(Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald)
Nothing dwarfs your ambitions like selling your best players.
It’s a lesson that Arsenal fans know only too well, having watched the likes of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leave North London in their prime.
They all saw better futures outside Islington, taking the club’s aspirations of a fourth Premier League title with them as they left.
Now, Hector Bellerin is the latest talent to seek pastures new. As reported by the BBC’s David Ornstein, the Spanish full back expressed a desire to return to Barcelona at the end of last season.
When Los Cúles were rebuffed from approaching their formed academy product, they plumped instead for Nelson Semedo and Bellerin was consigned to another year at the Emirates.
Turning things around
Fewer players started more poorly than the 23-year-old this season. Bellerin epitomised everything about Arsenal’s horrible form: preening, lacking in focus and sharpness, choking in the biggest games.
The Gunners’ improvement in form, however, has been linked with a similar uptick in the Spaniard's flying wing-play. Finally, fans are reminded of a talent voted easily into the 2015/16 Premier League Team of the Year.
It makes the subsequent rumours of his departure a little tougher to bear. Juventus and Manchester United have been linked with the Spaniard, hinting at another torturous summer for a club that just can’t hold on to its players.
Losing Bellerin, however, might not be as catastrophic as it seems.
Whilst his mendacity in attack is obvious, he is reckless defensively and relies all too often on his recovery pace to ameliorate a torrid positional sense. Routinely selected in Arsenal’s 3-4-2-1, his utility as an attacking outlet is undermined by a ponderous final product.
Moreover, allowing him to leave would render more game time to promising talents like Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson. Both have impressed in the Europa League this term, with the former registering a string of solid displays as an emergency left-back.
Maitland-Niles, on his favoured right foot and with a sustained run in the first-team, could be a natural successor in any Bellerin departure.
Making sense of it
For Bellerin personally, a departure could make sense. At 23, he should be making his mark in the latter stages of the Champions League, not wading through the treacle of a second-rate competition.
Football is a ruthless business, and it pays to be single-minded in the pursuit of your ambitions. If Arsenal aren’t good enough to play at Europe’s top table – something that will shortly be confirmed by a second consecutive finish outside the top 4 - nobody can begrudge him the opportunity to leave.
A transfer makes financial sense, too. Arsenal could reasonably expect close to £50 million for a talented player with youth on his side. What’s more, a recently-penned long-term contract means the club can play hardball with any would-be suitor.
A club like Arsenal should never have to sell its best players. In an era where footballing ambition is buried by hard-nosed economics, however, only one outcome makes sense for all parties.
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