Mediawatch: Arsenal’s ‘big statement’, Coutinho exclusives

Matt Stead

Cout and dry
Thursday was one of the busiest days of the year for a football journalist, but spare a thought for poor Neil Custis. The man has such brilliant contacts at The Sun that he managed to break three transfer exclusives on deadline day.

‘Philippe Coutinho heading to Barcelona in stunning £138m deal from Liverpool with announcement set for 7pm,’ reads the headline to the first. It’s safe to say this one really hasn’t aged well.

But Custis was not finished there. ‘Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho ready to make last ditch appeal for club to grant him dream move to Barcelona,’ was his second exclusive. Said ‘last ditch appeal’? To e-mail in a transfer request, apparently. Because the first one he sent earlier in August might have been gone straight to the junk folder.

The weird thing about the second exclusive – that Coutinho would request a transfer – is that it was published after the first – that Coutinho’s transfer was done. Strong work.


Where there’s a Will
But yes, there was a third exclusive. Custis remembered that he does indeed mainly cover Manchester United, and that deadline day might well pass without the Old Trafford club being linked to any players. As the side which drives by far the most website traffic, that simply would not do.

‘Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho launches audacious bid to land Willian from Chelsea,’ reads the headline to the second. It’s safe to say this one really hasn’t aged well either.

‘Mourinho always said he had four targets this season and had completed the transfer of three with striker Romelu Lukaku, defender Victor Lindelof and defensive midfielder Matic.

‘He was still looking for a wide right man to play in a 3-4-3 as well as the 4-2-3-1 he usually employs.

‘Willian, 29, could also play as a wing back in a 3-5-2- although it would not be his preferred position.’

So Willian will join as a potential wing-back, a position he has never played in, in a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, systems which Manchester United very rarely use, if at all. And Chelsea would obviously sell him.

Three deadline day exclusives, three big misses.


Mail order
Deadline day was frantic not only for journalists, but for the actual clubs too. Martin Samuel is struggling to understand why in the Daily Mail.

‘It is not just those who sell when they say they won’t or buy when they say they’re done. It’s not just the deals left to the last minute that could have been concluded weeks ago. It’s the scattergun aim. Take Liverpool. Their first major play of the summer involved centre-half Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool.’

If Mediawatch may interrupt, it’s funny Samuel should mention Van Dijk, just moments after criticising clubs who sold players despite insisting they wouldn’t. Southampton were pretty adamant they wouldn’t let Van Dijk go, and the centre-half stayed. But Samuel isn’t about to end that grudge, so let’s move on.

‘By June 7, that deal had fallen apart, with Southampton threatening to report them to the Premier League and Liverpool issuing an apology and ending their interest.

‘Plenty of time to search elsewhere, one would think, if greater strength at the back is required.

‘Instead, since then Liverpool have signed a striker, a wide forward, two midfielders, a left-back and were yesterday in negotiations for a winger.

‘Wasn’t their priority a centre-back? What happened to that?’

Perhaps their priority wasn’t ‘a centre-back’ per se; maybe their priority was Van Dijk. And after it became apparent that they would fail to sign him, they moved onto other targets. Jurgen Klopp said as much in August.


Slick City
Elsewhere in Samuel’s column, he takes aim at Manchester City.

‘Why, with City’s interest in Alexis Sanchez very plain throughout the summer, were bids only tabled in the final week of August?

‘They are a well-run club, very clear in their objectives. They knew they wanted Sanchez, everyone knew they wanted Sanchez, so Arsenal must have known it too.

‘Had City moved earlier the deal-breaker clauses and numbers required would have been apparent, Arsenal would have had more time to recruit a replacement and it could have gone quite smoothly.

‘Instead, the Sanchez transfer required Arsenal to get Lemar’s £92m deal over the line in a matter of hours.’

Considering Samuel’s earlier point – ‘It is not just those who sell when they say they won’t…’ – how can the finger of blame be pointed directly at City?

Arsenal were adamant they would not sell Sanchez until they suddenly changed their minds in the final week of the window, hence City’s late bids. The only reason the Gunners had so little time to conclude a deal for Lemar is because their stance rapidly changed, not because City bid late?


