it just might be that therein lies Rooney’s problem. I don’t know if he has a preferred position, but the fact that he has been played in different roles might be what is disillusioning him. Rooney likes to be the top dog and it might be that he feels his nose has been put out of joint by the arrival of Robin van Persie. Or the problem could be that Sir Alex is unhappy with Rooney’s physical condition and that he is trying to make a point by having him in and out of the side.

I must say, whether it is a physical or a mental issue, I feel Rooney hasn’t been at his sharpest this season. He and Moyes, who successfully sued Rooney over allegations in the player’s book that he was “overbearing” and “controlling” at Everton, clearly have had their differences. It will be interesting to see the outcome when the two men get together to thrash out the current impasse.



Softly,softly for Moyes

David Moyes starts the biggest challenge of his life when he takes over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United on July 1. But, believe me, he will have met the United players before then. And, when he does address his superstar Premier League champions for the first time, David will be telling them: “I’m here to make it business as usual. Let’s keep up the good work.” The likes of Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand, players who have been there, done it, worn several of the T-shirts, don’t need to be told they’d better start doing things differently!

This is not a situation like the one that confronted Andreas Villas-Boas when he took over at Chelsea 12 months ago when, it seems, he had a mandate to make sweeping changes. Moyes, who already has the public approval of players like Ferdinand – and, of course, Ferguson who nominated him as his successor – will stress he has no need, nor intention, to bulldoze his way into the biggest job in club football. David’s first major issue is Wayne Rooney’s future. There has been no denial from Rooney of the stories claiming he wants to leave the club, so David will need to sit down with the player and his agent Paul Stretford and sort out the situation. David will, of course, be armed with Alex Ferguson’s take on the affair and it just might be that Rooney’s days at Old Trafford are numbered.

Certainly, Rooney would not be missed if United have lined up a sensational move for their former superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and, or, Borussia Dortmund’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, the man who destroyed Ronaldo’s Real Madrid with all four goals in their Champions League semi-final first leg 4-1 win two weeks ago. Wayne’s role seems to have changed from the all-action forward he was when he arrived at United to a more mature, more withdrawn operator. Whether that is more in Wayne’s mind than Alex’s, who knows? But it is a fact that Wayne has been in and out of the team and playing in different positions and this  may be a factor in Rooney’s reported unsettled state of mind. Someone will be happy to pay around £30m for Rooney, who should be in his prime in his late 20′s, and that might be seen as good business at United.

And, if United are, indeed, aiming to bring back Ronaldo, who has been blitzing La Liga defences for the past four years and for whom Real will want their money back, it is feasible it could be a self-financing deal, with the potential sale of players like winger Nani, striker Chicarito – and Rooney. I don’t see Moyes raiding Everton for players, though I do think  Leighton Baines, the best left-back in the country, could join his boss at United. Everton’s Marouane Fellaini is being touted for the big move, but I’m not convinced the Belgian is what United need, either in midfield or up front. Nor do I see a wholesale switch of backroom staffs, though don’t be surprised if David wants his Goodison assistant Steve Round to stay with him. At United, the backroom structure is as sound as the playing side and I’m sure Alex will have pushed the job security of the people who have served him so well. There is also the Phill Neville factor. I know David thinks a lot of Phil, who is from the same mould,  a man who gets in to training early, gets the players up for it and who, like his Sky pundit brother Gary, has an excellent knowledge of the game. Phil made 386 appearances for United before joining Everton eight years ago – and he might be a candidate for the Goodison job. He could well get an interview, though I feel such  a huge step would be too soon without experienced support.

For Moyes, the biggest concerns, aside of the Rooney issue, will be the age of Rio Ferdinand, at 34, and the injury issues that plague him and his centre-back partner Nemanja Vidic. United have marvellous, young defenders coming through, like Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, but Moyes might be tempted to try to take his Everton stalwart Phil Jagielka as insurance. Meantime, David Moyes’ biggest challenge is to get the players’ respect on the training pitch. I’m sure he’ll do that.