No Such Thing As A Free Transfer

To most people, the name Jean-Marc Bosman won’t mean a great deal. He was a fairly talented, if relatively forgettable player during his time as a professional football player.

Born in Liège, Belgium – he split most of his time between the Belgian and French leagues in varying divisions, including a short stint on Réunion Island.

However, this man would go onto define one of the most significant rulings in modern sport. The Bosman ruling.

What is colloquially known as a “free transfer”, the Bosman ruling essentially removed restrictions on players being able to move to another club upon the expiration of their contract without a transfer fee needing to be paid.

Prior to this, players moving to other clubs would need to be sorted out at transfer tribunals, which resolve the issues regarding fees, comissions and compensation.

With the Bosman ruling in effect, players can agree pre-contract agreements with foreign sides (teams outside of their own league) as long as they have six months or less remaining on their current deal.

In reality, however, the old saying rings true: “There’s np such thing as a free lunch”. In this case, there is no such thing as a free transfer.

While the team is relinquished of the requirement to pay a transfer fee to a selling club, they still have numerous other costs to cover.

Players who join on a free transfer usually expect a fairly hefty signing-on bonus, a fat payout for their agent(s) and bump in their wages. In most cases, the clubs are happy to agree to these terms.

Giving a player a larger wage is just the cost of business. Not all players move for money of course, but their needs to be a tangible incentive to make the move worthwhile, so a bump in salary is, ordinarily, a given.

Bonuses are also far easier for a club to swallow than before. A team would rather give a player and their agent a small sum of money compared to paying out a massive transfer fee, which may have to be spread out over a period of time according to the seller’s needs.

Arsenal have, of course taken advantage of the free transfer ruling many times in their history. The most high-profile is, of course, Sol Campbell. Linked with moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona, Campbell shocked the world when he switched from Tottenham to their arch-rivals Arsenal. While Campbell would go on to become one of the club’s greatest ever players, it’s worth remembering that not all free transfers go the same way.

Since 2010, Arsenal have made seven free transfers. Five were made under the watchful eye of Arsène Wenger, one under Unai Emery and one under Mikel Arteta, but how have they faired?

🇲🇦 Marouane Chamakh67£14.5m— £12.5m*
🇫🇷 Yaya Sanogo20£4.6m— £4.6m
🇫🇷 Mathieu Flamini93£5.9m— £5.9m
🇧🇦 Sead Kolašinac118£24.4m— £24.4m
🇦🇲 Henrikh Mkhitaryan59£24.9m— £24.9m*
🇨🇭 Stephan Lichtsteiner23£3.9m— £3.9m
🇧🇷 Willian37£5.2m (+£14.4m bonus)— £19.6m
TOTAL417£83.4m (£97.8m bonus)— £95.8m
* Marouane Chamakh sold for £2m to Crystal Palace.
* Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed as part of swap deal for Alexis Sánchez.

It may seem unfair to list a player’s salary as a loss to the club. After all, it is a necessary expenditure for a club to have and one they are legally obligated to make.

However, in lieu of a transfer fee, these are generally fees that are still considered investments by the club. The salaries are generally cosnidered to be well above whatever the player was earning at their previous club and very few are though to have taken paycuts to join the club.

The salaries the players have been paid also give an indication, however small, of how much the player was paid relative to their performances. Players who receive as much as £120,000-a-week are generally expected to perform higher than players on £17,000-a-week.

2010 is a significant starting point for this listicle.

While players such as Danny Karbassiyoon, Mart Poom, Guillaume Warmuz, Ólafur Ingi Skúlason, Joe O’Cearuill, Guy Demel and the aforementioned Sol Campbell have all been Bosman signings made during the Premier League-era for the club, 2010 was a time when Arsenal needed to keep an eye on the pursestrings as the millstone of financing their move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium began to restrict freedom in the transfer market.

As a result, Arsenal needed to make some smaller investments in terms of financial outlay, with a view of being able to recluse themselves of any transfer fees.

Of course, Arsenal’s finances have grown significantly in that time, but the club has taken more and more daring approaches to transfers, so here’s how Arsenal have faired with free transfers since 2010.

Name: Marouane Chamakh
Goals: 14
Assists: 10
At one time, Marouane Chamakh was one of the most sought-after strikers in Europe. Arsenal had made their interest in the player known, with a €7m bid being lodged with Bordeaux, though it was rejected out of hand.

Bordeaux thought they struck gold when West Ham submitted an £18m offer for the Moroccan striker, but alas, to no avail as Chamakh vowed to stay and see out the remainder of his contract.

