Money doesn’t always talk

Fernando Torres scored a stunner against Bayern Munich.-AP

It seemed rash of Arsene Wenger before the derby game to criticise Spurs for having bought so many players; had Arsenal lost this would surely have been dismissed as sour grapes. But Arsenal won, making a point. By Brian Glanville.

In these days of astronomical transfer fees, colossal payments to star players, a world record payment by Real Madrid (though hugely in debt) to Tottenham for Gareth Bale, how encouraging to find evidence that there are chinks of light amidst the overall moral gloom. That even now money isn’t quite everything. As recent experiences of two major London clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea have shown.

Arsenal, who hadn’t made a single-paid-for signing throughout the summer, whose manager Arsene Wenger had been furiously criticised by the club’s fans and questioned in the press, stuck his neck out before the North London derby at home to Tottenham Hotspur. The eternal rivals had spent vast summer fortunes on such stars as Paulinho of Brazil, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Soldado and Erik Lamela. Though, admittedly, they had lost an irreplaceable figure in Gareth Bale.

Arsenal by contrast, till Mesut Ozil, had signed two Frenchmen, one an obscure young striker, the other the 29-year-old midfielder Mathieu Flamini, who had gone from the Gunners to Milan, and now returned on a free transfer. It seemed rash of Wenger before the derby game to criticise Spurs for having bought so many players; had Arsenal lost this would surely have been dismissed as sour grapes. Yet in the event Arsenal took control of the game from the very beginning, Flamini was a decisive force in midfield, and an early goal, expertly taken by the big French centre forward Olivier Giroud, showing fine, much improved, early season form, proved decisive.

Even though they lost their essential playmaker, young Jack Wilshere, with illness, shortly before half-time, Arsenal held on to their lead and could well have scored more, were it not for the acrobatics in the Tottenham goal by Hugo Lloris, yet another Frenchman. True, Wenger, almost immediately after the game, was busily involved in trying to bring in costly new players, but the point had surely been made. Money doesn’t always talk.

Nor did it seem to when in Prague, Chelsea, who had won the Europa Cup, met Bayern Munich, winners of the infinitely more significant Champions League. Like Spurs, Chelsea had splashed vast sums of money on transfers during the close season. They had piped Tottenham to the signing of the gifted Brazilian international midfielder Willian.

They had bought that famous veteran striker Samuel Eto’o, once of Barcelona and Inter, from Russia. A transfer, which made the position of the inconsistent GBP50 million centre forward Spain’s Fernando Torres more problematical than ever. But it was Torres, who Jose Mourinho, now back at the Bridge, and once the manager of Eto’o at Inter, picked to lead the Chelsea attack.

And what does Torres do, but crack home a splendid opening goal against a Bayern team admittedly without the propulsive force of Bastian Schweinsteiger, but otherwise almost at full formidable strength.

Chelsea, thus, not using any of their costly summer purchases other than the young German Andre Schurrle, in bright form.

Yet they had, with their brisk counter attacking, largely the better of a game which they would surely have won had not their Brazilian Ramirez carelessly got himself sent-off. Even then they held Bayern to a 2-2 draw in extra-time and succumbed only on the ever dubious and controversial anticlimax of penalties.

But how formidable will Bayern be under their new manager Pep Guardiola? Already he is making certain evident tactical changes, though the use of the able Tony Kroos in a deeper midfield role than usual against Chelsea was necessitated by the absence of Schweinsteiger. Bayern, like that other European power Barcelona, made a somewhat uneasy start to the season and I still question whether Guardiola will prove to be the right manager for Bayern. Incidentally, this match in Prague so nearly turned out to be one almost of those rare occasions when Mourinho got the better of Guardiola.

But those were the Barcelona days when Guardiola managed a team largely made up of players who had been at the club and had been coached by them from boyhood. By the time they had reached the first team, they would be thoroughly schooled in Barca’s intricate possession and passing style. Guardiola could scarcely hope to impose such a style, however desirable on the experienced members of Bayern, none of whom have been subject to such tuition. So will things work? I am not at all sure. Jupp Heynckes, who retired at the end of last season after winning the European Cup, did a hugely effective job in charge of Bayern. Both as a coach and as an international footballer, a European Cup winner as a player, he has been essentially a product of German football.

So we come to Barcelona, who should, in the face of it, have scant trouble qualifying from their European group. But they too have a new manager who, unlike Guradiola and his successor, has emphatically not been schooled in the ways of Barcelona.

Gerardo Martino has been steadily successful in South American football, not least in the difficult context of Argentina. Under his new aegis he’ll have another expensive player in the multi-talented young Brazilian Neymar, like the world’s foremost footballer, Lionel Messi, a little fellow, whose gifts make his surprisingly slight physique irrelevant. But will the Brazilian, a soloist of renown and almost a unique talent, fit into the carefully calibrated pattern of the Barcelona game? And to what extent will it be acceptable to Martino?

On the face of it, Barcelona, no longer speak of promoting from the ranks, have like Bayern Munich taken something of a risk with their new appointment. As for Chelsea, their foremost player of last season, that superbly versatile attacker Juan Mata, didn’t even get on the field in Prague though Mourinho insists he has a role. But in such circumstances, will Mata be determined to stay? In the meantime, Mourinho has dispensed with one of the most promising young attackers in the Premiership, Victor Moses, sending him out on loan to Liverpool, where he will encounter another young attacker who has begun this season with a dazzling sequence of goals, he too discarded by Chelsea: Daniel Sturridge. Though, Mourinho was not in charge when he was allowed last year to move to Liverpool.

On current form he has been the best English centre forward in the Premier League, and perhaps the best of them all. So much so that Liverpool have scarcely missed the fractious Uruguayan star Luis Suarez, serving out his suspension for biting the Chelsea defender, Ivanovic.

Soccer thank goodness can still surprise us all.