IT IS NO secret that Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez are desperate to leave Tottenham and Liverpool respectively.
Suarez has spoken of being open to leaving Liverpool, while Bale has done nothing to dampen speculation linking him with Real Madrid, and is understood to be “distraught” at Tottenham’s ostensible determination to keep hold of him.
It’s often said that clubs are better off selling players who are unhappy, rather than stubbornly keeping hold of them against their will. However, would it be wise for Tottenham and Liverpool to sell the two individuals who are, by far and away, their best players?
Many commentators and fans have suggested the clubs might as well sell these players, with the argument being that were they to get injured or suffer a sudden loss of form, the likes of Real Madrid may not be at all interested in them next year, or at the very least, be only willing to buy them for a substantially reduced price. Consequently, the worst-case scenario is that, in a year’s time, they are stuck with an underperforming player on excessive wages whose valuation has dwindled immeasurably.
Spurs and Liverpool, while losing one star, could use the significant income from these sales to invest in two or three world-class players. Yet, on the other hand, the transfer business is rarely so simple.
The influence of Bale and Suarez on their sides cannot be underestimated, and losing them could potentially be cataclysmic. Most would agree that both players, while not quite having attained levels of Messi and Ronaldo-esque excellence as of yet, would at least be among the ten greatest players in the world right now.
In recent seasons, Bale has consistently been the best player in the league in his position (on the wing and more recently, behind the striker), winning the PFA Player of the Year award twice in the process. While the Welshman has constantly troubled defences and displayed an ability to stamp his influence on games for many years, until recently, the one element missing from his game had been the ability to score goals on a regular basis. Nevertheless, he alleviated that imperfection last year, scoring 21 times (when previously, he had failed to register double figures in a single season) largely thanks to the free role and license to play more centrally, which he was granted.
Suarez, meanwhile, has also demonstrated a clear development over the past 12 months. Having hit just 11 goals the previous season, he managed 23 last year, and would surely have had more had he not been suspended for the final few games for infamously biting an opponent.
By taking these two players away from their sides, they are not just losing their goals however. Losing such integral team members is also bound to have a major psychological impact on a side. Barcelona’s inability to perform without Lionel Messi in the Champions League last year was one particularly stark example of the extent of the influence that these types of players invariably possess.
But notwithstanding the potentially devastating effects on the side created by these individuals’ prospective departures, it is also conceivable that accommodating players whose morale is bound to be low would have a strongly negative impact on their teams. Hence, either decision is, in some way, a calculated risk.
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Yet Bale and Suarez are both intensely professional, therefore it seems more likely that they will soldier on irrespective of what happens, rather than go on strike in protest at how they are being treated, as some players in similar positions to theirs have done in the past.
Moreover, there have been several examples of clubs prospering by not selling their best players, in spite of lucrative offers being continually put on the table. For instance, at the start of the 2004-2005 season, Chelsea failed in their attempts to buy Steven Gerrard, despite a £20million offer. The Anfield club would go on to win the Champions League that year – a feat they simply would not have achieved without the England international’s considerable influence. Similarly, though they eventually sold Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal managed to hold onto the Spaniard for a season or two longer than expected, with the midfielder playing a pivotal role in helping the club to qualify for the Champions League in the process.
There have been also been countless examples of clubs’ form dropping significantly after selling their star players – United failed to win the league the season following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Blackburn were never the same after they sold Alan Shearer and Liverpool went from a second place finish in the 2008-2009 season to coming seventh the following year after they had parted with Xabi Alonso. Of course, they had money to replace these players, but there is the inevitable risk that it will be spent on an Alberto Aquilani or Martin Dahlin-style flop.
Another problem facing Liverpool and Tottenham is that they are unlikely to find adequate replacements should they sell Suarez and Bale. While they may garner millions as a result of the fees agreed, they are unlikely to offer the exorbitant wages that most of the world’s top players demand.
And the fact that neither are able to offer Champions League football lessens their chances even further of filling the voids that their venerated attackers would leave. They simply shop in different markets to sides of the calibre of PSG and Barca, and don’t even hold the allure that some of their Premier League rivals possess. Consequently, unless their scouts can unearth some under-the-radar quality or somehow manage to persuade a top star to join their ranks, selling Suarez and Bale will represent a considerable step backwards for these clubs. Though they would benefit financially in the short-term from any such sale, their long-term health would be an altogether different story.