From there, Chamakh eventually signed for Arsenal in May 2010. At the time, Arsenal were somewhat limited in terms of forward options. Robin van Persie was the club’s talismanic forward, but the only back-ups Arsène Wenger had were Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner, though Andrey Arshavin could also play there too.

In this regard, Arsenal signing a coveted striker from Europe for no fee at all, represented the very best of business that the club could hope for.

But whatever hope Chamakh ultimately represented to Arsenal, he sadly failed to deliver on it.

In fairness to Chamakh, he started off very well. Goals in the Premier League were frequent, and he had 8 goals in 9 Champions League apperances for the club and even scored the club’s fastest-recorded goal at 37 seconds. But soon, fatigue began to set in and the striker asked for time to recover. After that, he just wasn’t the same.

Respectable performances here and there were welcome, but they were few and far between and soon Arsenal grew frustrated with him.

A loan to West Ham (whom he previously refused to join at Bordeaux) looked like it may be the shot in the arm that he needed. Alas, Chamakh made a measly 3 apperances for the club and didn’t score in a single one.

He remains the only free transfer that the club have made that has made any money. He was bundled out the door in the final year of his deal to Crystal Palace for £2m, where he hardly faired much better.

An unfortunate end to what should have been a perfect environment for him, though he will still be remembered for scoring twice as Arsenal came from 4-0 down to beat Reading 7-5 in the League Cup.

Name: Yaya Sanogo
Goals: 1
Assists: 2
Like Marouane Chamakh before him, Yaya Sanogo represented something of a major coup for Arsène Wenger. After a breakthrough season with AJ Auxerre in France, where he scored 10 goals in 13 matches, signing such a coveted young prospect had the eyes of many in Europe as one of the 2013 Golden Boy nominees was picked up with no charge.

Sanogo did not score in his first season, however, in fairness to the Frenchman, he was somewhat limited to substitute apperances, rather than starts and only made 14 apperances in all competitions, uincluding a small cameo in the FA Cup final as Arsenal beat Hull. Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances regarding his goal-return were, he earned the nickname “Yaya Sanogoals”, which also became his Twitter handle.

Following an off0field indirection by Olivier Giroud, Sanogo was thrown in to start in the UEFA Champions League at home to Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, where he scored his first, and sadly only, goal for the club.

Despite the high of grabbing his first goal for the club, Sanogo never looked even remotley close to replicating his mesmeric Auxerre form with Arsenal and was eventually loaned out to Crystal Palace, Ajax and Charlton, before being released by the club.

Sanogo’s resilience and tall frame were his biggest attributes and his attide couldn’t be faulted, but it’s fair to say that it was not Arsenal’s finest transfer market hour.

Whatever he left the club with, the memory of him managing to trip over during a celebration for his 4th goal in an all-tap-in hat-trick in pre-season in the Emirates Cup is a nice image to leave with.

Name: Mathieu Flamini
Goals: 5
Assists: 2
After infuriating Arsène Wenger with his decision to leave the club at the end of his contract, Mathieu Flamini once again returned to north London when his AC Milan deal was up.

It seems that leaving when his contract is up is a bot of a speciality of Flamini’s. He incurred the wrath of Marseille manager José Anigo, who accused him of “beautiful treason” in order to sign with Arsenal back in 2004; a decision which later cost the club €480,000.

After his stint in Italy was over, Flamini returned to London Colney, wherein he was allowed to train with the squad in order to regain fitness. However, Arsène Wenger saw fit to bring him back.

An appalling opening to the season, in which the club lost 1-3 at home to Aston Villa (complete with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” being directed towards Wenger), the manager acted quickly to add some much-needed reinforcements to the threadbare Arsenal midfield.

While that transfer window lives in infamy for the club’s £42.5m club-record acquistion of Mesut Özil, Flamini joined alongside Yaya Sanogo as well.

In his second stint with the club, Flamini proved himself to be a very useful, if relatively average squad player.

That’s not to say that he didn’t have his uses. Often deployed in midfield or are an auxiliary full-back where needed, Flamini was a useful player for Wenger to be able to rely on, though it was clear that he didn’t have quite the same talent that he had in his first stint as a younger man.

Frequent fouls and ill-discipline often led to Arsenal conceding cheap goals, namely when he managed to foul Lionel Messi in a Champions League match to give away a penalty within 45 seconds of coming on.

Flamini will always be known for his short-sleeved appearance (once infamously ripping the shirt to accommodate his signature look) and tough tackling. While he may not be the greatest player he could have been at Arsenal, he was worth the trouble to bring him back, plus a superb volley at White Hart Lane in your final season is always a nice way to be remembered.

