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ASH WEDNESDAY: Wenger's bargains will find it hard to slay big spenders
Published : 29 Apr 2009 11:32:30
The many subscribers to Sir Alex Ferguson's school of thought believe Manchester United go about their business a certain way, bringing kids through their academy, holding up the PFA player of the year Ryan Giggs as a symbol of success and grounding them for a career in the first team. Here, then, is the possible United side to face Arsenal in this evening's Champions League semi-final, which also happens to be one of the most expensively-assembled teams in the history of world football: Edwin van der Sar (£3m); John O'Shea (free, youth), Nemanja Vidic (£7m), Rio Ferdinand (£30m), Patrice Evra (£7m); Cristiano Ronaldo (£12m), Ryan Giggs (free, youth), Anderson (£18m), Ji-Sung Park (£5m); Dimitar Berbatov (£30m), Wayne Rooney (£28m). Total: £140m. Value for money: Arsene Wenger addresses the Arsenal squad that he built for a fraction of the cost forked out by the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona. No wonder they are favourites to beat Arsenal, a £110m mismatch (much more on that in a moment) on one half of the Champions League semi-final draw. It is a remarkable sum of money spent on a team, especially when the transfer fees for Owen Hargreaves (£18m, injured), Michael Carrick (£18m, likely substitute) and Carlos Tevez (potential transfer fee £20m) are not included. Ferguson will rightly argue that United's riches (turnover 325m euro) are there to be spent in order to maintain their position as the second wealthiest club behind Real Madrid (turnover 366m euro), luring some of the most talented players in the world to a team who are expected to win the Barclays Premier League year on year and reach the last four of the Champions League as the minimum target. Should United's manager ever need to defend his transfer spending, he will legitimately point to his world player of the year, signed from Sporting Lisbon and currently worth a conservative £50m, probably nearer £70m. On their day they are also the most attack-minded team in the Premier League, offering almost unlimited options when they surge forward at Old Trafford, responding to the roar of the Stretford End as they did last Saturday when they took Tottenham for five in the second half. For £140m they should be tearing teams apart and yet Arsenal, thrown together by Arsene Wenger for just £32m, will give them a game over two dramatic legs. More from Ash Wednesday... ASH WEDNESDAY: Smart Alex leads way as bosses tie themselves in knots 21/04/09 ASH WEDNESDAY: It's decision time for Foster - walk out of Old Trafford and into the England No 1 shirt, or risk another season as first reserve14/04/09 ASH WEDNESDAY: Aston Villa are not good enough to finish fourth07/04/09 ASH WEDNESDAY: How much has Sir Trevor developed English football31/03/09 ASH WEDNESDAY: Magnificent Michael will retire as Ordinary Owen24/03/09 Ash Wednesday: Rotating Rafa will pay for not running Liverpool like Paisley17/03/09 ASH WEDNESDAY: Mourinho for Man U? Jose would rip United apart 10/03/09 ASH WEDNESDAY: Arsenal learn from Fergie and give Wenger a break03/03/09 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE They will never win another major honour so long as Wenger assembles a team under the current financial constraints at the Emirates, hamstrung by the mountain of debt incurred in a move that means he has to sell a player a year to survive (last year it was Alexander Hleb, the year before that it was Thierry Henry). This year it is most likely to be Emmanuel Adebayor, playing for a move and the £130,000 a week contract that goes with it by scoring top quality goals against Villarreal in the previous round, a bicycle kick at El Madrigal in the first leg and a flicked volley in the second. The Arsenal striker will be the pivot at Old Trafford this evening, the second most expensive signing in a team that cost just £28.15m to put together. Here it is: Manuel Almunia (£1m); Bacary Sagna (£6m), Kolo Toure (£150,000), Mikael Silvestre (£500,000), Kieran Gibbs (free, youth); Abou Diaby (£2m), Theo Walcott (£9m), Denilson (£1m), Alex Song (£1m), Cesc Fabregas (£500,000), Emmanuel Adebayor (£7m). Total: £28.15m. For £1m less than it cost United to sign a mis-firing striker from Tottenham last summer, Arsene Wenger has put together a whole team, 180 minutes of reaching the Champions League final for only the second time in the club's history. It is testimony to Wenger's vision, as well his worldwide network of like-minded scouts, that he can put together a group of talented players who can compete (if not win trophies) at the very highest level year after year. They were exposed by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, when the collective merits of Abou Diaby, Denilson and Fabregas were trampled on by the imposing physical presence of Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard. Should they find a way past United over two legs, it will not be a fair financial fight against two of European football's other superpowers. This was Barcelona's team costing £106m, to face Chelsea, the £144m team Wenger claims are guilty of financial doping, in the Nou Camp last night: Victor Valdes (free, youth); Daniel Alves £32m, Gerard Pique (£5m), Rafael Marquez (£8m), Eric Abidal (£10m); Yaya Toure (£9m), Xavi Hernandez (free, youth), Andres Iniesta (free, youth); Lionel Messi (free, youth), Samuel Eto'o (£24m), Thierry Henry (£18m). Barcelona have spent a fortune to ensure they remain top of the Primera Liga pile. That is why they are top of La Liga, four points ahead of their great rivals Real Madrid and boasting everyone's favourite player, Lionel Messi. They are someway short of Chelsea, who cooled off ahead of the recession, but are still capable of throwing their money around: Petr Cech (£12m); Branislav Ivanovic (£12m), Alex (£10m), John Terry (free, youth), Jose Bosingwa (£18m); Michael Essien (£24m), John Obi Mikel £16m), Michael Ballack (free, Bosman), Frank Lampard (£11m); Didier Drogba (£24m), Florent Malouda (£17). Total: £144m. It does not prevent Arsenal paying huge salaries (they confirmed they paid Henry £130,000 a week along with a one off £5m bonus to stay in 2006), but spending big on transfers is not Wenger's way. His stubborn philosophy has cost his club the chance to win trophies, especially after he broke up the Invincibles following their FA Cup triumph over United in 2005, but he is not one for spending big. As ever, he will leave that to others.