Zlatan, Vardy: Right signings, wrong clubs

Date published: Saturday 4th June 2016 2:44

Anything you can do, we can do better. Or, rather, anyone you can sign, we can sign better, bigger, and for considerably less money. Within an hour of The Guardian’s Stuart James breaking the rather peculiar news that Arsenal had met the £20m release clause of Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, a more predictable update filtered through from Sky Sports: Manchester United are closing in on Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

One is 34, the other is 29. One has won 30 trophies in an illustrious club career, the other has won just four, including the Northern Premier League Premier Division. One has scored 454 goals in 789 career appearances, the other has scored 116 in 235 games. One lists Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Ajax and Malmo as his former clubs. The other lists Fleetwood, Halifax and Stocksbridge Steels. Both represent statement signings ahead of what promises to be the most competitive Premier League in recent memory. But is this a case of the right signings joining the wrong clubs?

Arsenal’s move for Vardy is initially an obvious and understandable one. The forward scored 24 goals for the champions last season, at least eight more than the Gunners’ top goalscorer. Olivier Giroud is an excellent option, but is not worthy of a regular starting role for a club with multiple trophy aspirations. Vardy started 36 games for Leicester as he fired them to the title.

That is the simple view: Arsenal need an elite striker with a constant supply of goals, criteria to which Vardy proved himself more than applicable this season. But if we learned anything from England’s recent friendly victory over Portugal, it is that Vardy plays one way, and one way only. Leicester were a counter-attacking phenomenon; only two sides – Sunderland and West Brom – claimed less possession on average per game in the Premier League this campaign (44.8%). Arsenal (56.9%) ranked the highest. The Foxes had a pass-success rate of just 70.5%, with only West Brom faring worse in that regard. Again, the Gunners were top, with 84.2% of their passes finding a teammate. Vardy is remarkably effective in Leicester’s system, a system in direct contrast with that of Arsenal.

The clear desire to bring Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford is also a transparent one. Appointing Jose Mourinho as manager and approaching Lionel Messi concerning a move from Barcelona points to a broken club massaging their ego, seeking the finest talent in world football at any cost. Ambition is the buzzword. Ibrahimovic is a free agent, and, as our transfer guide put it, he ‘ticks two near-empty boxes labelled ‘winning mentality’ and ‘star quality”.

As tailor-made for United Ibrahimovic is, he is precisely what Arsenal need. The proven, elite-level striker Vardy is not. The trustworthy goalscorer Giroud is not. The more rounded, skilled focal point Vardy cannot provide.

And while United are chasing the Swede, have they missed the opportunity to sign a faster, younger and more suitable option in Vardy?

While United under Van Gaal played a similarly possession-based style to the Gunners, the Dutchman identified the desperate need for pace and a more direct approach early in his tenure. “We need quick and creative players,” the manager lamented in April. Ibrahimovic provides half of the formula; Vardy would bring both.

‘Manchester United have also explored the possibility of signing Vardy,’ read a throwaway line in The Guardian’s exclusive on Friday night. Ambition and the desire for a marquee signing will have quickly ruled the Leicester forward out as a target. United, much like Arsenal with Vardy, are looking to make a statement in the transfer window. It just seems as though the clubs have mixed up their scripts.


Matt Stead

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