Name: Sead Kolašinac
Goals: 5
Assists: 15
With their first season out of the Champions League and a late switch to a back-three formation under Arsène Wenger, Sead Kolašinac was the perfect addition to the squad.

A proud member of the prior season’s Bundesliga Team of the Season, Kolašinac attracted interest from all over Europe. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City had been very keen to sign the talented Bosnian, but it was Arsenal who tempted him to the club, even without the allure of Champions League football.

As Arsenal were accommodating a new formation, Kolašinac looked to be a welcome addition. Nacho Monreal would switch to being a defender in a back-three with Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny and Kolašinac would be the club’s wing-back.

Kolašinac started exceptionally well. His strong stature and attacking mindset made him an instant fan favourite, earning the nickname “Kolašitank”.

Unfortuantley for Kolašinac, Arsenal quickly moved away from the formation and he was instead deployed as a full-back.

Anyone who tells you that there isn’t much difference between the two positions, doesn’t know what they’re in for. Kolašinac was like a fish out of water and the defensive responsibilities that he was often relieved of when playing as a wing-back, suddenly exposed his major flaws.

When Wenger left, Kolašinac was a useful attacking outlet for Unai Emery, but this too fell by the way side as Arsenal simply couldn’t keep relying on the same tired outlet, especially as clubs began to double-up on Kolašinac to keep him out of the way.

Under Mikel Arteta, Kolašinac was barely played. A loan back to Schalke last January was nothing less than a disaster. He and Shkodran Mustafi were both chased by home fans after one particularly tepid display and he mercifcully returned to Arsenal, away from the spotlight.

Last season, Kolašinac barely featured at all and was eventually released from his contract early in order to facilitate a move to Marseille, where he rarely seems to play.

Kolašinac was a useful player for Arsenal. A victim of formation changes and a system that ill-catered to his skill set as well as a fair amoutn of unjust criticism. His impassioned and brutal defence of Mesut Özil after the German was attacked with a knife showed just how resourceful the Bosnian could be.

Name: Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Goals: 9
Assists: 13
It may not be entirely fair to label Henrikh Mkhitaryan a “free transfer”, but he does loosely fit the term, at least, he fits the term”free” far better than he does Bosman.

With Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil both running their contracts down, Arsenal were faced with an issue of only being able to renew one. Özil ultimatley won out and after failing to offload Sánchez to Manchester City in the summer for £60m, Arsenal now had to find a different alternative.

Manchester United stepped in. The reasons for targeting Sánchez have never been very well-known. Was it José Mourinho looking to have one last laugh over his old adversary Arsène Wenger? Was it Manchester United trying to show that they could still compete with Manchester City for the top players? Or did they actually think that Sánchez could help them? Either way, they took the deal with both hands, swapping the Chilean winger with Mkhitaryan.

Neither performed especially well for either club, though Mkhitaryan notably faired better than Sánchez did at Manchester United, where he was largely regarded to be one of the worst Premier League signings of all time.

Mkhitaryan’s time at Arsenal was a mix of highs and lows, but mainly inconsistency.

Though he played a major part int he club’s mind-blowing announcement video for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and though he was a fabulous creative weapon to be able to wield under Arsène Wenger, he soon began to show signs of why Manchester United had been so keen to sever ties with him.

Under Unai Emery, Mkhitaryan was useful, but he was incredibly inconsistent. Games would often pass the Armenian by and if Emery thought that Mkhitaryan would prove to be the perfect Mesut Özil replacement, he was wildly mistaken.

Mkhitaryan only completed one full-season with the club. Soon he was loaned out to Roma, where he seemed to find his feet. Arsenal seemed happy to rid of the Armenian, however, and he was eventually released to allow a transfer to Italy to be fulfilled.

Mkhitaryan is a forgettable if totally bland entry in Arsenal history for many fans. Never really showing the full-extend of his Borussia Dortmund form and regularly disappearing mid-game.

Name: Stephan Lichtsteiner
Goals: 1
Assists: 1
If you told Arsenal fans that the first signing of the new-look Arsenal, post-Wenger era would be a coveted European full-back with experience, immense technical quality and positional versatility, few could have ever argued with signing such a player.

When that player turned out to be Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arsenal fans were crestfallen, but still positive. After all, Lichtsteiner had been so effective against Tottenham in the Champions League the year before and would offer an experienced and “do the dirty work” mindset that the team so lacked.

But he did no such thing.

The age-old saying of Italian football being slower and therefore more forgiving and accommodating to less-abled players seemed to ring horribly true here as Lichtsteiner was often out-paced by most able-bodied wingers.