Fight the (player) power
In The Sun, Neil Ashton is impressed with the five Premier League clubs who ‘made a stand’ in not selling their players.

Among the quintet are Arsenal and Everton, who are lauded for ‘taking control’ and ‘holding firm’ over the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Ross Barkley.

As an aside, Arsenal accepted a bid for Sanchez, and Barkley’s move to Chelsea only collapsed when the player himself rejected it during a medical.

Still, way to take a stand, guys.

What makes Ashton’s praise all the more bizarre is that on the next page he is criticising Arsenal for ‘fading into obscurity’ in a piece headlined ‘The Arsene of nowhere’. Mixed transfer window, then?


Crossed wires
Most would probably agree that Arsenal had a terrible transfer window. John Cross of the Daily Mirror offers the slightest of defences.

Everyone pat Arsenal on the back for accepting a £60m bid for Sanchez, trying to find a replacement, finding a replacement, bidding for the replacement, having a bid accepted for the replacement, then deciding it was too late to pursue the move for the replacement, then deciding to reject the £60m bid they had accepted earlier that day.

Here are a list of statements it makes:

* That Arsenal did actually want to sell Sanchez despite claiming all summer that they didn’t.

* That Arsenal now have an unhappy player they value at £60m who can negotiate his exit for free as early as January.

* That the only reason Arsenal didn’t sell Sanchez is because they themselves left it too late to sign a replacement because they were indecisive.

Mediawatch also cannot help but remember a piece in the Daily Mirror from August 29, in which Cross states that ‘baggage comes with Sanchez’.

‘There often does with big stars and their egos. They know they are special, can be temperamental, selfish divas and, at times, disruptive.

‘Some of the other players do not like him, they think he inhibits and damages the team ethic and dressing room spirit.’

Still, it’s all good news.


On Thursday, Aaron Ramsey posted a message of support for a friend on his Instagram page. By Friday, said message became back-page news for three different British newspapers.

The Daily Mail claim that the Arsenal midfielder was ‘forced to explain himself’ after ‘he appeared to brand Arsenal’s transfer business a ‘shambles’.’

The Daily Mirror write that Ramsey ‘took a swipe’ at Arsenal for selling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The Sun also say that Ramsey was ‘forced to explain himself’ for the post, which has left the Welshman ‘in the dock’.

He posted a message that the British media wilfully chose to misinterpret. He wasn’t ‘forced to explain himself’ at all, he was just correcting you.


Smash brothers
‘The Gunners agreed a £92million deal to sign Thomas Lemar – only to run out of time to complete the deal. Monaco accepted the offer, which would have smashed the British record transfer fee, yesterday afternoon’ – Daily Mail.

The current British record transfer fee is the £89.3m Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba – £2.7m less than what Arsenal offered for Lemar.

‘Smashed’? It might have managed a fracture.


Space in-graders
In the absence of Premier League football, and thereby Paul Merson’s predictions, Sky Sports have asked the Magic Man to grade every top-flight club’s summer transfer window. They aren’t silly, after all.

Here is his verdict on Bournemouth:

‘It’s not been a bad window for Bournemouth, but they’ve had a bad start to the season. I like Asmir Begovic and he will save them a few points, but I think Nathan Ake was a bit overpriced. Chelsea let him go after the game against Watford last season when he was all over the place. I’m a big fan of Jermain Defoe, but he’s 34 years old and sooner or later time takes its toll.’

The grade for signing an ‘overpriced’ player and another whose age will ‘take its toll’? B-.

Here is his verdict on Chelsea:

‘Diego Costa isn’t going to play for Chelsea again – the manager will lose face if he comes back – and they didn’t get Romelu Lukaku, so the big question is who will get all the goals?’

Alvaro Morata, probably.


Barking mad
As is only right on a Friday, we save the last word for Merson, and his thoughts on the collapse of Ross Barkley’s move to Chelsea.

“You can’t live in Liverpool for the rest of your life.”

Truly the man England’s North-South debate really needs.


Recommended reading of the day
Jonathan Drennan on a globetrotting football manager.

Simon Chadwick on mega deals.

Simon Hughes on Philippe Coutinho’s deal.