At the beginning of November, Gabriel Martinelli said in a press conference that he is very willing to sign a new contract at Arsenal and that the club “just needs to get a pen”. And after just seven weeks, no new contract has yet been announced for the Brazil international.
Martinelli’s situation is not unique. Bucayo shares coach Mikel Arteta’s belief that Saka will sign a new contract at the Emirates Stadium at the end of August. Still, for Arsenal fans, anxiety is mounting.
There is more. William Saliba is another man in the process of getting a contract extension. Aaron Ramsdale has begun talks on improved terms to reflect his status as the No. 1 goaltender. There are also contract issues beyond the first team: Arsenal are expected to exercise a two-year option on Charlie Patino this week to keep the 19-year-old’s contract from running out at the end of the season. On the academy side, Arsenal face competition to sign promising youngsters Ethan Nwaneri and Miles Anthony Lewis-Skelley.
Fans are bound to wonder: What’s taking so long? In most cases, Arsenal are believed to want to keep the player, and the man is happy to stay. So why the delay?
The first thing is that the club is not directly negotiating with the player. Martinelli can tell the media what he likes, but when it comes to the details of the contract, he is not himself. A player can be effectively removed from the process by speaking with a representative from Sporting Director Edu or Head of Football Operations Richard Garlick.
When a significant first-team contract is renegotiated, there will likely be some face-to-face discussion between players and club representatives. Often the player will discuss their expectations with Arteta and/or Edu and assess their intentions. This is an important part of the process: where buy-in is created. Wages and contract lengths are rarely part of these conversations. If there is a consensus that the club and players want to continue working together, when the negotiations reach a serious stage, it shows that both sides are willing to negotiate.
There is an informal interpolation process that is almost entirely different from hard numbers. Arsenal’s task here is to prioritize every player, at every level. That’s a tough balancing act when they have so much time and manpower. A sign like Nwaneri and Lewis-Skelley being invited to a mid-season first-team training camp can go a long way. A word from Arteta – if he makes the time – carries more weight. First team players like Saka and Martinelli are well aware of their place in the coach’s plan. Others may need more convincing, there is a clear path for them.
Once those informal talks are done, there’s still a long way to go – even if the player indicates he wants to stay. The contract numbers, terms and details are all yet to be sorted out. This process is done by the player’s representative.
The agent’s job is to get the player the best deal possible. The job of Arsenal’s staff is to get the club the best deal possible. This inevitably invites immorality. Talk to people in football and they’ll tell you that sometimes the delays are an important part of the deal. Neither side wants to appear too eager, too desperate, too willing. A missed phone call or two days of radio silence can be effective power plays – for both parties.
It is important to remember that as much as the club is trying to keep the player, the agent is also trying to keep them. There is only a limited number of contract renegotiations a football player can make during his career. These provide a key opportunity for the agent to demonstrate his value and keep the player engaged. It’s a balancing act for the rep – let conversations drag on too long and players can get frustrated.
There is effectively a sliding scale in place for a young player like Saliba. The more the club wants to help him, the more they have to pay. This is effectively the reverse of the trend that occurs with older players, where the length of the contract is more desirable than the base salary. One of the reasons Saliba’s contract remains unsigned is that Arsenal’s representatives have not offered wages commensurate with the long-term deal the club want to tie him down – and so talks are ongoing.
Even once personal terms are agreed, there is the thorny issue of agent fees to consider. It is not unheard of for a player’s contract to be fully agreed, but for the contract signing to be delayed as club and agent wrangle over commissions. This is an important part of the negotiation that should not be overlooked.
The perception is that Arsenal need to rush through these deals, but there are two things that can guarantee their safety. Firstly, they have contract options in many cases. Martinelli’s contract runs until 2024, but Arsenal have the option to run for a further two years. This makes the situation less urgent from their point of view. Saliba and Saka’s contracts do not run beyond 2024, even with extensions, which makes their situations even more serious.
Even then, Arsenal are afforded some protection in the transfer window calendar. Clubs know they cannot lose a player outside of January or the summer, and that means negotiations between those windows can drag on. Working to deadlines is partly human nature: a deal on the deadline of the window will be hammered out in a matter of hours. They tend to float outside of it.
It’s also worth remembering that every week is a week where a club stops to increase players’ wages, saving money. If you’re sure a deal will be reached, it’s more expensive to get there quickly.
With Martinelli, Saliba and Saka selected for the World Cup in Qatar, there are other practical considerations that could delay the negotiations.
Although this was not an obstacle to talks – several agents traveled to the region for the tournament and Arsenal held a training camp attended by senior staff in Dubai – there was a shared desire not to distract the players during the tournament. . Agents knew that good performances in Qatar would strengthen their hand – Saka’s stock increased significantly during the World Cup. Now that the players have returned to Arsenal, talks are expected to accelerate.
Most of these issues are general – they will be common in every club. But is there anything to say Arsenal are slower than most? There are three components to team building: recruiting, retaining, and selling. Some in football feel that while Arsenal have proven themselves effective employers, there is still room for improvement when it comes to the other two elements.
Facing Arsenal can be a more drawn out and sometimes frustrating experience than facing any other Premier League club.
The main reason for this is due to process: any contract that Arsenal intend to do must be approved by the board before it can be presented to a player or their agent. This is a good thing: it means there is control from those who run the club. But he can slow things down. There are other clubs where CEOs are given more leeway to be flexible with numbers.
No one seems particularly fazed by Arsenal’s contract talks. Especially with first-team stars such as Saka, Saliba, Martinelli and Ramsdale, they seem to feel they have enough goodwill to see these negotiations come to a positive conclusion. Ultimately, any deal will be a compromise between the club’s choice and the player’s wishes.
But the World Cup is now over, the transfer window is about to open, and the clock is ticking. An agent wouldn’t be doing his job if he wasn’t at least prepared to listen to offers from elsewhere. Until these deals are signed, fans will be worried.
Arsenal have a long to-do list when it comes to player retention. It’s time to start knocking out some more items.
(Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)