While in the pas the fear of Per Mertesacker being outstripped by passing butterflies had largely been compensated for by the presence of Laurent Koscielny, Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Gibbs, Lichtsteiner had no such foil.

Koscielny was invariably always injured, Shkodran Mustafi was struggling, Sokratis Papastathopoulos was himself adjusting to life in England, and Nacho Monreal was stretched thin as it was.

As a result, Lichtsteiner found himself unable to keep pace in the league and was even exposed in the Europa League or the League Cup.

Though his professionalism or support of the club can never be called into question, his performances could be. For such a decorated player, it is a shame that he will be relegated in the minds of most Arsenal fans to being mentioned generally in the form of “Oh yeah, Lichtsteiner, forgot about him”.

Name: Willian
Goals: 1
Assists: 7
It’s fair to say that Arsenal fans are not usually the best people to speak to about things happening at the club. One Twitter user once declared that the club should simply ask Arsenal fans what to make Arsenal successful and then simply do the opposite.

However, in the case of Willian, you can more or less chalk it up to a broken clock being correct twice-a-day.

It was a deal that seemed to have a whiff of something fishy before it was even announced. The close proximity of super-agent Kia Joorabchian, Willian’s seeming unwillingness to commit to a long-term deal with Chelsea and a general feeling of unease over the Brazilian’s most recent form, made up most of Arsenal fan’s fears.

Quite who or what was driving the deal, perhaps we’ll never truly know, but Joorabchian had everything to do with it and soon enough, Willian was an Arsenal player.

Resigned to having to just accept it, Arsenal fans were pleasantly surprised to see Willian notch two assists on his debut (three technically) and hit the post. Perhaps the masses of fans who had been discouraged by his signing would be eating their words amidst an ensemble of humble pie and a side of crow?

As it turns out, no.

Willian very quickly turned into exactly what Arsenal fans had been scared of.

Whether it was the team falling apart around him, Mikel Arteta’s relative inexperience or Arsenal fans simply manifesting it into exsistence, we’ll never really know, but whatever it was Willian seemed to reach a new low every week.

To both his and Mikel Arteta’s credit, the club persisted with Willian in the starting XI and Willian did everything he could to recapture his form, but in the end, the manager’s patience wore out and he was dropped.

Despite an appalling season, Willian still finished the season as the club’s leading assister in all competitions.

Come the close season, it was clear that both club and player had had enough. Willian forgoed any remaining payments on his contract and made his way swiftly to Corinthians after agreeing to terminate his deal with Arsenal.

Though he is now relegated to an uncomfortable after thought, the bitter pill of Willian’s £5.2m salary, which, when coupled with his obscene signing-on fee, would have cost the club nearly £30m if it had been fulfilled.

Bosman deals are never as attractive as they appear on paper. While a transfer fee is largely absent, apart from the occasional compensatory or nominal fee, the overall cost can sometimes make them more expensive than even the highest of transfers.

Since the start of the Premier League in 1992, Arsenal have made thirteen signings under the Bosman ruling, fourteen if one were to include Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

It’s fair to say that, based on the overall outcomes of the players, in many cases, it’s easy to see why they were leaving at the end of their contract in the first-place and it’s also easy to see why Arsenal have only made money on one of them.

Bosman ruling have still proven favourable to the club in the short-term even if they haven’t panned out exactly how the club would like. When the club had their backs against the wall or found it difficult to compete in the transfer market, Bosman transfers allowed them some leeway to be able to get themselves over the line.

Overall, the skepticism inherent with Bosman transfers are that they are more or less born out of a sense of convenience and exploiting a delicate situation, rather than a clear and well-targeted approach.

The cases of Mathieu Flamini and Yaya Sanogo echo that sentiment perfectly. In that summer, both were signed purely because they were free of the constraints of a set valuation. Though both were admired by the club and well-scouted (or in Flamini’s case, had a familiarity with the club already), they were both ultimatley signed as their contracts had expired. The signing of Mesut Özil that summer was very different. While he was also the result of exploiting a market opportunity (Real Madrid had just signed Gareth Bale and wanted to sell Özil), his was a transfer with distinctly more behind it. Years of scouting, endless telephone calls to convince the player, effectively re-jigging the squad to accommodate him and then sanctioning a (at the time) club-record fee for the player.

Ultimately, Arsenal will likely err on the side of caution when it comes to free transfers in the future, or at least, fans will hope they do.

It seems that in Arsenal’s case, for every Sol Campbell, there are 13 or so that don’t work out.

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